emily’s acne journey

2018 – clear skinned, happy and fulfilled!

i had perfect skin until around 2012 when i was 25 years old.

when i went off the birth control pill i had been taking for over ten years and started getting painful, inflamed breakouts in the lower half of my face, my self-esteem plummeted. my way of interacting with the world changed. i began wearing tons of makeup everyday and spending more time in the mirror. i avoided places that were well lit so that i could hide. i chose how i faced people based on where the worst inflammation was on my face. in other words, my acne was always on my mind.

i immediately started buying “non-comedogenic” and “acne-safe” (or rather, marketed-towards-acne) products at the drugstore. i would use a new product for a few weeks and when my skin didn’t clear up i would go back to the drugstore and buy a new cleanser and moisturizer. i didn’t know much about skincare and was overwhelmed whenever i tried to figure out what was best for me. after a few months of trying tons of different products with no real progress, i went to a dermatologist.

this photo exemplifies how overwhelmed i felt whenever i went shopping for something to “cure” my acne

side note: i now know that when products claim they are good for acne, non-comedogenic, or free of cloggy ingredients it does not mean much. i would estimate that 95% of the products clients bring in during the initial consult appointment are actually not acne-safe and are actually exacerbating their existing acne and/or creating new seeds – even though they are advertised as such! 

the dermatologist i went to prescribed two topical products right off the bat: retin-a and clindamycin.

  • retin-a is a medication with the active ingredient of vitamin a, which is acne-fighting and beneficial for many people struggling with their skin BUT the formula i was using was in a base with isopropyl myristate which is a 5 on the 0-5 comedogenic scale = as cloggy as it gets! you can read more about comedogenic ingredients and our vetting process here. so while the active ingredient may have been helping, i was getting a dose of super cloggy ingredients simultaneously. retin-a also makes you more photosensitive, but because i was scared that sunscreen would break me out i wasn’t wearing it. i got sunburned and gained a few more freckles during this time.
  • clindamycin is in a class of medications called lincomycin antibiotics. it works by slowing or stopping the growth of bacteria that cause acne and by decreasing swelling1. since i started this active product at the same time as retin-a i am not sure how it affected my skin, but side effects include dry skin, red skin, peeling skin, increased sensitivity, and even breakouts!

overall my skin became more sensitive, red, dry, and most importantly did not clear up during the use of these two products. so my dermatologist decided to try a more aggressive approach: oral antibiotics. i was prescribed doxycycline and instructed to take it twice daily for 3 months straight, which i did religiously. my skin didn’t clear up during this time, and the only changes i observed were negative:

  • my digestion became problematic = my gut health declined. there’s a link between your gut health and skin health, you can read more about that here.
  • my hair started falling out. my dermatologist and primary care physician assured me that it was not caused by the doxycycline but my hair started growing back after i stopped the medication and that was the only change, so i am pretty certain that was the cause. unfortunately my hair has not fully gone back to the way it was before taking this drug.

after 3 months of doxycycline i had a follow-up appointment with my dermatologist. she didn’t seem surprised that my skin hadn’t cleared up, and decided to “take the next step”. i got a prescription for benzoyl peroxide (aka bp). so now i was using 3 topical prescription products and had stopped taking the antibiotic. the bp i got was extremely drying so my skin starting cracking around my mouth and felt raw all the time. i continued using it though, because i thought it was my only hope.

over the next year i used those three products daily, but kept getting inflamed acne in the lower half of my face. it would itch in these areas, feel sore to the touch, and never seem to fully come to the surface. if i had an especially painful cyst i would go to another dermatologist about 45 minutes from my house to get a cortisone injection. these injections were expensive, painful, and sometimes caused some little textured scars – and i realize now, didn’t remove the actual acne seed. because the seed remained in my skin, the discoloration also remained and many times the cyst would become inflamed again.

