Your skin is helping to carry a burden. There is a delicate balance between investigating your unique why, while simultaneously trusting that your body’s current response is necessary.
There is so much to address about acne from a place of non-judgement. Here is what needs to be said first:
You are your best healer.
Your intuition is your best guide. I will say things in this series that will resonate with you, and I will say things that will not resonate with you— I invite you to trust yourself before me. Healing is not one size fits all. We are all different and must discern what our own unique path to healing looks like. What works for someone else might not work for you, and vice-versa.
The words ‘detox,’ ‘toxin,’ ‘pure,’ and ‘clean’ can be hot-button words in the beauty and wellness space. Many of these words are used in relationship to acne and breakouts. I would like to make it clear that I might use those words sometimes. These words are how I was taught and I am not triggered by them in a negative way. Here is how my own mind defines toxin: anything that our body, or system, or organ, or tissue, or cell has in excess. This can be anything from excess cellular metabolic waste that our lymph system is burdened by to heavy metals to BPA to PTFE to essential oils. Key phrases of understanding: ‘has in excess,’ or ‘is burdened by.’
I am not sharing medical advice. The knowledge I share is cumulative. I am offering my perspective, which reflects my ongoing herbal medicine studies, my experiences with customers, estheticians and wellness professionals, my experience in sourcing and manufacturing, my library and research studies, and my direct communication with plants. I often get questions asking for ‘a single resource’ to learn this information. Again, it is cumulative, and these posts are not intended to be a formal class. If something does not resonate with you, I invite you to leave it. I am not here to convince anyone that my perspective is more right than another.
What is acne?
‘Inflamed and/or infected sebaceous glands’ is a simplified definition. My definition would be ‘burdened skin making up for burdened organs or systems elsewhere in the body.’
This is best explained by defining our skin as an ‘organ of elimination.’ When you look at the skin through that lens— as herbalism, Ayurveda, or Traditional Chinese Medicine does— you can contemplate treating acne holistically. ‘Holistically’ coming from ‘whole,’ meaning you treat your entire body and eventually get to the root cause of a symptom.
The skin is often dismissed as an organ of elimination by conventional western medicine. But as an herbalist, I see it differently. For example, liver disease, leaky gut syndrome, or sibo typically see acne as an additional symptom, and it requires an understanding of the whole patient to see this connection. Traces of heavy metals, VOCs, mycotoxins, excess nutrients, and excess cholesterol can be found in excretions of both sweat and sebum (oil). Dismissing acne as a separate ‘dis-ease’ from whatever ‘dis-ease’ our burdened body is simultaneously experiencing is not truth for me personally.
Your acne is a symptom of a grander cause, and your skin is helping bear that burden, reflecting back an overall state of “dis-ease.”
What causes acne?
The truest answer to that is not one that I can answer for you, because YOUR ACNE IS UNIQUE TO YOU. One source will say it’s too much chocolate or dairy consumption, one source will say it’s candida, and another will simply insist you stop touching your face.
‘Give up dairy, give up meat, give up sugar, give up gluten, wash your pillow case nightly, don’t use a washcloth, exfoliate more, exfoliate less, it’s hormonal, it’s streptococcus, it’s candida.’ All of this advice makes me cringe!
Do you see where I’m going here? Acne can have one trigger or multiple triggers, and it can trace back to one organ being burdened or multiple organs being burdened. Working with an herbalist, Chinese Medicine practitioner, or holistic doctor is the best way to get to your more comprehensive cause— but again, don’t let that override your own intuition.
Our cells create waste, which is easily managed by an otherwise healthy person. In addition to cellular metabolic waste, we might have excess of something in our body from an inside or outside source, which also would be ‘waste.’ This could be hormones, excess vitamins, minerals or metals, a food our body isn’t metabolizing easily, a bacterial or viral infection creating excess cellular waste, mycotoxins, environmental toxins, or allergies triggering a cascade of inflammatory responses in the body— to name a few.
Organ or System Burdens
In an unburdened body, all of this waste (toxins, or excess), exits the body via primary eliminatory organs, and the skin goes unaffected. However, if you don’t have a healthy digestive system with beneficial flora, an unburdened liver to metabolize and process, vital kidneys to filter and purify, and a functional lymphatic system pumping waste away from healthy tissue, your skin takes on a more active role in holding the burden of excess. This burden will create inflammation in the skin and the body.
Now can you see why there is not a one-size-fits-all approach? Any of the above combinations of burdens could lead to acne.
To get to your unique cause, I recommend getting professional help from an herbalist, naturopath, nutritionist, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner or a wellness collective like Parsley Health. Unfortunately, these options are out of budget for many individuals. Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help put you on the path to your unique ‘why:’
- How are your systems of elimination working?
- Is your gut bacteria diverse and how is your digestion? A naturopath can help you to eliminate food allergies and promote gut health.
- What could your unique waste/toxic load be coming from? Keep in mind your burden might be coming from something other than food, like mold exposure, a specific allergy in the home, or contaminated water.
Rarely do products cause acne. The transition to new products can cause minor temporary breakouts, but this is not acne. Products cannot ‘cure’ acne either, they can only alleviate symptoms and support skin. Healing acne is an inside job.
Treating Acne Topically
Since acne has an internal root cause, can topical products help acne? Yes, they can mitigate harm and alleviate symptoms. Topical whole plant products can 1. reduce inflammation, 2. support a healthy lipid barrier, 3. support your microbiome, and 4. encourage lymphatic movement. Each of these could be a stand alone class, so this is highly abbreviated.
