Guest post about PCOS and acne by Marianna Constable, Tea Tree & Lemons
How I went from years of cystic acne to finally feeling free in my own skin.
My hormonal roller coaster started right at the beginning of puberty. I was 13 when I got my first period and, while it came for the first few months, it wasn’t long before it was gone again. When it went, it was usually for 6-12 months at a time.
At 15 I started seeing doctors for my absent periods. I went to several OB/GYN visits between ages 15-17. I also started seeing dermatologists for acne. They all said the same thing: “It’s normal for this age, take _____.” Birth control, antibiotics, accutane, the list goes on and on. They told me that if I didn’t have regular periods by age 18, I could come back. Otherwise, take birth control.
I didn’t know much about my body or health but I have always been a little skeptical of non-crucial medications, so I politely declined each time.
I tried everything that I could get my hands on for my acne. I always tell people “If it’s on the shelf at Walmart or Target, I have tried it.”
I had every infuriating and discouraging conversation that acne-sufferers know all too well. I had women with naturally gorgeous skin trying to give me advice and a high school boyfriend sending me DIY treatments from Google. I spent years listening to “it’s not that bad” and “everyone breaks out.” I heard lots of, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I never would have guessed your skin was that bad because you are so good at doing your makeup!” Thanks.
When I was 18, my period had not come in two years (yes, you read that right) and I had horrible acne. I still did not understand the connection between my absent periods and my acne and was viewing them as two isolated symptoms.
In 2012, I was sitting at the Thanksgiving Day table at my grandmother’s house when my cousin began talking about her own period issues and this “life changing” book called Woman Code by Alisa Vitti.
I read the book and it was, quite literally, life changing. I remember reading about PCOS and feeling like someone had stolen and published my own personal diary. It was me – that was me! I had PCOS!
I had never realized how peculiar it was that I had never had a single breakout on my forehead – they were always all along my cheeks and jawline. The first time I heard “if it’s anywhere that you could grow facial hair, it’s hormone related” I was stunned. Why hadn’t my dermatologists told me this?
I went to my OB/GYN (still age 18) and told them that I thought I had PCOS. They dismissed me and said that irregular periods and acne were still completely normal at this age. I told them that they had said they should be normal by now and, again, they brushed it off. “If you want clear skin, take birth control or see a dermatologist. You’re still young – your body is just figuring things out.”
But I knew I had PCOS, and Alisa’s own story of hopping from dismissive doctor to doctor really resonated with me.
I decided that I didn’t need an official diagnosis just yet. I could still treat myself using holistic protocols. So, I began my extensive research. I discovered Flo Living and PCOS Diva. I spent years researching and pinballing around between different vitamins, supplements, diet plans, and even synthetic hormones (a desperate last resort).
What I discovered during my investigations is that there are an amazing amount of resources regarding internal hormonal regulation for symptoms like acne (if you have not yet explored women like Flo Living and PCOS Diva, you are in for a real treat!). However, there are not a whole lot of resources for acne treatment and product recommendations that are compatible with hormone health. All the hormone gurus focused on internal health, and all the skincare gurus focused on skin health. I couldn’t find anyone to give me recommendations that would help both.
I felt hopeless and helpless. I spent hundreds of dollars on acne products. I bought every drugstore face wash on the shelf and spent $200 on an online scar-healing regime that made my breakouts worse. I did everything I could to dry out my skin without realizing how much worse I was making it. I did absolutely everything wrong and made every single mistake in the book. But then, eventually I started doing some things right.
One of the first and best things I ever did for my hormones was going nontoxic with my beauty products. My skin and hair look and feel so much better and it is so freeing to know that I am not absorbing substances that are only making my hormones and acne worse. Still, most of the skincare experts I was able to find weren’t very concerned about toxicity, and so it became very difficult to find recommendations that I knew would 1) work and 2) not cause any more internal damage or future problems.
So, in April 2020 I started Tea Tree & Lemons to provide women (and men) with skin care recommendations that are clean, affordable, and effective.
