How I Got Rid Of My Cystic Hormonal Acne
Are you struggling with cystic hormonal acne?
Where no matter what you do, no matter how many times you get rid of a pimple, they always seems to come back.
Where your face is covered in red, deep, sore and cystic spots that litter your jawline, chin, cheeks and forehead.
Where you’re at your wits end, your cupboard is full of all the products you’ve tried and you’re sick of being embarrassed by your skin.
I feel you. Because that was once me.
I suffered from relentless, painful, cystic hormonal acne for 6 months until I’d had enough and I made a pledge to get rid of it.
Four months later I was acne free and I’m still acne free to this day.
I eat dairy. I eat sugar. I put makeup on and sometimes I even forget to wash my face until 2pm. And I still don’t break out.
Wanna learn how I became acne free?
Then this episode is for you.
Download the podcast episode from your fav podcast platform or hit play below.
Today I’m going to show you…
How I got rid of my cystic hormonal acne
Before we dive into my years battling with acne, I want to give you a visual of what my skin is like today. Which is clear, cystic acne-free, red and purple mark free.
- Where I eat sugar or chocolate without breaking out.
- I can wear makeup and sweat and not break out.
- And to be honest, some days I forget to even wash my face until the afternoon, and I still don’t break out.
To show you how I got here, I need to rewind back a decade or so, all the way to when I was 16 years old.
You see when I was teen, I didn’t have that stereotypical acne that covered all over my face. I had maybe 2 or 3 small pimples that were always present on my face, but my biggest burden was my back.
My back was covered in hundreds of red, blind pimples. Some were whiteheads, but mostly they were small, really red and a pain in my ass. It was bad enough that at my Year 11 river cruise I gave my friend a Covergirl concealer stick. She slathered concealer all over my back, rubbing it in to try and cover all of my back acne because, for once, I wanted to wear a strapless dress. Not even a fully back exposing one, just one that exposed the top of my shoulders to armpit level. But my upper back was so bad that it had to be caked in concealer to cover it because I was mortified at my acne.
By the time I was about to start my final year of high school and our school ball was coming up, I’d reached a critical level with my skin.
My skin was making me miserable and shot my confidence to the ground.
So my parents decided to take me to the doctor to see if I could do something just to clear it up for the ball. And out of all the options, my doctor at the time recommended I go on the oral contraceptive pill.
And the pill cleared it up beautifully. My back cleared, my face cleared. I was on one specifically for acne that has an anti-testosterone aspect to it.
But all in all, my acne cleared up.
And at the time, being young, I was like, holy frickin hallelujah. This is great.
Then fast forward to late 2016. I had been battling with various reproductive, vaginal and mood issues for about 6 years and the last point of call to see if these symptoms would go away was to try going off the pill. I was also in my third year of my naturopathy degree and I knew the impact the pill had on my health. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t stick my head in the sand and I knew it was time to come off and use other forms of contraception instead.
So in October 2016, I stopped taking my oral contraceptive pill.
And those first two months, were freaking phenomenal.
I had so much energy, and coming off had such a profound impact where it felt like I had this veil suddenly disappear from my head like this intense brain fog just suddenly disappeared. It was the most clarity and clear thinking I’d had in so long. I didn’t realise the impact the pill had on making me feel cloudy and foggy. My libido increased like 200%, I was getting a bleed each month, and everything was hunky dory.
Until it wasn’t.
About three months after stopping the oral contraceptive pill, my acne started to pop up.
At this point it was just one little acne spot on my chin, a little spot on the forehead, a little spot on the cheek. But it was manageable. I’d get rid of it but then more would start to pop up. It was kinda like get rid of one and 2 would appear in it’s place. At this point, they were just these little sebaceous white heads that were really easy to squeeze and get the pus out.
But about 4 to 6 weeks later, my pimples started getting really deep and cystic that I was struggling to get rid of them. And these cystic ones were forming mainly on my cheeks, forehead and chin.
These cystic acne spots would be these super deep, reddish-purple acne spots that you could see a mile away. The pus was really deep down and they were really sore to touch. I’d often stare at my face imagine using a scalpel to cut through the pimple, just to alleviate the pressure and allow the pus to start oozing out.
