staying clear through the holiday party season

the holidays are fast approaching, and with the onset of holiday work parties and huge family gatherings comes our primal tendencies to binge and celebrate on overdrive. we get it – it’s cold outside, the sun makes a pathetic appearance for months on end, and the last thing you want to do is stay on top of your acne-safe lifestyle. it’s tempting to stay out ’til dawn, partying in the club and bingeing at the corner pizzeria, but this might not help you on your journey to clear skin.

the unfortunate truth is that sugary drinks, sporadic sleep and inflammatory substances like alcohol and sweet holiday foods can all contribute to acne by activating the body’s stress response. even though you may not feel stressed out mentally or physically, your body is working hard to combat the stressors of the holiday season, and sometimes it will let you know by producing a map of inflamed acne across your face.

we want to help you prepare for and adapt to the stress and stressors of the holidays, so here are our tried and true tips for making it through this party season with clear skin:

maintain your skin regimen. try your best to keep your morning and evening skincare habits afloat, even after a hard night of hard liquor. sleeping in makeup that has been caked onto your face for hours can be damaging to the health of your skin, as the ingredients in makeup can irritate pores and contribute to inflammation. plus, we can’t underestimate the importance of washing away the polluting particles that lodge themselves into our skin throughout a day of city-living. nightly cleansing is extra important if you are a smoker or if you are consistently exposed to second-hand smoke, damp and stuffy bar air, or if you interact on an intimate level with people who use cloggy products. if you have a more complex regimen that involves multiple serums, don’t worry about the extra steps – just be sure to cleanse, tone and moisturize in the morning and before bed. we love taping a step-by-step regimen card to the bathroom mirror so we don’t have a chance to forget this important nightly ritual. if you really can’t bring yourself to wash your face, at the very least, wet a makeup-removing sponge with some water and cleanser and wipe off the day’s dust. i must admit that even i have been guilty of saturating a toner pad with mandelic toner, moisturizing and calling it a night on occasion.

stay away from excess sugar. this can be a tough one throughout the holidays, when sweet spiced lattes beckon on every city corner and when the work fridge is packed with pumpkin pies and festive snacks. if you know you can’t make it through december without the tastes of the season, try making your own versions of classic holiday desserts, like a paleo pumpkin pie with low-glycemic coconut sugar instead of refined white sugar, or an apple pie that features an almond-flour crust for an added protein-boost. substitute ghee for butter in this recipe for chocolate-covered chestnuts and you’ll be invited back to holiday parties for years to come. rainbow grocery and whole foods usually offer a plethora of low-glycemic holiday sweets to choose from. bring these tasty treats to work or parties so you have something that you know is acne-safe to munch on. we wouldn’t want you to feel left out of the holiday fun! try your best to moderate your sugar intake, but if it’s not always possible, don’t stress – just remember to have a good time. opt for dark chocolate and fruit, and if you truly can’t resist the temptation of your uncle’s famous homemade pumpkin pie, have just a bite or two to satisfy that craving. as for alcohol, choose clear liquor with no added sugar – just a twist of lime or some bitters and sparkling water will do the trick! check out this site for a comprehensive guide to the sugar content in wines and steer towards the dry side. and don’t worry, dairy-free egg nog can totally be on the menu.

eat a well-balanced meal before or with drinks and skip the late-night mcdonald’s binge. in order to decrease the likelihood that you will face a punishing hangover after a wild night out, eat a good-sized meal with protein and healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and fish beforehand. eating before drinking will also help you steer clear of late-night fast food choices (it’s never fun standing in line at the pizzeria at 2am anyway). if you do end up craving a midnight snack, gnaw on some jerky or an avocado to balance out the blood sugar rush that accompanies a night of drinking. some late night san francisco snack options include the tamale lady, tacos without cheese or sour cream, street dogs on mission (hot dogs wrapped in bacon – yikes!) or crepes without dairy. and of course, if you are really craving some pizza, try a cheese-less slice.

hydrate. we can’t emphasize this one enough. drink plenty of water through the winter season. sometimes we can forget to drink enough water when it’s cold outside because our bodies don’t register dehydration in the same way that they do when they’re faced with a sweltering heat and harsh sun. this may mean that your body doesn’t offer the same thirst signals that it might during the peak of summer, so remember to always fill up your water bottle and sip from it all day long. and drink extra water if you know you’ll be consuming dehydrating alcoholic beverages – have ‘water bumpers’ between drinks by alternating alcohol with water all night. also, think about the hangover you’ll likely feel the next day – maybe that is enough of a deterrent from doing 151 shots?