i started trying to find my own solution to acne. i did tons of internet research and read blogs written by people who struggled with their skin. i used coconut oil to remove makeup (super cloggy and made my inflammation worse). i would pour boiling water on washcloths and place them on my face, then try to pop the deep cysts i had (which always made them bigger and darker in color). i stopped eating dairy altogether and that helped clear up most of the acne in my forehead, but i would still get breakouts in my chin.

one day, one of my close friends told me her roommate worked at a place that specialized in adult acne. i looked up skinSALVATION and told myself i would make an appointment if my skin didn’t clear up within 6 months of being dairy free. 6 months later i called and scheduled my initial consultation.

the first time i stepped foot in skinSALVATION in 2014, i felt relief. it was liberating to be able to go over my whole skin history with somebody who knew what they were talking about. i learned what lifestyle changes i needed to make to clear up my skin. i changed all the products i was using because they all had pore clogging ingredients. i started coming in for treatments (extractions + dermalogical grade peel) every 3-4 weeks.

at skinSALVATION we rate the skin’s clarity using a percentage, with 100% meaning fully clear and with no acne. if half the pores on someone’s face had acne, we would rate the skin at 50% clarity. since i had cut out dairy 6 months before coming in for my consultation, my skin was fairly clear except for the inflammation in my chin. kerry, my esthetician, rated my skin at 80% clear.

this is how my chin looked at my consultation on 11/2014

a summary of my progress over the first year and a half after becoming a client is below. as you can see, my clarity would go up and down depending on how strict i was with the lifestyle changes the estheticians recommended. despite dropping the ball a few times, my skin never got as broken out as when i first started, because i continued using the acne-safe topical products in my home-care regimen and came in for treatments.

  • 11/2014 – consultation – clarity: 80%
  • 12/2014 – 1st treatment – clarity: 85% i was worried because i didn’t peel very much after the treatment, but then learned that the skin doesn’t need to literally peel to get the benefits – there is cell turnover happening on a microscopic level
  • 1/2015 – 2nd treatment – clarity: 90%
  • 3/2015 – 3rd treatment – clarity: 85% skin went down in clarity most likely because it was purging the soy i had in my diet before becoming a client. i also went a little too long between my 2nd and 3rd treatments so this may have slowed my progress
  • 4/2015 – 4th treatment – clarity: 90% inflammation had gone down altogether by this time
  • 5/2015 – 5th treatment – clarity: 95%
  • 6/2015 – 6th treatment – clarity: 97%
  • 7/2015 – peel-only – clarity: 97% got just a peel, not a full treatment with extractions since they weren’t needed
  • 9/2015 – peel-only – clarity: 97% i got a little cocky around this time and started eating soy again
  • 10/2015 – peel-only – clarity: 95% the soy started catching up with me and i had some inflammation again
  • 1/2016 – 7th treatment – clarity: 85% the soy i ate had officially started purging. i had to learn this lesson the hard way!
  • 2/2016 – 8th treatment – clarity: 85-90%
  • 3/2016 – 9th treatment – clarity: 90% was better with acne-safe diet but still eating some refined sugar
  • 4/2016 – 10th treatment – clarity: 95%

i’ve learned over time that my skin is the most clear when i implement all the suggestions my sS estheticians make (what a surprise!). i’m the type of person who has to learn lessons on my own though, so despite the knowledgeable advice i received here at sS, i had to connect the dots myself to truly make a change in my eating habits. i can see now when i look through the notes the estheticians took each time i came in that when i ate dairy, soy, or refined sugar, i would abstain and my skin would break out a few months afterwards from purging, then my clarity would go back up a few months after that.

 

this is me now, clear skin, no makeup and with my daughter wilma!

 

now that i am working as an esthetician here at skinSALVATION, i have extra motivation to stay compliant to the acne-safe lifestyle. it would be hard for me to teach people what changes to make if i weren’t living by those guidelines myself, right?! so these days my skin has been hovering around 90-95% clarity. i suspect i’m not 100% clear due to some hormonal changes (went off the IUD and some supplements i was taking) – and the acne-safe lifestyle is a daily practice, not perfection.

due to my personal struggle with acne, being in a position now where i can help people clear their skin means a lot. in some strange way, i feel like i struggled with acne so i could find this path to being an esthetician. it is so fulfilling to be able to relate to my clients and say “don’t worry, i’ve been there, i have an answer for you”. it seems everything happens for a reason!

1. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a609005.html

blake’s acne journey

march 2018, loving the skin i’m in.

 

i don’t remember a time when i didn’t have acne. not once in 22 years can i remember having clear, smooth, beautiful skin. what i do remember is staring at my mother’s skin and wondering when mine would finally be like hers. and guess what- i’m not there yet. i’m still working on it, each and every day. before i dive into my journey, it’s important to understand my background when it comes to my family values and views of health, as i grew up with an amazing and unique outlook on my body and a respect for how it works.

 

i was born in boise, idaho, to two badass humans. my mom and dad opened a wildly successful chiropractic office that served hundreds of people every day and built the house of our dreams just a short drive away. i am one of three sisters (i’m the middle child) and my parents consciously chose to raise us holistically, taking an inside-out approach to health (not outside-in) and instilling within us an understanding and consciousness of what goes in our body and how the nervous system works.

 

my mom gave birth to all three of us at home, 100% naturally, with my dad right there by her side. my dad adjusted our spines two minutes after we entered the world and has continued to do so ever since. my sisters and i have never been vaccinated, taken prescription drugs, or have been hospitalized. i was taught that “the power that made the body heals the body”, and so i was never handed advil when i had a headache, or cough syrup when i had a cold. i took care of myself, stayed healthy, and whenever i did come down with something, i allowed my body to do what it does best – heal!

 

as i developed, so did my acne. my incredible mom, being the holistic warrior that she is, tried and tried and tried to help clear my skin. we acknowledged that being a teenager, my hormones were playing a huge part but that ended up being only one small piece of an enormous puzzle when it came to my acne. i tried dozens of natural products, made half assed-attempts to cut dairy (…failed instantly and repeatedly) and we eventually found ourselves bouncing from dermatologist to dermatologist in search of answers. 

my non-inflamed acne was, in a word, severe.

my face was extremely congested and i lost all confidence. i shied away from my love of volleyball and quit the team. i became a homebody and dreaded going to my work as a restaurant hostess in fear that a co-worker or worse – a customer – would mention it.

 

i finally gave up on my skin and fell into a state of depression, accepting that the only way to fix my skin was to go against our values of health. at 15, my mother and i accepted the derm’s recommendation to start birth control. my mom was SUPER against it, but i had come to a crossroad of choosing my beliefs or my happiness, and i chose the latter.

 

fast forward a year or so and i graduated high school, took a few photos and disappeared without saying goodbye to anyone because of my skin. right before i moved to san francisco for college, my acne worsened – something that, with my skin already being so bad, i didn’t think was possible. after hours of research, my mom found the “best derm in san diego” and said we should try them out. before writing this post, i called and had them send me a summary of my visits in order to remember all the notes and prescriptions about my skin, and they sent a 41 PAGE PDF.

ashamed of my skin (hard to see in this pic) and disregarding my own graduation.

on 6/5/13, we met with the derm and went over my challenges and goals. i stated that i had tried epiduo and differin for 6 months, minocycline for 2 months, the birth control pill for two years and a 10% glycolic cleanser…she definitely had her work cut out for her. she prescribed me 20-40mg of zenatane and saw me back in a month. she then prescribed me 100 mg of minocycline and 100 mg of spironolactone. i then returned twice in two months for salicylic acid peels.

 

my acne didn’t change and i was ready to give up. the final “solution” was her recommending isotretinoin (accutane) in november of 2013 when i was already living in sf and in my freshman year of college. to put this into perspective – in her over 20 years of practice i was the FOURTH person she had ever prescribed accutane to. fed up and having reached my breaking point, i did it. i signed up for the iPledge program (a requirement for those going on the drug), acknowledged the side effects, and was pregnancy tested through both urine and blood.