It’d be so frustrating, because they’d pop up and hang around for weeks. I could hardly get rid of them and end up littering my face in scabs and scars. I ended up going crazy trying to battle with this acne on a daily basis.
I got to about six months of being off the pill where my acne was at the worst it’s ever been.
I had so much going on in my life at the time that I basically put my head in the sand because nothing was working to get rid of it or make it any better.
I got to a point where I felt embarrassed to go out without makeup, that I would go outside and feel like people were looking at me and my confidence was completely gone.
I felt so embarrassed of my skin and the fact I was a woman in her late 20’s suffering with horrendous acne.
All I could think was ‘I wasn’t a teen anymore, this was getting ridiculous’. I was so sick of always battling with one acne spot, finally getting victorious, only for another 1 or 2 to appear in its place.
I was so downhearted about my acne at this point that I had a moment where I thought ‘far out, maybe I should just go back on the pill’. Because I was losing this fight and the pill would make things so much easier. That fleeting thought appeared multiple times but I pushed through every time and thought ‘No, I’m not gonna do that. I came off for a reason and I’ll only have to go through this again the next time I want to come off it’.
At this point in my life, I was 1.5 years away from graduating my naturopathy degree, and after trying countless topical products, I decided to dive in deep and discover absolutely anything and everything that I could do for my acne.
I wanted to understand how acne operated, why it formed on a deeper cellular level, and what was truly effective at getting rid of it for good.
And holy moly, it made me realise acne is not a mysterious beast that we’re always trying to reign in. It has a very simple pathophysiology. It has a simple set of factors or processes that are driving to it be produced and I thought that if I just fix up the things that are triggering those factors or processes, then acne can’t appear in the first place.
And boy did I hit the jackpot.
From that moment, my acne started to clear up and kept clearing up until I now have skin that I don’t even need to worry about.
The worst my skin ever gets now is maybe 1 or 2 of those super tiny little sebaceous whiteheads once a month. You know the kind, where they’re so small that your fingernail can gently glide across it and it takes the top off and suddenly – poof – it’s gone.
So the burning question: how did I clear my acne for good?
Well this was my unique combination of factors that caused my acne.
But before we dive in, I want to reinforce that all health issues have a trigger or the root cause which started the health issue in the first place. I had a trigger that caused my acne and it may or may not be the same trigger that caused yours. Kind of like how a match is the one to start a fire.
Then there are exacerbators, the things that make health issues worse. I had certain things that were making my acne worse. They didn’t cause my acne, but they were making it flare up 100x worse. This is like chucking fuel onto a pre-existing fire.
Add fuel to a fire, the fire gets angry and worse. But if you add fuel to a bunch of sticks that have no fire , then nothing happens.
Things like dairy and sugar are exacerbators or fuel added to an acne-fire. While you’re acne is present, dairy and sugar can flare it up and make it worse. But when your acne is gone, dairy and sugar won’t trigger your acne anymore.
My root cause, the light that started my acne-fire, were my hormones.
For 3 months after coming off the pill I had a regular 28 day cycle, which was more muscle memory by my body knowing I should have a monthly bleed rather than it being a healthy period.
Because after 3 months, my menstrual cycle went erratic.
- My 4th cycle was 47 days
- My 5th cycle was 88 days
- My 7th cycle was 61 days
- My 8th cycle was 104 days long. I didn’t have a period for nearly 3 months.
It was at this point when my cycle was varying in lengths that it was clear I wasn’t ovulating.
Why is not ovulating an issue (despite the obvious fertility issues)? Well it causes a hormonal imbalance.
- Testosterone is your pro-acne hormone. It triggers your acne to appear and especially triggers acne along your jawline and chin.
- While oestrogen and progesterone are like your anti-acne hormones that stop you from breaking out in acne.
But if you don’t ovulate, you don’t produce any progesterone. And the reason for not ovulating may be because my healthy oestrogen levels weren’t high enough.
So you end up with low oestrogen, low progesterone and normal or high testosterone. See the imbalance?
When testosterone is left unchallenged by oestrogen or progesterone, it’s free to do what it wants. And what it wants to do is make you break out in pimples.