get your beauty sleep. getting a good night’s sleep has not only been linked to more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, but also with the ability to make better food choices, which is extra crucial this time of year. it makes sense – if you make it through the night with only five hours of sleep, you’re likely to wake up tired, reaching for that sugary coffee drink just to function at work. pair that with a fluffy pastry and you’re setting up yourself up for another afternoon crash. so try to prioritize this precious rest time and aim for a solid eight hours of sleep each night. just remember: you don’t have to go to ALL of the parties your invited to. you can always say no. if you do tend to your every social obligation, cut some of them short or party alcohol-free. allow a couple nights a week for your body to rest so that you don’t end up with a nasty cold that puts you out for days.

don’t leave home without your sterilizing toner. skinSALVATION’s sterilizing toner has many benefits throughout the holiday season. first, it’s a fantastic antidote to any type of hot and heavy behavior that may occur in the club. if you find yourself sweating buckets on the dance floor, simply swipe some sterilizing toner across your face as a way of freshening up while preventing the spread of acne-causing bacteria deep into your pores. and if you find a special someone on the dance floor and end up locking lips, the sterilizing toner can be a great way to help ensure that their cloggy products won’t interfere with your clear skin journey.

icing – if you haven’t already jumped on the icing bandwagon for clear skin, get on it! icing is a great way to decrease the redness and inflammation that sometimes accompany hormonal and stress-related acne. if done in conjunction with your regimen, icing also creatures micro-fissures in your skin that allow potent product like mandelic toner to penetrate more deeply. so if you don’t already have an ice pop, come by the shop and pick one up! then, head home, cleanse your face, pop in home alone and start icing your face for 20-30 minutes. be sure to move the ice constantly in order to avoid ice burn and follow it up with toner and moisturizer. it’s an easy and relaxing way to heal current acne and to prevent new acne from forming. icing is both a great way to relax before hitting the sack after a night of drinking AND a perfect pick-me-up on a hungover morning.

prepare for a long night out. if you know you’ll be spending the night at a friend’s house, pack an overnight bag full of 2oz travel size skinSALVATION products and a clean pillow case. don’t sabotage your clear skin journey by settling for your pal’s bacteria-filled linens. bringing your own pillow case also ensures that your skin won’t be exposed to any residue from her cloggy products. similarly, you won’t have to scrub with her coconut oil-infused bath and body bar if you think ahead and pack a travel bag of acne-safe face products.

take a minute to slow down. the holidays can be stressful as we rush around town in a frenzy, seeking perfect gifts for our loved ones while making holiday feasts for friends, hosting parties and still attempting to keep up with work deadlines. it’s a lot to handle. so take a minute to slow it on down everyday and either meditate or acknowledge a few aspects of your life for which you are thankful. this is the season for giving but we often get so caught up in giving to others that we forget to take time out for ourselves. so next time you need a few minutes for an epsom salt bath or a few sun salutations, don’t feel guilty. instead, recognize that you are making positive choices for yourself and for the people around you by allowing your holiday stress to melt away. we love the meditation app, simple habit, which has a ton of great 1-5 minute meditations that can be done anywhere – in a cab on the way to an event, on bart before walking to the office, or on your morning walk with the family pup.

at the end of the season, try out a liver cleanse. this can be especially important if you went a little overboard with the cigarettes/cocaine/molly that some random person offered you in the bathroom line at the bar. our livers work overtime during the holidays to process all of the added substances we feed our bodies, so it’s good to give our star quarterbacks a break every now and then. this is why january is such a popular month for cleanses and whole30s and detoxes. when you feel like your body has had enough of the drugs and alcohol, try nourishing it with liver-supporting herbs like dandelion and burdock roots, nettle and milk thistle. consuming these herbs as teas alongside a diet free of processed foods can help give your liver a much-deserved break. we love sipping on detox teas all through the cold winter months. when our livers are functioning properly, they become the front line of defense against acne, as they flush toxins and excess hormones like estrogen from our bodies. if the liver is overwhelmed, the skin becomes the next organ to take on the responsibility of flushing out these nasty little invaders. so, the less mess we put into our bodies, the more energy our livers devote to helping us maintain clear skin.

one of my favorite clean green soups to make involves simply steaming a ton of green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, zuchinni) and blending them with the water from steaming (that’s where all the nutrients are). add half an avocado for creaminess, a bunch of cilantro, dill or parsley, and a hearty squeeze of lemon, and you’ve got yourself nutrient-dense detox powerhouse. i love this soup on cold mornings with a poached egg and some sauerkraut. you can also down some chlorophyll (not to be confused with chlorella, which is not acne-safe), to boost your daily dose of beauty greens. Check out these tips to get started on a gentle post-holiday liver cleanse for clear skin.

so what’s the bottom line? the holiday season is a time for celebrating with friends and for indulging, so have fun and don’t beat yourself up if you stray a bit from the acne-safe lifestyle. do your best and celebrate small victories, like the dairy-free pumpkin pie you brought to your holiday work party, where nobody knew the difference.