 

the next seven visits were spaced out over the course of 7 months. each month i went and had my blood taken at LabCorp (terrifying for a kid that had never even set foot in a doctors office) and flew down to san diego for my derm appointment, which included a urine pregnancy test as a second confirmation (it’s extremely harmful to become pregnant while on this drug) and then a skin analysis. by visit #7 i had developed eczema on my arms, my lips cracked and bled open. i had the driest, most uncomfortable skin and couldn’t wear makeup because of how my face physically felt. i also couldn’t go in the sun at all, for risk of sunburn (with my already fair skin). by visit #9 my skin worsened and was i prescribed acanya gel. i was mortified when i looked in the mirror and was so freaking frustrated. 

*fun fact: i had my wisdom teeth removed recently and when the surgeon showed me my teeth, the roots were BROWN. naturally i asked why and he said it was from taking accutane and all the other oral acne prescriptions. i was horrified to say the least. case in point: it’s disturbing to know that i put something in my body that made the roots turn brown, but i was a young girl desperate to feel comfortable in her own skin who, like thousands of others, was misinformed by the marketing around the acne and cosmetic industry.

it’s important to note that this was my first year of college, a time that you’re supposed to be out meeting people and having fun. i couldn’t drink with friends being on accutane and i was mortified about my skin. i felt horrible at my job and avoided going out as much as possible, leading me to hide in my dorm and become depressed. it was high school all over again. by my last visit, visit #12 (6/25/14) she noted that i had “some improvement” (ugh!) i had reached the max dosage of 80mg of accutane and i was sent on my way. my skin had improved slightly but nothing like i believed and hoped it would. i had watched transformation stories on Youtube and was convinced my skin would clear up just like theirs. i created an unrealistic expectation in my head and was devastated when it wasn’t fulfilled by this drug.

over the next few years, i cleared up a little bit but not by much. i was back on birth control and ignored my mom’s encouraging words of “stop eating dairy, drink more water, etc.”. every time i returned home for a family visit i was getting hydrafacials from an esthetician my mom and sisters knew. it helped to extract a bit of my non-inflamed acne but the acne always immediately returned. during my junior year of college, i studied abroad in vienna, austria. my acne got worse due to my diet of cheese and alcohol. i was traveling around europe three times a month and drinking very frequently, while the stress of school and loneliness of living in a foreign country continued to wreak havoc on my skin (and mental + emotional health).

 

in sep 2016, i found skinSALVATION on yelp. i started researching and bookmarked the website under the “important” tab on my phone. as a broke college kid, i saved up my tips and booked an initial consultation for feb 2017. i was in a lot of debt from going abroad and promised myself i would afford my treatments and products with the tips from my serving job. i literally came home after every shift and put them in an envelope titled “for a rainy day”, A.K.A the freaking cure for my skin!

 

at my consultation, my esthetician determined that i was 40% clear. this number was daunting. it stuck in my head and made me feel defeated but was important to track my progress. my partner came to my consultation and was shocked at seeing my non-inflamed acne under the light during the skin analysis. he was sweet and supportive, but never truly understood what i dealt with until that moment.

 

after the consultation, i rushed home with all the knowledge and tools i learned, printed my homework email and taped it to the inside of my medicine cabinet and purged my apartment of anything that contained dairy and soy. i said my tearful goodbyes with cheese, my favorite food, and haven’t had it since! i’ve never drank coffee so i thankfully didn’t have that hurdle to jump over. as months passed, my skin improved to 80%. i graduated college and got married in the same week (…just a LITTLE bit stressful!) and icing helped keep my skin calm during quite possibly the most stressful seven days of my life! i became so interested in skinSALVATION and passionate about what my esthetician, kayla, was teaching me that i ended up applying to be the full-time front desk gal.

feeling incredible!

surrounding myself with incredible, intelligent and supportive women makes the diet and lifestyle feel simple. my skin has fluctuated between 70-80% clear due to finally ditching the birth control pill which has made my skin go through a purging phase while my hormones regulate themselves. i’m aware that i have a systemic imbalance due to my love of sugar and am looking into working alongside a naturopath and will eventually embark on the candida cleanse to help clear that last 20%.

