Yep I said it adult acne! It's bad enough that teenagers are plagued with acne but when it hits you in your adult life it feels doubly unfair. This is what happened to me, except I missed the whole teenage acne saga and jumped straight to the adult acne one. I really wanted to share my experience with you in case any of you out there are experiencing the same issue and are feeling the way I did. So I'll start from the beginning.
Growing up I never had 'bad' skin; it was never pore-less perfection, but it was pretty good and only really broke out if I ate way too much chocolate. Fast-forward to 23 and things started to go downhill. It started out with little lumps under my skin all over my chin, that slowly spread across my cheeks and finally to my forehead. Then came the full fledged break outs, I literally mean a new break out every morning! I'd lie in bed running my fingers over my skin discovering new breakouts whilst "why me?".
Seriously "why me?"
Everyone always says your skin is a good reflection to what is going on inside your body. So why did I have acne when I was the healthiest I'd ever been and eating a clean nutrient-dense plant-based diet? It just wasn't fair! I felt let down by my body and to be honest I felt hopeless, everything I'd tried hadn't worked and my skin had been getting progressively worse over the past 3 years. I was now 26 with full-blown acne and scarring just to top it off. My confidence was at an all time low, I hated looking in the mirror and I would begin to well up anytime I tried to talk about it. If you're experiencing a similar thing I know exactly how you feel.
So what did I try? What helped, what didn't? Let's start with what didn't work.
Antibiotics and the Pill
Like I said, I felt I tried everything! My aim was to heel my skin naturally, but after a year of no success I headed to the GP. The GP re-hashed the common causes for acne: hormones and bacteria, thus his suggested treatments focused on those, the contraceptive pill or antibiotics. As I don't think the pill is good for our bodies I immediately dismissed it. Now, I also know antibiotics aren't good either but my desperation and perhaps my vanity won over. I then asked the GP "what about my diet? Could that be affecting my skin?" he answered, "no, diet doesn't affect your skin". Yep you read right: diet doesn't affect your skin. I should have ditched the prescription straightaway and booked into see someone else, but I didn't! Instead I took the prescription for 9 months, it slightly cleared my skin but when I stopped taking it the acne came back with vengeance - it was now twice as bad! With all my knowledge I should have known that stripping my gut of bacteria, including all the good bacteria, wouldn't solve my problem, but it just shows how low I was feeling, I'd stopped trusting my knowledge and my body.
After I'd lost trust in my GP I decided to arm myself with knowledge from people who specialise in curing acne through diet. Most of the books I read promoted following a paleo style, which got me thinking or should I say doubting my decision to follow a plant-based diet when I turned 23. If you have troubled skin and are looking to heal it through diet you'll be familiar with the suggested foods to eat and avoid. Avoid; all processed foods, refined carbs, refined sugar and even fruit. Eat more; salmon, veggies, avocado and blueberries - basically increase your healthy fats and decrease the sugar that causes your blood sugar to spike. So could it be my diet?
Everyone else I had read about said following a plant-based diet only gave them glowing skin, so why was my skin anything but glowing? Again because I was feeling so desperate I second guessed my choice to go plant-based and decided to try a paleo diet for 6 months. Guess what it didn't help! I gained weight, got more cystic acne and felt ashamed I'd given up on my beliefs.
The only good thing about trying out the Paleo diet was that I could now rule out my plant-based diet as the cause. So what else had I changed when I was 23? Finally it came to me - I got a copper IUD. It was this discovery that finally helped me realise what was causing my adult acne!
The Copper IUD
The copper coil is a small intrauterine device (IUD) that prevents pregnancy, it’s the only form of contraception that doesn’t contain synthetic ‘hormones’, hence why I chose it in the first place.
So how does it work?
Copper wrapped around an IUD works by releasing ions into the uterus which impairs the mobility of sperm and therefore works as a contraceptive. I naively thought it was the best choice of contraception because it would have little impact on my body or health– boy was I wrong!
How does the Copper IUD cause acne?
Having a foreign object wedged in your uterus comes with a host of side effects; most I was aware of and I was prepared to deal with them, but I had no idea it would affect my skin in such a terrible way. Firstly, any foreign object in your body will cause inflammation. Your body perceives the IUD as foreign invader that needs to be eliminated, hence the side effect of heavy bleeding – your body is literally trying to expel the IUD. Obviously due to the design of the IUD it remains wedged in your uterus and continues to cause inflammation in your body until it is removed. This inflammation for me also contributed to highly painful inflamed acne I was experiencing.
The notion that that copper IUD is related to acne is widely dismissed by the medical profession, but when I consulted a naturopath specialising in skin the look on her face said it all! Copper toxicity can occur from copper water pipes, pesticides, oestrogen based contraception, IUD's and nutritional deficiencies (mainly zinc)!
Excess copper in your body builds up in the liver and disrupts the liver's ability to detoxify excess oestrogen (which causes acne). In addition, excess copper prevents your body absorbing zinc - which is an essential mineral for our skin; it plays a role in the function of sebum (oil) secretion in skin cells, as well as being essential for healthy skin repair and healing.
Once I found all this out I booked in to have it removed immediately! It was the best decision I’ve made; within a few day the inflammation in my skin started to calm down, yes I still had breakouts but they were noticeably less swollen and red. Here's a picture of my skin just after I had the copper IUD removed and approximately a year later.
As well as removing the copper IUD, I continued to look for ways to reduce my acne and assist my body in the healing processes. Over the past year I found some great products and lifestyle factors that aided in the healing process by nourishing my skin internally and externally - read how I healed my adult acne here.
I'd love to hear form any of you about your experience with adult acne, what worked for you? Or any issues you're still facing.