what are some of your favorite ways to celebrate the holidays acne-safe?

exercise and acne: move your body for clear skin

whether you are a yoga mat-toting cyclist or a gym rat with a penchant for the elliptical, working out is an important ritual for many of us – it’s our way of shedding daily stress while doing something positive for our physical bodies. daily movement of some kind, be it taking a walk during your lunch break, choosing the stairs over the escalator, going on a robust run or attending a barre class, has been linked to better digestion, better moods and more vibrant heart health. and if you struggle with persistent acne, finding the right balance of exercise and movement is crucial for maintaining healthy skin.

how exercise benefits the skin, the body and the mind

if improved overall health isn’t enough to get you off the couch and into some jumping jacks, here are a few more tantalising reasons to regularly move your body. 

  1. exercise eases stress and helps regulate mood. exercise releases the chemical norepinephrine, which helps the brain adapt to all types of stress. physical movement also releases endorphins, our happiness chemicals, and dopamine, our reward chemical. ever hear of runner’s high? it’s just the endorphins kicking in after intense energy expenditure. some studies have shown that exercise can be as effective an anti-depressant as prescription medication for some people.1 and since stress is linked to the development of acne, reducing stress by taking up some physical activity is a great step on your journey to clear skin. so get moving!
  2. exercise helps us stay sharp as a tack. not only has regular exercise been linked to an increased longevity of brain cells, it is now a common recommendation by doctors as an important step in staving off alzheimer’s. how does it work? exercising boosts the chemicals in the brain that help keep the hippocampus, our memory center, running as a well-oiled machine. exercise has also been linked to neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells, which primes us for a lifetime of learning and an enviable quick-wittedness.2
  3. confidence and self-worth skyrocket. this one is fairly obvious, but exercising can help boost self-esteem and self-image. because we know that movement is good for our physical bodies, this often translates to feeling better about ourselves overall. the more you move, the better you feel!
  4. exercise can help create vivacious skin. a recent study shows that regular exercise can help slow signs of aging by increasing circulation and oxygen flow to the skin around the face and by contributing to the growth of collagen.3 regular light exercise in combination with an anti-inflammatory diet and a non-comedogenic skin regimen can have powerful effects on skin health.
  5. exercise improves sleep quality. consistent exercise over long periods of time has been shown to benefit quality and length of sleep.4 daytime physical activity promotes longer periods of slow-wave sleep, which is the deep restful shut-eye we all crave. the quality of our sleep shows in our skin – when we skimp on sleep, our skin doesn’t have the time and resources to heal itself.5  so move your body and drift peacefully into dreamland.
  6. the more we move, the more energy we have. regular exercise can have an astounding impact on our ability to sustain vibrant energy levels throughout the day. those who engage in regular physical activity generally report feeling more awake in the mornings and better able to maintain a stable energy level over the course of the day.6 say goodbye to that afternoon slump! 
  7. movement keeps things moving. if you ever feel a bit…backed up, try some yoga or a gentle jog around the block. physical activity helps move things along internally, acting as a sort of massage for the internal organs. light exercise also helps us absorb nutrients from our foods more readily.7 beware of digestive issues – sedentarism has been linked to the onset of many gastrointestinal diseases. smooth digestion is hugely important for skin health, so make sure you move your body to keep things moving.

exercising your way to clear skin

now that we know why we should exercise, let’s talk about how. exercise is a form of temporary stress on the body that ultimately leads to a greater good – it’s also known as a hormetic stressor. even though exercise temporarily activates the release of cortisol, our stress hormone, from our adrenal glands, low levels of exercise with plenty of rest in between are very beneficial to our overall health and help make us stronger. 

but for many of us, especially us women, exercising can easily spin out of control because of the societal pressures we face to look a certain way, to attain perfect beach bodies and six-pack abs. overexercising can be downright dangerous for women because of the specific ways in which women’s bodies respond to stress, and despite the benefits of movement, an overzealous approach to exercise can contribute to, rather than heal, acne. because exercise is a physical stressor on the body, it’s important to not go overboard and send the body into a state of chronic stress without recovery. chronic stress causes our adrenal glands to release higher levels of male sex hormones like dhea-s, which is later converted into testosterone, often setting the stage for acne along the jawline, oily skin, menstrual irregularities and hair growth.