Here are some of the most effective tools that I have found for hormonal acne:
Every body is different and there’s no magic pill that will fix all of your problems, but researching and experimenting with natural supplements was one of the first things that really made an impact in clearing my skin. The supplements that helped me the most were: Vitamin B Complex, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc (you can usually get these three together in one bottle), a good women’s multivitamin (I used a gummy vitamin that contains Biotin), Omega 3/6/9, and probiotics. I don’t necessarily recommend going out and buying all of these today but use this list as a jumpstart to begin your own search for the right supplements for you.
There are so many reasons to go nontoxic with your beauty products, even aside from the fact that the toxins in our cosmetics are contributing to our hormonal imbalance. Our skin absorbs around 60% of what we put on it. Between carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, one of the easiest changes you can make for your health is to ditch environmental toxins. If you aren’t sure where to start with this, begin by ditching every product from a brand you have seen advertised on TV (Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Clearasil, Stridex, L’Oreal, Olay, Aveeno, Biore, Garnier, the list goes on and on). Even when brands like this release a “naturals” line or have products marketed as such, it is usually something called “green washing” where they throw on a green label and people trust that its safe. I would strongly recommend getting rid of anything from any of these big drugstore brands.
Learning how to take care of your skin
One of the worst mistakes I had when I had acne was treating my skin like the enemy. Now, instead of getting angry with my skin, I try to collaborate with it. Instead of blaming it for being stupid and punishing my breakouts with a scrub or astringent, I retrace my steps to determine what I did to contribute to the breakout. Be kind to your skin and treat it the way you would want someone else to treat it. If it’s causing pain, it’s probably a bad idea. Be gentle. Don’t punish your breakouts, treat them. Ditch your scrubs and “invigorating” cleansers. Throw out anything with the word “astringent.” Change your pillowcase. Shower within 30 minutes of working out. Always take off your makeup before going to bed. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
For more on PCOS & Acne, check out this podcast, “Practical Tips for Healing PCOS Acne“
Throwing out packaging and looking at ingredients
The beauty industry is one of the most profitable industries in the entire world, and it’s absolutely sickening how high profit margins are. Last year Neutrogena spent over $100 million on advertisements and marketing. Most of the brands dominating the shelves are not the best brands for your skin or health, they are just the loudest voices in the room. So, ditch what you see, and learn to look at the ingredients. Use an app like Think Dirty or Healthy Living to measure toxicity and Influenster to find unbiased reviews. Ignore the bottle, ignore the billboards, ignore the ads. Read the ingredients and learn what they mean.
Focusing on the root
There are lots of bad products and habits we use and do daily that contribute to breakouts and bad skin, many of which we aren’t even aware of. But ultimately, cystic hormonal acne is coming from the inside out. Learn about your endocrine system. Focus on healing your gut. Take prebiotics and probiotics. Pay attention to your blood sugar. Decrease inflammatory foods like dairy and gluten. Eat a nutrient rich diet and take any necessary supplements. Reduce stress in your life. Take deep breaths and remind yourself that it’s going to be okay.
Tea Tree & Lemons may be the next leg on my journey, but I’m nowhere near the end. I still struggle with many of the symptoms of hormone regulation and am trying to find my magic formula. But it’s a journey, and one no one should take alone. Support and accountability are crucial tools in taking control of our bodies and health. Communities like PCOS Diva are wonderful examples of that.
Hormones matter. Skin matters. Health matters. It’s so easy to feel alone and lost in your own body, but you aren’t. You aren’t crazy. You aren’t “just being dramatic.” These things matter. They control every aspect of our lives, so much so that we often feel like we ourselves are totally out of control.
Our faces matter. They are the portal of human connection. You aren’t vain, you aren’t narcissistic, you aren’t abnormally insecure. Your insides are struggling, and your outsides are paying for it. There are answers, there are solutions. They exist. Keep searching, keep trying. Don’t despair, and don’t give up! You are not alone. Find your people and let’s help each other!
Marianna Constable is a hormone health enthusiast and skincare junkie passionate about sharing her PCOS story and teaching women about their skin and bodies. She started Tea Tree & Lemons as a resource for nontoxic, affordable, and effective skincare recommendations. She lives with her husband of four years in Virginia where she packs her schedule with blogging, researching, singing, and teaching high school Spanish.
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