6 Women on What Finally Cured Their Acne
06.28.17
how to get rid of acne

The beauty industry is intent on selling us the idea that good skin comes from good products. More specifically, a carefully designed lineup of luxury ones. All we have to do is nail down the specifics. I can’t really complain; the shelf in my bathroom proves that this is an effective strategy. But I was shocked when I discovered I could get clear skin with one (very free) lifestyle change. SO MUCH WASTED MONEY.

When I moved to New York, my jawline broke out like crazy. I chalked it up to circumstance — new stress, new climate, new everything — but as my mind and body adjusted, my face didn’t. So I blamed my hormones. I tried everything: facials, new products, the whole nine yards. Nothing worked.

Then, one day, I overheard someone drawing a connection between jawline acne and dairy consumption. I googled it. Half a million hits. Fuck. The last thing I ever wanted was to blame was my diet. I was sold on moderation; I didn’t want to become the ingredient checker, the birthday-cake skipper, the nitpicky one at dinner. I didn’t want rules. But those reasons didn’t compare to bad acne. I cut dairy from my diet completely and within a week, my active acne healed. Within a month, I realized I hadn’t gotten a single zit since. My skin changed completely. There was no tapering — it was sudden. I was surprised, considering I’d never had any digestive issues with dairy before. The downside? Now I do get stomach aches when I eat dairy. I’m still negotiating this rule. I’m both thrilled and annoyed by it.

Either way, the answer is clear: dairy triggers acne for me. And the more I shared my experience with other women, the more I learned that many of them had similarly dramatic anecdotes, but with a different catalyst swapped in. When I put a call out on Instagram, I got hundreds of responses. Many were solutions I’d never even heard of! These stories are worth sharing, I think, as an alternative to the narrative that more and more products are the answer. Read on to hear six women’s experiences and then, if you have a story of your own, please share it below!


Candace Marie, 29

how to get rid of acne tea tree oil

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

My skin has always been a combination of oily and dry, so it was very difficult to find an antidote that could clear up my face. Even into my mid-twenties I remember FaceTiming my mother and her always asking me why my skin was breaking out so badly.

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

Traditional remedies like Proactive and drugstore products. I became so exhausted trying different remedies that I met with a dermatologist who suggested Accutane. After hearing about the side effects and everything that I would have to do to just take the drug — including being on two types of birth control — I began researching to find a natural remedy.

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

I learned about tea tree oil, and also learned that vitamin C can help clear acne scarring, which I also struggled with. I found the tea tree oil at Whole Foods and online at iHerb: Aura Cacia Lavender & Tea Tree Oil. The vitamin C treatment I use is called Vitabrid Spot — it’s available exclusively at Barneys and will be online in August.

What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine?

My skin just slowly started to glow. As I stuck to the routine, my face started to clear up, slowly but surely. Now I feel comfortable not wearing makeup and when I do put on makeup, I don’t have to cake it on. I can just lightly touch up my face and be done. My routine includes a light face wash with cold water, blotting my face with tea tree oil and dabbing Vitabrid Spot over any scarring before applying my makeup. I do the same routine before I go to bed at night.

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

I would say try it. I do think that everyone’s skin is different and what might work for one person may not work for another. I love that my routine is simple and natural. I would advise people to do their research. I learned that a lot of dermatologists suggest a drug because they get a percentage of the sale, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being force-fed a skin antidote when there might be a simpler solution.


Angela He, 25

how to get rid of acne hormonal birth control

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

I got my first pimple when I was 10. I remember my aunt dabbing Chinese medicine on it and laughing, “You’re becoming a woman!”

Like many teenagers, I had acne. Unlike many teenagers, it didn’t go away when my teen years ended. The stress blemishes I got before exams turned into raging cystic pimples that lasted weeks at a time. As college started, I felt as if I was permanently marked. It felt shameful, as if my skin was a reflection of something I was doing wrong. I refused to be in public without a thick layer of makeup. I’d apply a full face simply to pick up my mail. My self-esteem was nonexistent.

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

I tried everything you’re “supposed” to do as part of a healthy skincare routine. Wash, tone, moisturize, use non-alcoholic products. Three-step routines, 10-step routines! My best friend (who has flawless skin) even posted a note on my bathroom mirror that read, “Don’t be too drunk to wash your face!” Nothing worked.

My dermatologist, unconcerned but growing aggravated with my continued skin sorrows, finally suggested I “grow out of it.”

So I waited…

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

At 18, I visited my doctor in hopes of a cure for a newfound lethargy I was experiencing. I was also missing periods and having trouble losing weight. She immediately sent me to an endocrinologist, and later to a gynecologist, where I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries and cyst growth inside the ovaries. Symptoms can include facial hair, irregular periods, obesity and cystic acne. Left untreated, PCOS — which is also a leading cause of female infertility — can increase a woman’s chances of diabetes, depression and endometrial cancer. Though there is no cure, hormonal birth control is a commonly prescribed treatment.