so how do you know if you are overexercising? feeling sore and totally drained after a workout and into the next day is a sign that you are working out too hard. if you experience any of the above symptoms of hormonal imbalance in combination with the symptoms of overexercising, try scaling things back. try less intensive types of exercise like swimming, tennis, walking, and yoga, or reduce the number of days each week that you engage in taxing workouts. if you are used to running ten miles a day, try swapping out a day or two for a moderately strenuous hike. if high intensity interval training is your movement of choice, try dialing it back and alternating with yoga. listen to your body’s needs each day and honor them by finding activities that you enjoy that also work your body – tennis, hiking, or group sports like soccer or basketball always do the trick. and always make time to allow the body to rest and recuperate after workouts. remember to refuel your glycogen stores afterwards by eating plenty of carbohydrates and protein8 – fasting creates an added stress on the body and leaves you utterly deprived of precious energy. so don’t skimp on the nourishing food and remember to take plenty of rest days!

rather than stressing about incorporating 30 minutes of exercise into my daily routine, i try to get other forms of movement in where i can. i take the stairs whenever possible. if i drive to a grocery store, i park far from the entrance to get a few more steps in. i take breaks at work to do a few sets of squats, lunges or jumping jacks. i stretch often and i coordinate walking meetings at work, rather than meetings around the conference table. think outside the box to add little bits of movement to your routine rather than attempting to force a strict exercise regimen into an already hectic day.

packing your acne-safe gym bag

if you choose to get your kicks at the gym, here are a few tips for staying acne-safe in the process. if you have access to a shower, try to rinse off using your sS cleanser immediately following a sweaty workout. the last thing you want is a build-up of sweat and dead skin cells collecting to clog your precious pores. if you can’t get to a shower, try to at least rinse your face at the bathroom sink and follow up with some sS sterilizing toner on some toner pads. if you exercise in the evening, clean any makeup off your face beforehand in order to avoid any makeup creeping into your open pores while you’re getting your groove on on the treadmill. tie your hair up and away from your face and always wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing. and remember to keep your hands off your face during your workout – you never know where that kettlebell has been!

when building your acne-safe gym bag, be sure to include the following items:

  1. cleanser – use sS charcoal or hydrating cleanser immediately after a workout to wash away any lingering sweat.
  2. hydrating toner or sterilizing toner  – use either of these directly after cleansing to close those pores and to ensure that the bacteria from your sweat doesn’t spread.
  3. toner pads – keep plenty of these on hand to apply your toner either as part of your regimen or as a face wipe when you can’t access running water.
  4. sunscreen – whether you’re heading out into the sun or not, pop some sun protection onto your face before AND after working out.
  5. travel-size acne-safe shampoo, conditioner and body wash – these are important pieces of every gym bag that often go overlooked. this is especially important if you are prone to body acne.
  6. acne-safe makeup and clean brushes – if you wear makeup, check those ingredients and make sure nothing is gonna clog your pores! clean your brushes at least once a week with sS charcoal cleanser.
  7. clean towels and fresh clothes. make sure you are not reusing the same grimy gym towel over and over, day after day. just like changing out your pillowcases, swap out your towel for a fresh one every single day to avoid spreading bacteria.

let us know your favorite ways to add movement into your day along with the contents of your acne-safe gym bag!

footnotes

1. american psychological association. stress and exercise.
2. disalvo, d. (2013) how exercise makes your brain grow. forbes magazine. oct 13 2013.
3. safdar, a., et al. (2011) endurance exercise rescues progeroid aging and induces systemic mitochondrial rejuvenation in mtDNA mutator mice. pnas. 2011 mar; 108(10):4135–4140.
4. breus, m. (2013) better sleep found by exercising on a regular basis. psychology today. sep 6 2013.
5. kubota, y., et al. (2010) community-based epidemiological study of psychosocial effects of acne in japanese adolescents. journal of dermatology. 2010 jul;37(7):617-22.
6. fahmy, s. (2008) low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue symptoms by 65 percent, study finds. university of georgia today. feb 28 2008.
7. tauseef, a., et al. (2013) sleep, immunity and inflammation in gastrointestinal disorders. world journal of gastroenterology. 2013 dec 28; 19(48): 9231–9239.
8. chandler, r.m., et al. (1994) dietary supplements affect the anabolic hormones after weight-training exercise. journal of applied physiology. 1994 feb; 76(2):839-45.

the official sS guide to constipation and acne

throughout my twenties, i was in a band that toured the country often. i had persistent acne that would not relent despite my efforts to “eat clean” and to pare down my skincare regimen. during this period of my life, i noticed that every time i left town to go on tour, my digestive functions would, without fail, shut down. i found myself going 6, 7, 8 days without…dropping the kids off at the pool. now several years later, i recognize this as extreme constipation in response to the stress of travel, alcohol consumption, disrupted sleep and altered dietary routines. at the time, i couldn’t make sense of it all. i mostly just laughed it off as a quirk, not fully comprehending the gravity of constipation as a health condition.

but what exactly is constipation and why am i talking about it on an acne blog? as we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, digestion plays a crucial role in skin health. if your digestive system is not functioning like a well-oiled machine, other organs, like the skin, usually take up the slack. for those with acne-prone skin, keeping things moving is an essential step on the skin-healing journey.

