kayla’s acne journey
june 2017, clear-skinned and confident 🙂
march 2018, makeup + filter-free!
as i sit here now looking back on my experience with acne, i remember how i walked a very fine line between defeat and determination. i thought i would have acne forever, but at the same time would still make promises and deadlines to myself. i will have clear skin by my birthday next year! i will have clear skin before i see my family for the holidays!
it was a constant pain and obsession of mine. i would stand in front of the mirror and think of all the things i would give up for clear skin. i didn’t understand why my best friend and sister didn’t even have to wash their faces and their skin was perfect. i felt dirty and hideous.
chapter 1: puberty
it first started on my forehead when i was 12 years old. little red blemishes started popping up, and my mom took me to the drugstore to get cetaphil face wash. that summer, on a family vacation to yellowstone national park, my family nicknamed me “cyclops” because of the large inflamed pimple i had between my eyebrows. at that time it was just dismissed as a “phase” and “puberty”, but it still lowered the hell out of my self-esteem. although i was an animated child with a big personality, i really began to second guess myself and stopped craving the spotlight. to this day, i still have scars from the inflamed acne i had from my youth, between my eyebrows.
(2018 retrospect: cetaphil face wash is extremely cloggy, and rather than dismissing my acne as a phase, it would have been amazing to have a place like skinSALVATION to teach me about the complete acne-safe lifestyle to save me from the next 14 years of struggle and physical and emotional scarring).
in high school, the acne spread to my cheeks and i started caking on the makeup. my dad felt sorry for me and took me to a dermatologist, who prescribed the oral antibiotic doxycycline and topical cream retin-a (a super common combination that we still see in our clinic, over 10 years later!). i used them for about 4 months and needless to say, this prescription cocktail didn’t work. i started using proactiv which helped with the inflammation for a while, but of course was not a long-term solution.
(retrospect: the antibiotics further damaged my digestion & gut flora and made my acne more resistant. the retin-a cream and proactiv regimen were cloggy and made my acne worse in the long-run – still not addressing the root cause of my acne).
at this time, my diet was 50% bread and 50% cheese, and i drank more milk than water. i was also chronically constipated & bloated ever since i was little, constantly struggled with yeast infections, and had taken antibiotics over 3 dozen times before the age of 16. i always had a headache, and low energy. my step-mom mentioned that ‘milk causes acne’, so i stopped that cold-turkey at age 16, and haven’t drank it since, but i continued to eat cheese and maintain a horrible diet.
(retrospect: i was dehydrated, malnourished, had signs of candida, and continued to have dairy which was contributing to systemic inflammation, feeding the candida and creating acne.)
chapter 2: birth control
then at 17, i decided i wanted to start taking birth control. i had heard that it worked to clear up acne and gain weight (i was extremely thin and jealous of my sisters that could fit into jeans…and bras). and it actually worked! for a little bit. i had clear skin, or at least no inflammation, and i gained about 10 lbs. life was good until about age 20-21 when i got sloppy about taking the pill at the same time every day. my mom had stressed that i needed to take it at the EXACT same time daily, so i was great about that for the first 3 years. then, as my party life increased, my sleep schedule became so sporadic that i never took my pill at a consistent time.
(retrospect: the birth control was just a band-aid, and as soon as i stopped taking it properly, it started to cause fluctuations in my hormones, which lead to hormonal acne, and the inflammation that comes along with it. my partying, lack of self-care, structure, and healthy lifestyle worsened this.)
i remember going to Oktoberfest with a bad break out. i almost didn’t go because my skin was so bad, but decided it wasn’t that bad with enough makeup on. i went with my best friend jenni and her boyfriend sam. we ran into jenni’s gorgeous sister, and i noticed her skin was so perfect it actually hurt. right as i was thinking that, sam looked at me and said, “wow, you must be so jealous of her skin”. i immediately walked away and just kept walking until i found a taxi. i went home and cried in the mirror and picked my face off.
around this same age, i intuitively realized that my chin breakouts were most likely from eating a block of cheese and pizza rolls every day, so i went totally dairy-free (and have been ever since). in lieu of cow’s milk dairy, i started drinking soy frappuccinos. and i worked at a sushi restaurant, so pretty much all i ate was soy & sugar. i stopped using proactiv too, assuming it just wasn’t working anymore. my aunt was an esthetician and i emailed her with photos of a bad breakout, asking for help. she sent me some products and told me to ice my face. i held an ice cube over the break out, not knowing i should move it around, and got a huge blue frost-bite bruise on my cheek.