At the time, my symptoms were mild (some acne, some weight, some tiredness) and birth control was frowned upon by my parents who thought cosmetic reasons were not enough to justify the possible side effects. (Oral contraceptives still carry a stigma, both medical and moral, in Asian American communities.) They persuaded me not to take it, in the hope that I would again “grow out of it.” So I let it go and forgot about it. What we didn’t know was that symptoms of the disorder can worsen as women enter their prime reproductive years.

By the time I turned 22, I was ready to put my foot down. I was having crazy mood swings, painful irregular periods and my weight was inching higher every year despite my best efforts. My acne had also grown out of control and makeup could no longer hide it. I felt foreign in my own skin. I was depressed, anxious and lost. I was about to start my first big job in New York City. I couldn’t go on like this.

I began researching how I felt and one thing kept coming up: PCOS. I dug up my records and demanded that my doctor put me on hormonal birth control the next day.

Tell me about the change. What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine to keep it that way?

It was like night and day. Three months into taking hormonal birth control pills, my acne became practically nonexistent. The occasional pimples, which were few and far between, were easily treated by better lifestyle choices and beauty products.

Now my skin finally reacts to a routine! Not being in constant battle with it has allowed me to really enjoy beauty and makeup products. I wash my face of makeup and pollutants with Shiseido’s Perfect Cleansing Oil, then follow with Nature Republic’s Green Derma Mild Foam Cleanser and a toner. I moisturize with Clinique’s Moisturizing Gel and use TonyMoly sheet masks twice a week. (I clearly enjoy this process!)

And, most importantly, I take my birth control pill every night.

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

Yes. 100%. If you think something is wrong inside your body, be vocal. Go to your doctor, get checked out. Being treated for PCOS has not only cleared up my acne, but has also vastly improved my emotional and physical health. I’m very lucky that my birth control is covered in full by my insurance for now, but that may not always be the case, which is both frustrating and terrifying. Call your Congressional representatives. Support Planned Parenthood. Support each other. Support women.


Patty Carnevale, 29

how to get rid of acne

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

Hormonal. Wildly hormonal. It flared up when I hit puberty in high school, and then had I bouts here and there in college, but it wasn’t until my early to mid-20s that it raged into full-fledged, painful adult acne.

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

Proactiv, Spironolactone, elimination diets, doxycycline hyclate, retinols like Epiduo, facials, yoga, herbal teas, pleading with the universe…

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

Isotretinoin (Accutane). I had been to three different dermatologists over four years by that point. With the first two, I’d refused to entertain the idea because of some scary things I read online about Accutane — namely mood swings and mental health issues — that they both seemed to be underplaying. When I exhausted all other options, I did additional research and started to talk about it out loud, which is when I learned that a few people I knew had tried it and it had really worked for them.

Tell me about the change. What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine to keep it that way?

I took what looked like horse pills twice a day for five months (it’s prescribed for anywhere from three to six months depending on severity, so that gives you an idea of how bad it was), then I was done. After the first year I had zero breakouts (this was three years ago). It was magic. This problem that took up so much space in my brain, whether I wanted it to or not, was suddenly solved. I felt really free. I don’t think I fully understood how much adult acne was impacting me until it was gone. Today I use gentle cleansers and moisturizers like CeraVe and keep things simple in the makeup department. I do occasionally get a breakout here and there, but it’s nothing compared to what it once was.

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

I advise lots of research and talking to your doctor. In the US, anyone who is prescribed Isotretinoin must sign a digital contract each month saying they’ll use two forms of birth control while on the drug and and also must see their doctor for a monthly blood test. (You can’t take it if pregnancy is at all an option during that time.)

What I so appreciated about my dermatologist (Dr. Alison Gruen in NYC if you’re looking for a good one) is that she walked me through the process, didn’t try to minimize the seriousness of the reactions I could/would have while taking it and offered solutions and regular guidance throughout. The reactions vary from person to person, but universally it totally dries everything out. I tend to run on the oily side, so that was actually kind of nice. A major plus was that I didn’t have to wash my hair as much and I had to drink a shit ton of water every day. I definitely piled on the moisturizer and lip balm, and left the house in a coat of Aquaphor during the winter months. The skin sensitivity freaked me out sometimes — forget loofahs and body scrubs of any kind — but it was all very very worth it for me.


Aubrey, 30

how to get rid of acne no caffiene

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

I have had acne off and on most of my life. My skin used to be super oily when I was younger. Going on Accutane in college balanced that out, but I would still break out on my chin and along my jawline. Big, deep zits followed by itchy rashes.