constipation affects 20% of the american adult population.1 it’s a condition that results in a person having “fewer than three bowel movements a week, or hard, dry and small bowel movements that are painful or difficult to pass.”2 though we should aim to eliminate 1 to 3 times each day, modern lifestyle factors like stress, poor fiber intake and dehydration can slow down our body processes. healthy bowel transit time should rest anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. an easy way to test for this is to swallow 2 tablespoons of whole white sesame seeds with a meal, record the time and observe when they appear in your stool afterwards.

have you ever taken a moment to really examine the stuff that ends up in the toilet? if not, you’re not alone! we are encouraged from an early age to avoid this taboo subject, to replace direct language with euphemisms and flat-out denials, to dance around the doo-doo. many of us are afraid to even admit that we undergo this natural and perfectly healthy daily routine altogether.

here at skinSALVATION, we are not afraid to get right to it. if you’re a client, you are probably already familiar with the digestion-acne connection. the main purpose of defecation is to swiftly remove toxins and excess estrogens from the body. when people suffer from constipation, these toxins and hormones get held up at the border and if they are stopped up for too long, they make their way back into the bloodstream. the body then finds alternate ways of pushing them out and the skin becomes the next exit point. the influx of estrogen back into the bloodstream has an additionally negative impact on hormonal balance, which in turn, can contribute to acne.

so how do you know where you stand on the poop spectrum? in the late 90s in bristol, england, some medical researchers generated a genius poo-determination tool called the bristol stool chart. while other healing modalities like chinese medicine and ayurveda had been examining poop characteristics as a means of determining illness in patients for centuries, the bristol stool chart was the first standardized poop test in the west and it has been important in the diagnosis of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (ibs) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (sibo).

how does your poop match up? if types 1 or 2 seem all too familiar, it might be time for a re-evaluation. here are some of our favorite tips to combat constipation:

drink more water. this is an easy one. aim to consume at least half your body weight in ounces each day. so if you weigh 160 lbs, try to get at least 80 ounces of water into that beautiful bod to hydrate your cells and to loosen up your stools. carry a large glass or stainless steel water bottle with you and sip from it all day. add tasty accessories to your water to make it more palatable – citrus, cucumber, spearmint and sage work wonders to spruce up some plain old water.

drink herbal tea (these can count toward your total water goal for the day). try drinking teas with digestive herbs after eating in order to lend a helping hand to your overworked digestive organs. look for teas with black pepper, licorice, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and fennel, all of which beat the bloat while helping to move things along. if your constipation is dire, senna tea can be a temporary solution, but avoid relying on this herb, as it is more of a bandaid that doesn’t tackle the root of the problem.eat enough fiber – both soluble and insoluble. soluble fiber is the soft stuff that hastens our bowel movements – bananas, the inside of a sweet potato, and the fleshy parts of root vegetables. insoluble fiber consists of fruit and vegetable skins and stalks – all of the roughage that we don’t digest and which contributes bulk to our stools. we would be lost without both of these important types of fiber and we should all aim to consume 25-40 grams in total each day.

avoid processed food, dairy and fried foods. these foods can contribute to major backups and often have a dehydrating effect on the body.

take a magnesium supplement like natural calm before bed. not only does magnesium help you drift off into a blissful night’s sleep, it is also a crucial mineral for skin health and acts as a mild muscle relaxer. most americans are deficient in this mineral and it is not easily absorbed from food, so taking at least 400 mg each night is advised.3 taking an epsom salt bath is another great way to absorb this precious mineral through the skin. a quality cod liver oil supplement can also help move things along. we like nordic naturals.

keep your stress in check. is there any physical ailment that does not include stress management as a treatment? no! as i parlayed in my story above, the gut-brain connection has a huge impact on our bodily functions. our digestive systems shut down during times of stress as the body funnels its energy to our fight or flight response. eating in a calm environment and practicing stress management techniques daily is essential for keeping constipation at bay. the better we manage stress, the more energy our bodies have to devote to digesting and eliminating our food.

consume prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes. prebiotics are particular foods (artichoke, asparagus, green bananas and plantains, onions, garlic) that are consumed and digested by our good gut flora, while probiotics re-populate our guts with new bacteria. since our stools mostly consist of bacteria, having balanced gut flora is essential. additionally, taking an enzyme before each meal can help our bodies break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats, allowing us to absorb more nutrients from our food. for those suffering from sibo or ibs, be careful with pre and probiotics and talk to your doctor for recommendations.

get into proper squat position when you’re ready to release. using a squatty potty or a footstool can make all the difference. it’s important to create good bathroom habits – don’t rush, always try to relax and try to eliminate at the same times each day.