This is a big reason why certain oral contraceptive pills work so well for acne. They give you synthetic oestrogen and progesterone, but more importantly they inhibit your testosterone production. No high testosterone means a big acne trigger is gone.
For me, my testosterone levels were actually fine. It was my lack of ovulation that were throwing my hormone levels all over the place. This is why testing your hormones post-pill is so important, because we don’t want to reduce your testosterone if it’s actually at a healthy, normal level.
The root cause of my acne was my hormonal imbalance and this was due to not ovulating which was happening for 2 reasons:
#1. I had classic post pill amenorrhoea, or a lack of periods after stopping the pill.
This happens because when you’re on the pill, it makes your body think that you’re pregnant. The pill gives you synthetic oestrogen and synthetic progesterone. This tells the brain, Oh, I’m pregnant – there’s no need to ovulate. When you’re on the oral contraceptive pill, you don’t ovulate. That means I hadn’t ovulated for the 8 years I was on the pill.
But when you come off the pill, if you’re not able to detox and get rid of that synthetic oestrogen and progesterone, they’re going to continue to prevent you from ovulating.
My body didn’t detox and get rid of my synthetic oestrogen and progesterone very well, so my body didn’t ovulate for a long time until I manually cleared the synthetic hormones myself. Once I cleared my synthetic hormones over 8 weeks, my cycle returned to a standard 30 day cycle. The main way I did this was via broccoli sprouts. This is because broccoli sprouts are super rich in a substance called sulphurophane which detoxes oestrogen and gets it out the body at a much faster rate. I took a lot of broccoli sprouts during this time, and it got my period back to normal pretty quickly.
Stress was one of my exacerbators of my acne. It was throwing fuel onto my acne-fire and making it rage like crazy.
The reason stress made my acne worse was:
#1. Stress stopped me from ovulating.
Stress comes along and it tells your brain ‘now is not a safe time to fall pregnant, don’t send the signal to your ovaries to ovulate’. Stress increases your prolactin which stops ovulation, and it tells your body to go into fight or flight mode and run the heck away from that tiger. When you’re in fight or flight mode, your ovulation stops because your body does not want you to fall pregnant while running away from that tiger. Although we aren’t running from tigers anymore, our lives are filled with lots of new stress.
So my stress was stopping me from ovulating, and as a side effect my testosterone was unchallenged and causing acne.
#2. Stress spikes your blood sugar and boosts up insulin-growth-factor-1 – which is a chemical in the body that causes acne.
Controlling my stress was the most important tool I had to learn during this time and that came in the form of regular me-time. I scheduled in 30 minutes twice a day where I relaxed and did whatever made me happy – read a book, take the dogs for a walk by the beach, lie in the grass. Whatever it was, I had to put two me-times into my day to help control my stress hormones and ground me back down.
I did take a few adaptogenic herbs too like licorice and siberian ginseng because these herbs reduced my stress hormone and stopped my adrenals from reacting to the stress in my life – nipping that vicious stress cycle in the bud.
To this day, stress is still the bugger that messes up my menstrual cycle and causes my acne to come back if I don’t look after myself.
3. Replenish Nutrients
#1. Vitamin D
My vitamin D was really really really low. Even beneath the doctor’s reference range at 35 millimoles (ideally, we want it at 100 millimoles).
Vitamin D has an essential effect on acne because it works to modulate your immune system and through extension, your inflammation levels.
Because at the root of it, acne is an inflammatory condition.
So having your immune system and inflammation supported and calm helps to stop your acne forming in the first place. Vitamin D can make a really big impact because it’s essential to control the immune system and inflammation in the body.
The other nutrients that I needed replenishing was zinc. The oral contraceptive pill does deplete nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.
Zinc is crucial when it comes to acne. You need sufficient levels of zinc to help modulate your testosterone levels, but you also need it to help with controlling how fast your skin cells are replicating and how much oil you are producing on your face – both factors that cause acne. Zinc is crucial to replenish in my body, especially because it’s really hard to get enough zinc in the diet. It took about around six months to fully replenish my zinc levels to a satisfactory level.