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

A variety of topical creams and chemical peels. I even tried putting toothpaste on pimples. Nothing was successful.

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

Quitting caffeine completely! I came about that solution in a sort of roundabout way, though. I have a lot of food allergies that cause digestion problems. I had two serious attacks with anaphylactic symptoms that sent me to the clinic for a steroid shot. I went to see my allergist to reevaluate why I was having these reactions. All the anaphylactic food allergies, foods that cause your throat to close, came back negative. I couldn’t figure out why I kept having this throat-tightening feeling and bad breakouts with rashes. After doing some research, I found out caffeine can cause this. I gave it up last summer. No coffee, no chocolate. Sad face. It is pretty amazing how fast my skin cleared up, though, and my throat hasn’t tightened since.

Tell me about the change. What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine to keep it that way?

I don’t get giant pimples anymore, even under stress. My skin stays clear with the occasional dry patch from the change in season. I drink chicory in the mornings now, which has the same texture as coffee, but without the caffeine. I wash my face twice a day and am loyal to using CeraVe hydrating face wash and moisturizing cream, even though it’s like putting butter on your face.

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

I highly recommend trying it if you haven’t. It’s not only given me great skin, but more energy, too. That afternoon sleepy lull has been rare for me since cutting caffeine. It probably helps that I also always drink a lot of water.


Ysenia, 22

how to get rid of acne no dairy no soy

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

I was a very late bloomer, and so was my acne. When I got to college, I had massive breakouts in my T-zone, specifically my forehead. It was a slice of pepperoni pizza that I tactfully cropped out of every single selfie.

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

I tried Proactiv, but that was a total bust. I religiously followed another three-step routine (Clinique), which was semi-effective but did nothing for my forehead issue. After that, I wondered if the problem was that I was being too hard on my skin with chemicals, so I switched to a “pure and natural” face wash that ended up doing NOTHING. I tried using rose water as a toner. Rose water by itself. Just a bar of soap. Scrubs. Toothpaste. Eventually, I just settled for the three-step routine that worked okay.

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

The beauty routine just maintained and controlled the acne that I had, so I figured it was my best bet. My big skin change, though, was something that happened unintentionally.

About two years ago, I went on a health kick and decided to cut most dairy out of my diet and switch to soy. Within a month, my skin unexpectedly began to clear up. Not completely, but a lot. At some point, I started dealing with bad stomach pains. I honestly assumed they were caused by my pants being too tight around my waist. I lived with the pain for over a year because it didn’t happen all the time. It wasn’t until about four months ago I realized it happened when I consumed soy-based drinks.

As a result, I made the full switch to almond milk, and let me just say, it was magic for my stomach and my skin.

Tell me about the change. What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine to keep it that way?

Now I have little to no breakouts, and I’m starting to see the scars disappear. Of course, I still deal with occasional pimples caused by PMS and resting my chin on my hands, but for the most part, my skin is a lot healthier. I’m comfortable enough to walk out of my apartment with no makeup on. My routine is a Clinique three-step with a Clinique scrub once to two times a week!

And no dairy. And NO SOY!

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

I’m not an expert, so I can’t say cutting dairy and soy out is THE solution to having clear skin, but I definitely think it’s worth trying. You don’t have to be allergic to something for your body to react to it in unexpected ways.

My one tip would be: When you’re breaking out, don’t jump to the conclusion that you need to change your routine. Think about all external influences that may be the source of the problem.


Leslie Price, 35

how to get rid of acne

Tell me a little about your skin and history with acne.

I didn’t start having real issues with my skin until I went off hormonal birth control pills. Things very quickly spiraled. It was terrible. I mostly had jawline problems, weirdly focused on the far corners of my jaw. (The more I type “jaw,” the weirder it looks. JAW. J.A.W.)

What solutions had you tried that didn’t work?

I tried all the usual stuff — Retin-A (which seemed extremely harsh), facials, the entire Somme Institute kit.

What finally did work? And how did you come about trying it?

A non-prescription DIM supplement called Estroblock. I found it on a blog after hours and hours of fruitless late-night internet research, looked at the Amazon reviews and was like, “Fuck it.” It took a while to work — honestly, more than a few months — but it’s been very effective. I’ve been taking it for six years now. I notice that when I go off it, I have skin problems. A lot of people have blogged about it: see here, here, here and here. I take one capsule in the morning when I wake up, and one when I go to sleep.

Tell me about the change. What’s your skin like now? What’s your routine to keep it that way?

I have very few problems with my skin now, save for dark undereye circles and occasional redness. I barely do anything to it. I’m lazy/efficient like that.

Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? Have any tips?

I would recommend it to others, with the caveat that they do their own research. I’m obviously not a doctor; I can only speak from my own experience.

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