The vast majority of people experience skin breakouts at some point of their lives. Most people go through this during puberty and then get over it during the college years, and then happily jump into adulthood, pimple-free. A few unlucky people, including myself, get to experience breakouts as adults, which is frustrating not only because you have to deal with hard-to-disguise blemishes, but also because you cannot use the typical excuses that work for teens — it's my hormones, I eat too much pizza, I am studying for a school test, etc.
Yet, I found that the reasons why adults breakout are not different from the reasons that teenagers breakout; hormonal imbalance, improper nutrition, and stress can affect our health at any age. Our skin mirrors the changes that happen inside our bodies, and it never fails to reveal when we are not well.
When a recent health scare forced me to make some drastic lifestyle changes, I had the chance to reap some side benefits, including much healthier skin. No more volcano-like pimples ready to explode on my forehead in the morning, no more painful little white bombs on my chin; not even during my monthly hormonal days. So, I thought that it was time to document the changes I've made and offer some tips for how you too can stop breaking out.
I quit sugar and dairy.
I am not going to pretend like I didn't desperately crave a squeeze of honey in my tea or coffee for the first few weeks, but I finally quit all forms of "added" sugars and starchy dry carbs like pasta, bread, etc. Almost immediately, the ever-present redness I experienced on my cheeks for the past 5-6 years was completely gone and my skin looked more firm.
It turns out, eating sugar contributes to a process called glycation, in which molecules called AGES (advanced glycation end products) are formed. AGES damage collagen and elastin, which are responsible for skin's elasticity. In a few words, eating sugary foods makes our skin age significantly faster, leading to saggy skin and wrinkles.
I also gave up on my morning organic cappuccinos (organic milk is better than conventional, but is still, ahem, milk) and in just a couple of weeks, my skin became less oily. For someone who couldn't step out of the house without a generous supply of blotting sheets, it was a huge improvement. According to a 2005 study, the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk may play a part in the development of acne by increasing sebum production.
I made sleep a priority.
As I mentioned in a previous article, skincare tips I wish I had learned in my twenties, beauty sleep is certainly not a myth. Sleeping poorly — less than 7 to 8 hours a night —alters our hormones, resulting in significantly high cortisol levels that do not only make us feel irritable and hungry, but also affect our skin in different ways, such as increasing sebum production. Other effects of elevated cortisol levels include: delayed dermal wound healing, inflammation, and potentially even skin diseases like acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and pruritus.
After years of preaching the importance of sleep to others, I finally made it a priority in my own life and the outcome was even better than expected. Less puffiness, less lines, no blemishes, and more brightness. Looking at myself in the mirror every morning has been a less frightening experience.
I got serious about stress management.
One thing I've lost since moving to the US from Italy, is my ability to make time to relax. Managing my stress levels has become a huge issue for me. Feeling rushed all the time and committing to more things that I could possibly do in a day was taking a serious toll on my health.
A few months ago, I realized that it was time to take stress management seriously and I decided to learn how to chill out again. I started to intentionally try to let go of the things that were keeping me anxious, worried and angry and get a hold of my emotions. It was not easy, and I did not always succeed at it, but it did help. Every time I caught myself frowning and tensing up my face muscles, I just took a deep breathe and relaxed. Stress is another important factor when it comes to hormonal balance, and studies have shown that the relationship between stress and acne is clinically relevant.
One action step I took that I believe helped me tremendously was working exercise into my daily routine. I began to exercise not just for the sake of keeping my body strong and fit, but also for the stress-relieving benefits that it produces (endorphins).
I became obsessed with cleansing my face.
I had been a skincare fanatic for years, but it wasn't until this year that I understood the importance of cleansing my face above any other skincare treatment. For my skin in particular, since I live in humid climate, it is absolutely essential that I remove sweat and excess oil from my skin in order for my pores to stay clear.
One thing that made a big difference is that I found a cleanser that works great for my skin. Gentle, lightweight, and water-soluble, which is necessary in order to leave my skin free of residues that could clog my pores. I also became very diligent about cleansing my skin before and after working out.
Healthier skin is a result of a healthier lifestyle.
To further prove that these changes were the reason behind my newly healthy complexion, there were a few times during the course of the past months, where I messed up. I slept less, ate birthday cake (made with plenty of sugar and milk), and didn't get a hold of myself during a stressful time. Sure enough, pimples, redness, and large pores made a quick re-appearance, only to promptly leave again as I got back on track.
I cannot guarantee that making these changes will work the same way for everyone, because hormonal balance can be affected by several different health-related matters, but the worst that can happen is that you get more sleep, maybe get a bit slimmer and perhaps feel a bit more relaxed.