Whole plants support your skin through inflammatory and immune responses. They do not shut this response down— plants work with your body, not against or for your body. These responses keep you healthy, strong and vibrant, but when we don’t know why we are reacting, trusting our body’s response can be scary and frustrating. Turning off or silencing our body’s reaction with a pharmaceutical like steroids suppresses our immune system, as opposed to plants which support the body through the inflammatory process.
Support a Barrier Health
We have been taught that acne needs more cleansing and removing of our naturally occurring lipids. Lipid barrier removal is a misstep, even for oily skin. Our lipid barrier is a layer of protection against pathogens, environmental elements and outside pollution. Removing it is unnatural and can lead to inflammation. When our skin feels unprotected, it will work harder and faster to recreate those lipids, leading to oilier skin that has an unbalanced lipid ratio.
Support Microbiome Health
Having a diverse microbiome (the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body) prevents single strains of bacteria from becoming dominant. When we wipe it out with harsh ingredients we leave our skin more vulnerable to infection, as well as a multitude of other things our diverse microbiome does for us. Should we be putting isolated strains of probiotics on our skin to increase diversity? I don’t believe so, because we do not know exactly which strains our skin is lacking because our microbiomes are unique to us. Instead, I recommend removing things that can harm it like topical antibiotics, harsh cleansers, alcohols and acids. Go outside, swim in the ocean, hike in a forest, and don’t fear dirt. Feed your microbiome with real food, whole plants, unrefined oils, and plant waters.
Stimulate Lymphatic Movement
Lymphatic movement is stimulated by body movement, and one would think that is a given. However, tense muscles and long days at a desk can leave our lymph stagnant. Many healers will also tell you our emotions and traumas are held in our bodies which causes stagnation. Simulating movement beneath the skin, which plants are capable of, will help keep lymph moving and carry waste away.
Laurel Skin Products for acne
Support Cleanser: Cool Relief: This non-foaming cleanser has a unique gel-cream texture that hydrates and soothes. It is feather light with an instant cooling effect on inflamed, irritated acneic skin. Featuring: Chamomile, Calendula, Licorice and raw Honey.
Hydrating Elixir II: Support + Recover: This Elixir delivers complete hydration alongside immediate soothing relief to reactive, irritated, inflamed acneic skin. Featuring a combination of potent anti-inflammatory plants: Turmeric, Self Heal, Chamomile, and Milky Oats.
Balance Serum: Clarifying Relief: The lightest of all of our Serums, the Balance Serum absorbs instantly leaving behind a drier finish, as it decongests and dissolves pore congestion. Featuring some of my favorite plants for oily skin, perioral dermatitis and acne: Jojoba, Cranberry, Lavender, and Helichrysum.
Recovery Balm: Soothe + Mend: Recovery Balm is supportive for anyone who’s skin is in distress, assisting with any type of dermatitis, redness, swelling, inflammation, or irritation. Featuring: Tamanu to single handedly addresses all acne related symptoms and concerns; along with Lavender and Helichrysum.
Blemish Treatment: Deep Relief: This powerful single drop treatment immediately removes the burden of inflammation, redness, and swelling associated with acne flare ups, balances microbial disruption, and reduces stress with its aromatherapeutic effect. Featuring: Blue Chamomile, Thyme, Black Cumin, and Tamanu.
Detox Mask: Purifying Relief: This Mask strikes a balance between clarifying with clay to reduce pore congestion, while hydrating with nourishing roots, and soothing with anti-inflammatory herbs and flowers. Featuring: French Green Clay, Chamomile and Lavender Buds, and Passionflower Vine.
Depending on your own unique expression of acne, other products that might be well suited to you are: Unburden Serum, Gentle Mask, Almond Rose Exfoliant, Honey Berry Mask, and Oil Cleanser: Deep Clarity.
“Our deepest emotions use the same pathways to express themselves: sweating, blushing, turning pale, hair standing on end, etc. Therefore the skin shows the dragon tracks of trauma, both physical and psychological. Traditional forms of medicine always looked to the condition of the skin (for the diagnosis of both the physical and emotional).”
– Matthew Wood
Acceptance and self Love
We have discussed many of the physiological causes and symptoms of acne and the things we can do to help. But what about the things that we cannot see? Stress, emotional turmoil, psychological and spiritual are all things to contemplate as we seek to better learn our own unique why.
I believe that acne should be radically normalized. RADICALLY NORMALIZED. Acne is a natural response to our unique root cause, whatever that cause may be. It is something that we should attempt to bring into a space of non-judgement for ourselves and others.
I am guilty of only showing my ‘good skin days’ on social media, but the truth is that I get painful cystic acne in times of stress, emotional and spiritual upheaval, and when I push my body too hard. I have my own unique why and root causes. But these flare ups make me embarrassed, frustrated, confused, upset, self-conscious— and in my darkest moments, self-loathing.
For those who also sometimes feel those feelings, I see you. I wish for you the ability to see the natural inflammatory response in your skin for what it is— something that is somehow beneficial for your overall being in that precise moment. Your skin is helping to carry a burden. There is a delicate balance between investigating your unique why, while simultaneously trusting that your body’s current response is necessary.
Can we trust our body more? Can we hold space for whatever might be processing and moving through us physically, emotionally and spiritually? Can we witness waves of judgment and self evaluation wash over us, coming and going, and then washing back out to sea?
You are divinely loved. There is nothing to fix about you and there is nothing wrong with you. Symptoms are expressions; symptoms are communication. How deeply can you trust this?