(retrospect: i stopped eating dairy, but started drinking coffee and eating soy, and a lot of both. i was also still eating a ton of processed foods. all this, plus not taking my birth control pill properly, my hormones were going crazy. i wasn’t icing properly and instead was just bruising my skin. my busy schedule and party life were still creating an unhealthy lifestyle.)
chapter 3: going off birth control
at 21, i decided to move from arizona to san francisco. i packed up my little honda coupe and took off. i decided to stop taking birth control that same week because i was starting to realize that it made me terribly depressed and moody.. and that’s when the jaw acne started. 1 or 2, here and there. they were large, hard as a rock, and had no head to them. i had never experienced this; i wasn’t even sure if it was acne, because it was so different. i realized they were cysts. then, i started to notice my cheeks were covered in little bumps, which i wasn’t sure was acne either. i thought my skin’s texture was just totally ruined, not realizing it was non-inflamed acne. i went to sephora and asked for “natural make-up” and started using tarte instead of bare minerals. definitely not safe makeup (not that bare minerals is acne-safe either). also, i never got my period back.
(retrospect: stopping the birth control was a smart move, but i was not prepared for the backlash of my hormones trying to balance themselves out after 5 years of taking it. plus, the stress of the move and new climate added to the storm. bare minerals makeup is cloggy (despite the “safe-looking ingredients”), but switching to tarte was worse.)
months went by and i still didn’t get my period. my acne was like an uncontrollable wildfire. it wasn’t until 6 months later that it returned. i attempted using the nuvaring for about 6 weeks, that was not helpful to my acne or overall mental state. i was also drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine every single night due to depression. for the next 2 years my periods would be very sparse and sporadic.
(retrospect: not only did i stop bcp, but i tried it again for a few weeks and stopped again = insane hormonal fluctuations. plus i was still drinking coffee, eating soy, sleeping at odd hours, and then drinking a ton of wine at night which was full of sugar, furthering my inflammation. not to mention the depression and emotional stress that took control of my life from having acne and bad eating habits.)
chapter 3: treatments & lifestyle 101
so there i was, with full-blown adult acne, painful to the touch and making me feel more hideous than ever. i went to get a specific product one day from a place in san jose. the esthetician touched my cheek and said, “forget the product, you need to come in for a facial”. i started receiving treatments from her every week. i would drive down every thursday, from san francisco, after work for 2 years. i really respected and appreciated her, so i would have done anything she told me to.
the main things she taught me were:
- to stop drinking coffee.
- to stop eating bread (my diet was too bread-heavy, which were probably filled with soy and dairy, which i replaced with sweet potatoes and other veggies).
- to ice my face daily
- to stop drinking wine every night, and suggested i stop drinking altogether (i didn’t).
- to switch my laundry detergent and change my pillow cases & face towels frequently.
- not to let my boyfriend or dog touch my face (or myself, or anyone for that matter)
- to stop picking
things that she lacked knowledge of, which made my acne worse:
- her extractions weren’t thorough and gave me severely inflamed acne in my cheeks – which are now texturally scarred.
- she did not apply peels to exfoliate my skin during my treatments
- she had me using terrible, cloggy products and makeup.
- she didn’t know about soy, peanuts, safe vs non-safe cooking oils and sugar, so i was still eating a lot of that.
- she had me ice my face with ice packs, but eventually i started using ice cubes directly on the skin, but not nearly long enough, just a minute or two.