4. Skin dehydration
I’ve always had what was described as combination skin. Usually my skin is pretty dry, but during the months after going off the pill, my skin oil went up like crazy as it does when you come off the pill, but I also still had dry skin.
This caused an issue for 2 reasons.
- #1. My dry skin was making me produce more oil to try and protect and hydrate the skin dryness.
- #2. Coming off the pill made me produce extra skin oil, which was dehydrating my cells and making my skin cell membrane unstable.
When my skin cell membranes were unstable, it made them vulnerable to being infected by the P.acnes bacteria. P.acnes is a bacteria which lives on the skin and causes acne by oxidising the oil on my skin and causes inflammation and acne.
My skin was dry, dehydrated and trying to produce lots of oil to compensate for the dryness which was making me break out in even more acne.
How I fixed this was rehydrating my skin back up and stabilising my skin cell membranes again so that they wouldn’t break out in acne.
- The most important part here was drinking enough water – over 2.5L or 10 glasses per day.
- My dry yet oily skin also made me fall into the trap of trying to remove the oil from my face with drying products – which actually had a negative effect and made me produce more oil to counteract the dryness. The best thing I did was switch my foam based cleanser – that was incredibly drying and making me produce more oil – over to a cream based cleanser which was hydrating my skin and balancing my oil levels way better. It also meant putting a good oil-free moisturiser on morning and night to tell my skin it was hydrated so it wouldn’t produce more oil. I started with a plain jojoba oil, which may seem horrifying adding more oil to your skin, and trust me I was scared as bat poo when I first did it, but that oil stopped my skin from producing extra oil.
5. Bad gut bacteria
During my acne flare up, I was super stressed from my studies, and I was also anxious and stressed because of my skin.
This stress was making my acne worse, but it was also irritating my gut.
Stress damages your gut and it alters your gut bacteria in favour of the bad gut bacteria. And I knew my stress was irritating my gut because I started to get gassy and bloat after eating.
But why is an upset gut and an overgrowth of bad bacteria bad for acne?
Well the biggest issue is those bad bacteria produce a substance called lipopolysaccharide, or LPS for short. This LPS molecule is super duper inflammatory and there’s been one study that’s found that those who suffer from acne have elevated LPS levels in their blood, whereas those who didn’t suffer from acne had no or reduced levels of LPS in their blood. This LPS, it comes from those pesky bad bacteria in your gut.
So by my gut reacting up, my LPS levels were increasing and they were throwing a tonne of fuel onto my acne and making my acne flare up.
The other sneaky reason my gut made me acne worse is there are certain bacteria in your gut that reactivate and reabsorb your oestrogen back into your body to recirculate in your blood. If that oestrogens there, it’s messing with your hormone levels and potentially stopping ovulation from happening.
Getting my gut bacteria rebalanced by promoting the good gut bacteria with specific prebiotics was essential to help reduce my acne.
How did I get rid of my post-pill hormonal acne?
For me, my acne was mainly due to a hormonal imbalance after I came off the pill because it stopped me from ovulating and altered my hormone levels. And then my acne got worse because of my high stress, my nutrient deficiencies, my dehydrated skin, and my gut and my bad bacterial overgrowth.
Once I realised these were the 5 factors causing my acne and started to fix them, my acne started to reduce after 2 months and by 4 months my acne was pretty much gone.
To the point that:
- I eat sugar and I don’t break out.
- I eat dairy and I don’t break out.
- Even now I can have high moments of stress and the most I might get are tiny little sebaceous white heads the size of a pinhead that disappear on their own in a matter of hours.
- Even my skincare routine isn’t fabulous and my acne still doesn’t come back.
All because I found the root cause of my acne and sorted it out, while also making sure all those factors that were exacerbating it (basically throwing fuel onto the fire) were looked after and supported, too.
So if you’re struggling with relentless acne, or you’re like me and suddenly breaking out after being on the oral contraceptive pill, just know your solution is out there. Your acne has a root cause and once you find it you can have clear, acne-free skin long term.
If you’d like help to find the root cause and exacerbators of your acne so you can have clear, acne-free skin, too, then send me a message or book in for a free discovery call and get the clear skin you deserve.