 

my journey isn’t done yet, but you know what? i’m happy and feel comfortable in my own skin. i feel beautiful and love taking care of my body. i’m grateful to not obsess over percentages anymore and accept my progress. skinSALVATION has given me more than clear, manageable skin – it’s given me the confidence and positive mindset that i was searching for all along.

my rockstar mom who supported me through many years of skin struggles. i love you!

 

 

kayla’s acne journey

 

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:

  1. to stop drinking coffee.
  2. 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).
  3. to ice my face daily
  4. to stop drinking wine every night, and suggested i stop drinking altogether (i didn’t).
  5. to switch my laundry detergent and change my pillow cases & face towels frequently.
  6. not to let my boyfriend or dog touch my face (or myself, or anyone for that matter)
  7. to stop picking

things that she lacked knowledge of, which made my acne worse:

  1. her extractions weren’t thorough and gave me severely inflamed acne in my cheeks – which are now texturally scarred.
  2. she did not apply peels to exfoliate my skin during my treatments
  3. she had me using terrible, cloggy products and makeup.
  4. she didn’t know about soy, peanuts, safe vs non-safe cooking oils and sugar, so i was still eating a lot of that.
  5. 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.
  6. she didn’t teach me about how stress or sleep were affecting my acne
  7. she didn’t link the birth control & hormonal fluctuations to my acne
  8. 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:

  1. i received skinSALVATION treatments with super thorough extractions and medical grade chemical peels that effectively exfoliated and resurfaced my skin.
  2. 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. 
  3. i started getting 9 hours of sleep instead of 6.
  4. i started working just ONE fulfilling and rewarding job instead of 3 just-ok ones (stress went down).
  5. i stopped being so neurotic about every single thing by putting my faith into the process and practicing positive affirmations (stress went down).
  6. i started eating meat again, therefore my sugar cravings decreased. and my stress went down from not being so neurotic about food.
  7. 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).
  8. i switched from often mislabeled + rancid olive oil & coconut oil to acne-safe ghee.
  9. 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!

my acne journey

allyson is one of our most senior estheticians, who also trains our future skincare therapists. she is a perfect example of someone who’s suffered with adult acne, and eventually found her way to long-term clarity with personal experience, professional insight and growth at sS! –kim

clear skinned and feelin’ myself in mexico, 2017.

i just wanted to take some time and share my personal struggle with acne. although everyone’s struggle is different, clients always seem surprised when i tell them that i currently have acne. here is a little bit about my journey which i’m sure many of you can relate to!

my personal struggle with acne has led me down the same road that many of you have traveled. when i see the myriad of products that clients show me during consultations, it sparks memories (even very recent) of that desperate search for a miracle product that would make my skin normal again. i have tried everything, and I mean everything, on the market. folks who follow my instagram can vouch for my insanely stocked bathroom. yes, i am a bit of a junkie, but the search for the perfect products was just an attempt to control some aspect of what was happening to my face. my breakouts were a reflection of deeper things simmering beneath my epidermis, however it took years for me to truly understand what exactly was causing these eruptions on my face.

admittedly, i was blessed throughout my teens and early twenties. the typical around-my-cycle pimple would appear, and then vanish from whence it came. i even did horrible things like sleep in my makeup on regular occasions, but still my skin appeared healthy and balanced. in 2011 when i was 25, i moved quite spontaneously to the bay area from my native pennsylvania. after a few months in my new home, i began to experience some changes.