- she didn’t teach me about how stress or sleep were affecting my acne
- she didn’t link the birth control & hormonal fluctuations to my acne
- she didn’t investigate my past with antibiotics and gut problems
i went through thousands of photos, and unfortunately, i have no pictures of my acne without makeup – i was way too ashamed. i came across these, but i have a ton of makeup on. if you zoom in you can see that i was extremely inflamed and congested. these above were taken in january 2016, after 2 years of weekly treatments from an esthetician in san jose.
chapter 4: sweet potatoes
the main thing i learned here was that i needed to eat better, though i still wasn’t properly educated on the “acne-safe diet” because i didn’t know about soy, sugar, peanuts, cooking oils, or checking ingredients in my products (or food) yet. and i was working in the catering department of a local market and eating their freshly provided lunch each day, which was an amazing perk. i never thought about what could be making my skin worse, so long as i avoided dairy, coffee, and bread. looking back, there was probably a lot of soy & inflaming oils hidden in what i ate, even at this “healthy” market. for breakfast i had sugary granola with 2 tbs of peanut butter and almond milk. i was constantly eating “kind” granola bars and dried apricots (so much sugar!). for dinner, i began my sweet potato phase.
sweet potatoes were a fascinating discovery for me. one day, i tried to recreate the sweet potato fries i had at a restaurant, but they didn’t turn out quite as crispy as fries. they were better, more soft and filling. i started craving them more & more and realized they were my new comfort food. this was an upgrade from baguettes and junk food, my former comfort food. so every single night for 2 years i roasted sweet potatoes for dinner. i think my body was craving them in order to try and have some hormonal support, which sweet potatoes are anecdotally known to be amazing for. birth control depletes your B vitamins and sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins B & beta carotene! i focused on my vegetable and whole-food intake overall, and the sweet potatoes felt the most nourishing and satiating for me. while my skin still struggled, my mood and energy drastically improved, and my hair grew 10 inches after literally not growing past my shoulders my entire life. i still eat sweet potatoes the majority of the time for dinner, especially before my cycle.
(retrospect: i was eating “healthier” and making great changes to my diet, but still not eliminating all of the other acne-causing factors)
chapter 5: a new esthetician
after 2 years of weekly treatments with the san jose esthetician (with not much progress as we were treating my skin topically and half-heartedly holistically), my acne spread to my neck with a vengeance. i was horrified, and would have done anything to avoid having to wear a ponytail. my hair was long past my waist and i wore it covering most of my face. my esthetician recommended i get my inflamed and cystic neck lesions shot with cortisone by a dermatologist (which did nothing to actually clear the acne). the dermatologist immediately recommended accutane. i was not about to go on this crazy medication, and i immediately felt hopeless. while i denied the accutane, i did give antibiotics another go for about a week. he recommended one month and i could not even make it past 7 days. i immediately felt sick and lethargic. i knew it was not the answer and i had hit a wall.
in these photos you can kind of see my jaw & neck acne, but again it’s covered with a ton of makeup.
i decided to see if anyone else in the bay area (or the world) knew anything about acne and extractions. for 2 years i was convinced this one esthetician i’d been commuting to and working with was the only one who could help me.
i found an acne clinic in san francisco and went in for a consultation and a treatment. i was so surprised when I didn’t get inflamed after the extractions. i switched to their products and started using colorescience foundation and spf powder (the spf turned out to be cloggy but the foundation is safe). i remember the first time i looked in the mirror and noticed that the outline of my face wasn’t bumpy, it was smooth. i could feel this while washing my face too. catching my reflection in the car window didn’t make me cringe (that happen to anyone else?). the mornings where i woke up with cysts and inflammation happened less and less frequently. i still hadn’t learned about soy, but learned about sugar, peanuts, & cooking oils at this point. after a few months, my skin was nearly clear. however, even with all these positive changes, i still had small patches of lingering non-inflamed acne.