express yourself. get those emotions out, either by going to therapy, talking to friends or by starting a daily journaling practice. your body’s physical need to hold onto matter within its walls often reflects a psychological need to hold onto habits or emotions that no longer serve you. instead of bottling up your emotions, let them out in positive and healthy ways. this release can be illuminating in more ways than one!

move and stretch. yoga and gentle exercise are fantastic ways to get things moving downtown. try wind-relieving pose, child’s pose, downward dog, supine twist and forward fold – these twisty yoga poses can all help relieve constipation and encourage movement.

constipation is a serious issue. it means that something is out of balance internally, either with digestion, stress or hormones. so if you find yourself unable to eliminate for several days in a row, seek professional medical advice.

footnotes

1. pinto sanchez, m.i., bercik, p. (2011) epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. canadian journal of gastroenterology. v.25(suppl b).
2. national institute of diabetes and digestive and kidney diseases
3. kresser, c. (2011) 9 steps to perfect health – #4: supplement wisely. posted february 2011.

the ins and outs of pcos and acne

pcos, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is complicated. it’s an endocrine condition that affects 8-20% of women of reproductive age worldwide1 and it is characterized by at least two of the following three symptoms: cysts on the ovaries, elevated male sex hormones and/or absent or irregular periods. pcos is a highly misunderstood condition whose symptoms manifest differently among women. many women with pcos gain weight while others have thin body types, some have acne and regular periods while other haven’t menstruated in months. because almost all women with pcos test high in androgens (male sex hormones), many symptoms include infertility, male-pattern hair loss, oily skin and acne along the jawline, and facial hair growth. these symptoms can be frustrating to deal with because they are persistent and can often make women feel like they have no control over their bodies. but these symptoms appear for a reason. and usually that reason is that our bodies are chronically stressed and something about our lifestyles needs to change. women with pcos are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and cardiovascular disease, so acknowledging these signals from our bodies is key to keeping ourselves healthy for a lifetime. 

 

what causes pcos? 

  • genetics – while pcos is not a genetic condition, per se, predisposition to pcos can be passed down through generations. those who are exposed to higher androgens by their mothers while in the womb are also at greater risk of contracting pcos later in life.

  • stress – both physical and emotional stressors can contribute to pcos. some examples of physical stressors include over-exercising, eating foods you are intolerant to, not eating enough and constant blood sugar issues. many women who suffer from pcos are stressed to the max in their everyday lives – they take on extra work at their jobs, juggle familial responsibilities, endure harrowing breakups and family stress and then often criticize themselves for not working or trying hard enough.

  • blood sugar imbalances – this is one of the most common root causes of pcos and often stems from excessive intake of refined sugars and carbs, or the standard american diet. it often leads to weight gain and involves chronically elevated blood sugar. these blood sugar imbalances cause systemic inflammation in the body and directly influence the production of testosterone, which then inhibits ovulation and fertility.

  • over-exercising and under-eating – our society places a tremendous amount of pressure on women to look a certain way. many women internalize the pressure to be thin and spend years of their lives under-eating while engaging in excessive (usually cardio) exercise. high-intensity exercise always causes testosterone spikes, but they are usually temporary, subsiding when we refuel our bodies with calories. but when women exercise for too long without replenishing their energy stores, their hormone balance starts to suffer.

dealing with facial hair growth and acne

if you struggle with facial hair growth, you are not alone. this can be particularly frustrating if it accompanies hormonal acne – they often show up in exactly the same places along the jawline and chin. because of the cultural expectation that women maintain hairless faces, this type of hair growth can be embarrassing – but there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, there is no reason to feel shame, and there is no reason for you to change in order to appease the people in your life. having pcos is hard enough without having to navigate gendered cultural expectations.

if you are a client here at sS and you to decide to undergo laser hair removal or electrolysis, we just ask that you wait at least two weeks between those treatments and our acne face treatments – we don’t want to stress your skin out too much! if you have hair on your face that you want to remove by shaving, try the tinkle razor, which we sell in the clinic. these razors are more gentle than conventional razors. as for waxing, we don’t recommend it! the heat can be irritating to the skin and who knows what kinds of comedogenic ingredients are lurking in those waxes! 

if your doctor diagnoses you with pcos, they will most likely send you home with a prescription for one or both of two medications: metformin for insulin regulation and spironolactone for decreasing testosterone levels. it is entirely up to you whether you decide to take these medications or not, and whatever your decision, here are a few herbal, dietary and lifestyle changes to implement to keep pcos symptoms under control (and, as always, ask your doctor before making any major changes to your health plan):

  • two cups of spearmint tea each day has been shown to reduce free testosterone levels in women with pcos and has resulted in reduced hirsutism with none of the side effects of pharmaceutical-grade drugs.2 