large painful pimples appeared all over my chin, nothing like i had ever experienced. this was very confusing and awkward for me, and my new boyfriend at the time was less than supportive, attributing my breakouts to the the junk (makeup) that i smeared on my face on a daily basis. this sparked my endless battle with topical skin obsessions, and i began trying different makeup such as bare minerals, which claimed to be safe and “non-comedogenic.” after it was clear that i needed to change more than just my makeup, i began seeking out products such as proactiv (which worked for a little bit, but then as soon as i stopped using it, the acne came flooding back), and even natural brands that claimed they were gentle yet effective at treating acne.

years later, still navigating through the ebbs and flows of clearing up and breaking out, i received my first facial. my sister, who is an herbalist, for many years suggested that my skin problems seemed to be connected to my liver or my colon based on the areas that i was breaking out. she introduced me to a fellow herbalist and esthetician. after having my first session with her, i was so astonished when she suggested some hormone regulating herbs for me to take. i had never thought about the fact that perhaps my body had become out of whack, starting with a huge move to a new and very different location, and a seemingly non-stop on the go lifestyle, compounded with tons of adrenal depleting coffee and other not so healthy foods and substances!

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chinese face mapping, linking breakout sites to internal imbalances 

the experience with my first facial and drawing parallels with my body and my skin was what led me to go to school to be an esthetician. i was so drawn to learn more about the skin, and the industry. i also began to note my personal triggers for acne. acne is genetic, so being that i do have the genetic propensity to break out, i am extremely sensitive to the foods i eat, stress, and products i am using. i noticed that while my friends could drink coffee all day and be unaffected, it would cause my acne to become inflamed and breakout. i decided to cut coffee and noticed a huge improvement in my skin. i also noticed a connection with my sugar consumption and my breakouts, another area that i decided to closely monitor and limit! the last piece that i could tell affected my skin (before the vast knowledge that i obtained working at sS) was stress. i would get flare ups in conjunction with stressful occasions, and reflecting back now with the knowledge i have of physical and sleep stress, i can see clearly that my on-the-go work and life schedule, as well as my lack of quality sleep (lots of late nights), could not have been good for my inflammation and skin!

now that i have the education and tools that are essential to get and remain clear, thanks to working at sS and self exploration, i am so grateful to have some kind of control over my body! the acne-safe lifestyle is so much more than  a key to getting clear skin, it’s a recipe for a healthy and happy body as well. so be good to yourselves and trust in the process! hopefully my little reflection sparks some connection, and know that you are not alone!

above: instagram photo proof of what a product junkie i was! 

how blake handles stress

blake is one of the handful of clients we’ve had over the years that loved their experience clearing up with us so much that they’ve decided to work for us! originally from idaho and raised in san diego, she now lives with her husband in our neck of the woods. we always loved her straight-forward, get-it-done attitude, along with her compliance to the acne-safe lifestyle. she’s literally, a poster-child (woman!) for skinSALVATION!  in recent months, i’ve loved getting to know and working with her – we both have a penchant for the satisfying feeling we get after organizing and cleaning things, areas, rooms, refrigerators.. a skill that really comes in handy as the main woman behind our front office. – kim

while stress affects us all, it is important to recognize how you can individually manage your own. here are a few ways i cope with stress in the evening, after getting home from work or an otherwise busy day.

i usually start completing my sS skincare regimen at least 45 mins before i plan to sleep. this sets the tone for the evening since my regimen is extremely therapeutic for myself. i then make a warm cup of this.

this tea helps to calm and regulate digestion, which is such a nice two-in-one 😉 i then retreat to my bedroom and snuggle into a blanket. a huge contributing factor to my nightly routine is music! spotify is a great tool for finding relaxing stations or some good ‘ole frank sinatra.

after i’ve done this, i find it extremely helpful to pack away my phone and laptop, playing the music in my living room and leaving my door cracked. for the past year, i have created a “no-tech zone” in the bedroom. restricting all electronics to outside my bedroom creates the atmosphere for sleep and relaxation only, allowing your body to know it’s time to rest and avoid that harmful blue light!

finally, i slowly drift off after reading a paperback book.

-blake, front of house