chapter 6: going vegan
so i decided to go vegan. let me just say that i am NOT knocking the vegan life, but in my opinion, going vegan is not going to clear up anyone’s acne. but at the time, i thought that meat was causing stress on my digestion and i was all about going raw and eating “clean”. my intentions were on point, but the approach incorrect. for about 6 months all i ate was raw veggies with homemade hummus, oatmeal, pressed juice, avo-toast, and roasted sweet potatoes. i avoided nightshade vegetables, nuts, and i stopped drinking alcohol altogether. when eating out, i would have the vegan-meat alternative, which probably had a lot of soy. i also started putting spirulina in my smoothies, and my esthetician quickly put a stop to that, but she did support my going vegan. at first it felt great, then after some time my sugar cravings went through the roof, which i gave into, leading to anxiety because i knew that would make me break out. i stopped enjoying food altogether. i never felt full or satisfied (or happy). i became super neurotic about my meals and really judgemental. i truly believed that by making my body completely “alkaline” my acne HAD to go away.
the first problem with going raw and vegan – for me at least – was that because of my overall physiological constitution, my body craved warm food and i was forcing it to digest cold, raw food (a big no-no in traditional chinese medicine). the second problem was that my body really needed animal protein and fat in order to properly heal and gain strength to generate healthy skin (hello amino acids!). third, i was having way too much sugar.
(retrospect: eventually, my skinSALVATION fam remedied this and got me back on the meat ;))
i will mention that during my vegan phase i did incorporate 2 other factors that i think helped a lot. i started drinking adaptogen & anti-inflammatory teas like ashwagandha, turmeric, and maca. and i also stopped drinking alcohol for 6 months. this supported & replenished my adrenals, hormones, minerals, and overall prevented a lot of inflammation.
chapter 6: skinSALVATION & the final purge
during this time, i also decided that i wanted to become an esthetician and enrolled at the cinta aveda institute. i began to envision and manifest a career in skincare that allowed me to help others with acne. i figured, my whole life had revolved around acne for the last 13 years anyway, might as well become an expert at it! i was working 2 jobs and going to school 30 hours a week. towards the end of school, my skin was damn near clear but not quite. once i graduated and started at skinSALVATION, all the missing pieces fell into place. i began at skinSALVATION with 80% clarity and quickly reached 100%. i’ve been bouncing around 95%-100% ever since.
this post was in october 2016 (just 8 months after the feb 2016 photos from chapter 3) towards the end of my education at cinta aveda, shortly before starting at skinSALVATION.
the final steps to getting totally clear happened all at once:
- i received skinSALVATION treatments with super thorough extractions and medical grade chemical peels that effectively exfoliated and resurfaced my skin.
- i stopped using the colorescience powder SPF, which turned out to be cloggy (it has corallina officinalis, a type of red algae) and started using the youngblood pressed powder foundation. i also tossed the glossier highlighter, which i stopped using because it is cloggy.
- i started getting 9 hours of sleep instead of 6.
- i started working just ONE fulfilling and rewarding job instead of 3 just-ok ones (stress went down).
- i stopped being so neurotic about every single thing by putting my faith into the process and practicing positive affirmations (stress went down).
- i started eating meat again, therefore my sugar cravings decreased. and my stress went down from not being so neurotic about food.
- i started paying attention to labels while grocery shopping and being sure not to consume soy (along with dairy which i had already been doing for years).
- i switched from often mislabeled + rancid olive oil & coconut oil to acne-safe ghee.
- i started taking high-quality, shelf-stable probiotics.
i’ve now been clear for almost a year. like, no foundation makeup on the regular, clear. i still wake up and check my face in the mirror first thing, in search of a breakout. i still don’t let my boyfriend touch my cheeks (slight PTSD). i still ice my face twice a day and follow my regimen and the acne-safe lifestyle religiously. the best part is that i belong to a community that understands and follows the same lifestyle. i used to get embarrassed explaining to people why i couldn’t eat the ice cream, or why i had to wash my face even if we were camping, or why i packed my own pillowcase & needed a cup of ice. now it’s something i get to easily talk about every day, and i get to teach others these tips that took me 14 years to acquire.
sometimes i start to wish that i had someone else’s skin, but then i realize that having acne gave me a wakeup call to a healthier lifestyle as well as a career. It is truly a blessing to be able to use my pain and experiences to heal people.
february 2018 – clear skinned, confident, and empowered!