  • 400mg of saw palmetto, a plant native to the americas, has been found to inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. the inhibition of this enzyme helps reduce the conversion of testosterone to dht, which is the male sex hormone that leads to oily skin, hair loss, acne and facial hair growth.3

  • balance out your blood sugar by reducing your consumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates – ditch the morning cereals for eggs and greens; instead of a sandwich at lunch, try a salad with tuna or grilled chicken. and pasta for dinner? no way! zucchini noodles will do the trick. eat plenty of good fats and protein and aim for three square meals a day to get your blood sugar on track and to give your digestion a break.4 and supplementing with chromium picolinate has been shown to decrease insulin resistance in women with pcos.5

  • dial in your digestion. take a test to determine any foods you might not tolerate or try an elimination diet to get to the bottom of any digestive woes. this is hugely important because digestive distress is another physical stressor on the body that can ultimately contribute to elevated cortisol and testosterone levels. similarly, make sure your elimination is on track – we flush excess hormones out of the body through our stool, so eat your fiber!

  • practice stress management. this is absolutely huge. take up meditation, improve your time-management skills, see a therapist to work through emotional stress, start a gratitude journal – do what you can to reduce chronic stress in your life as this is often the root cause of pcos.

  • cut the coffee. this is a double whammy – not only does coffee contribute to acne, but it also elevates cortisol levels and contributes to systemic inflammation. instead, try green tea, which has a healing effect on the skin due to its high anti-oxidant polyphenol content.

  • ease up on the exercise. instead of intensive cardio like running or hiit several days a week, switch these out for yoga, walking or light swimming. this will give your adrenal glands a break and will allow your body to more readily recover from stress. 

  • sleep. give your body a chance to do its healing work by getting a solid eight hours of restful and uninterrupted sleep each night. try to make this a priority – this can have a huge impact on the health of our hormones!

  • find a support group near you to work through your emotions around pcos. it’s a tough condition to deal with so finding support in different areas of your life can be a huge relief. 

 further reference:

8 steps to reverse your pcos by fiona mcculloch

paleo for women

pcos diva

pcos awareness association

soul cysters

footnotes

1. sirmans, s. m., pate, k. a. (2014). epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. clinical epidemiology. 6, 1–13.

2. grant, p. & ramasamy, s. (2012) an update on plant derived anti-androgens. international journal of endocrinology metabolism. 2012 Spring; 10(2): 497–502.
3. hudson, t. (2008) polycystic ovarian syndrome (pcos). dec 8, 2008.
4. liepa, g.u., sengupta, a & karsies, d. (2008) polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) and other androgen excess-related conditions: can changes in dietary intake make a difference? nutrition in clinical practice. 2008 Feb; 23(1):63-71.
5. rabinovitz, h., et al. (2004) effect of chromium supplementation on blood glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus elderly patients. international journal for vitamin and nutrition research. 2004 May; 74(3):178-82.

soy and acne: why we avoid this food for clear skin

here at skinSALVATION, we encourage our clients to adopt several healthy dietary changes, one of the most important being the avoidance of soy products. i know, i know – isn’t soy supposed to be a healthy wonder food, a complete protein dream? as all skinSALVATION clients learn, soy may not be as healthy for clear skin as we’ve always thought. this seemingly harmless legume may be reeking havoc on your endocrine, digestive and detox systems, contributing to painful acne in the process.

from an sS perspective, here are the top three reasons to avoid soy, especially if you are acne-prone:

1. soy can alter hormonal balance

soy contains phytoestrogens, or plant constituents that are structurally similar to the estrogen that we produce in our bodies.1 phytoestrogenic plants can affect our own hormones by altering the levels of estrogen in our bodies relative to other sex hormones.2 these phytoestrogens replace our biologically-produced estrogen in our cell receptors, disrupting the body’s hormonal balance and often resulting in a decrease in estrogen production and an increase in androgens.3 elevated androgens, specifically dht, can greatly impact the formation of acne by causing our glands to produce more oil. but let’s step back for one moment and talk about the liver. we all know that the liver’s primary function in the body is detoxification. our livers constantly work to remove not only toxins from our bloodstreams, but also excess hormones. estrogen happens to be the primary hormone that needs to be detoxed from our bodies, partially due to the nearly ubiquitous presence of xenoestrogens (also known as endocrine disrupters) in plastics, beauty products and in harsh household cleaners.4 if we bombard our bodies with this extra estrogen from plants and from our environments, our livers become taxed and are unable to perform their daily detox duties. and if the liver cannot perform its detoxing duties, it relies on other organs, like the skin, to pick up the slack. this can result in hormonal acne breakouts. additionally, these phytoestrogen-induced hormonal fluctuations can be especially detrimental for women dealing with pcos, infertility and other endocrine issues.5,6

2. soy inhibits the absorption of vitamins, minerals and protein

another major contributor to acne is inadequate nutrient absorption, either due to a poor diet or due to an impaired ability to absorb nutrients from foods as they move through the digestive tract. soy is a member of the legume family, along with other beans, chickpeas and peanuts. legumes, like nuts and seeds, are designed to survive the digestive systems of whichever creatures consume them so that they can reproduce successfully.7 in order to ensure their survival, legumes emit protective substances called lectins, which are associated with increased intestinal permeability and with inflammation of the gut.8,9 soybeans also contain phytic acid, which binds to vitamins and minerals like calcium and zinc, actively preventing their absorption.10 zinc, in particular, is crucial for keeping acne at bay because it helps reduce systemic inflammation and it can help lower dht levels.11 and even though soy is technically a complete protein, it is rife with protease inhibitors, which interfere with the digestion of protein.12 so put down that soy cappuccino – we all know about the anti-nutrient powers of coffee, after all – and start sipping a coconut milk matcha latte instead!

3. soy can be inflammatory

while it may be tempting to argue that cultures all over the world have been consuming soy for centuries to no detriment, we must keep in mind the ways in which soy crops have changed over time and in alignment with a western agricultural model. in traditional japanese cultures, soy was used only in small amounts at meals and was often fermented before consumption, allowing for easier digestion and for fewer hormonal impacts.13 soy is now rarely fermented and constitutes a relatively large percentage of western diets in the form of fillers in processed foods (soy lecithin, soybean oil, soy protein, etc). jumping from 8% gmo in 1997 to 94% gmo in 2014, soy is the most frequently genetically-modified crop in the united states today and it usually comes packed with a host of endocrine-disrupting pesticides.14 additionally, soybean oil is one of the most inflammatory omega-6 oils – the oil is extracted from the soybean using hexane, a solvent that has been characterized by the CDC as a neurotoxin.15 these chemicals, along with the indigestibility of legumes, elevate our internal inflammation levels, exacerbating acne breakouts.

looking for some alternatives to soy? here are some essential sS tips:

  • choose other legumes or green peas over soybeans or edamame
  • switch out that soy sauce (yes, including bragg’s) for coconut aminos by coconut secretbig tree farms or trader joe’s.
  • ditch the soy milk and start experimenting with rice, oat or nut milks. they’re delicious and creamy and you can even save money by making your own! califia farms and new barn are great options.
  • opt for products that use sunflower lecithin over soy lecithin – become a master label-reader!
  • if you’re vegetarian and need the protein, try pea protein, cheeses made from nuts, and black bean burgers with quinoa for the protein boost. check out kite hill nut cheese in the refrigerator section of your local natural foods store.

footnotes

1. ieh. (2000) phytoestrogens in the human diet (web report w3), leicester, uk, institute for environment and health. posted october 2000.
2. davis, s.r., et al. (1999) phytoestrogens in health and disease. recent progress in hormone research. 54:185-211.
3. nagata, c., et al. (1998) effect of soymilk consumption on serum estrogen concentrations in premenopausal japanese women. journal of the national cancer institute. 1998; 90:1830–1835.
4. mccormick, k. (2017) the liver’s role in hormone balance. connections: an educational resource of women’s international pharmacy.
5. patisaul, h.b., et al. (2014) soy but not bisphenol a (bpa) induces hallmarks of polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) and related metabolic co-morbidities in rats. reproductive toxicology. 2014 nov; 49:209-18.
6. chandrareddy, a., et al. (2008) adverse effects of phytoestrogens on reproductive health: a report of three cases. complementary therapies in clinical practice. 2008; 14:132–135.
7. franco, l. & genovese, m.i. (2002) nutritional significance of lectins and enzyme inhibitors from legumes. journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 50 (22): 6592–6598.
8. puszatai, a. (1988) biological effects of dietary lectins. recent advances of research of antinutritional factors of legume seeds. 17-29.
9. chen, a. & donovan, s. (2004) genistein at a concentration present in soy infant formula inhibits caco-2bbe cell proliferation by causing g2/m cell cycle arrest. the journal of nutrition. 134 (6): 1303-1308.
10. 
sandberg, a.s. (2002) bioavailability of minerals in legumes. british journal of nutrition. 2002 cec; 88 suppl 3:s281-5.
11. stamatiadis, d., et al. (1988) inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase activity in human skin by zinc and azelaic acid. british journal of dermatology. 1988 nov; 119(5):627-32.
12. american nutrition association. (2015) review: the whole soy story. 38(2).
13. kresser, c. (2011) 9 steps to perfect health – #1: don’t eat toxins. posted 28 january 2011.
14. usda. (2016) recent trends in ge adoption. economic research service. 
15. centers for disease control and prevention. (2017) organic solvents. national institute for occupational safety and health.