Life is filled with ironies. Take this one as an example. As a teenager, I would get the occasional pimple, if that. Nothing major. Now that I'm in my twenties, however, I break out all the time. I honestly feel like my hormones think that I'm ten years younger than I actually am. Those painful, hard cysts on my chin that won't come to a head and fester on your face, like some sort of soul-sucking, life-ruining face crater? They are the worst. But luckily for me, and by extension I mean you, I was able to speak with celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau about why my skin has decided to go a lil' crazy on me.
Firstly, I wanted to know what exactly was causing me to break out to such an extent on my chin. According to Rouleau, there are two possibilities: hormones and dairy. "Cystic acne which usually occurs in the chin and jaw areas is the most common place to get acne—especially in adults," she says. "The reason for this is often due to the hormonal shifts and imbalances in the body. Hormones stimulate oil production, which leads to the growth of bacteria getting trapped in the pore. This type of breakout usually stays under your skin. No matter what method you employ, cysts will never rise to the surface of the skin."
Good to know. You know what else was good to know? Finding out that consuming too much dairy foods can contribute to the experience of cystic acne— and these breakouts might indicate that you are getting more dairy than your body can tolerate.
So what are some small changes that we can make? This is what Renee Rouleau had to say.
Try eliminating dairy from your diet.
Rouleau explained to me why that might be necessary too, saying, "The hypothesis is that since the majority of milk in the U.S. comes from pregnant cows (and some cows are given growth hormones), the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne. Since sebum production is influenced by androgens and hormonal mediators, (such as insulin-like growth factors found in milk and other animal products), the consumption of milk, cheese, and yogurt may become factors that influence endogenous hormones and mimic the hormones that trigger oil production in the skin to ignite the acne process." And that could mean more painful, stubborn pimples that won't budge from your chin.
Keep your hands off your chin
This seemed easy enough, right? Rouleau explained to me that because all blemishes are related to bacteria getting trapped in a pore, we should prevent unnecessary bacteria from making its way onto our chin—AKA don't rest your head on your hands or mindlessly pick at your skin while deep in thought. And of course, cleanse your skin at night to remove acne causing bacteria that may have manifested itself during the day.
Keep Your Cell Phone Clean
Another small simple change that can make a world of a difference. Like touching your face, cell phones are not the cause of acne, but they can potentially make acne worse due to the presence of bacteria on your mobile device. Be sure to wipe down your phone daily to avoid unnecessary bacteria from getting onto your skin.
And what if your acne isn't on your chin? Well, rest assured I asked Rouleau about that, too!
Avoiding certain foods in your diet.
Sugary carbohydrates may have an effect in causing acne. Rouleau also noted, "If you are experiencing breakouts occurring on your cheek and cheekbone area, it may be due to excessive acidic foods in your diet like, tomatoes, pasta sauce, salsa, and citrus fruits/juices. If you get breakouts in these areas, try cutting back and your skin may clear up!"
Exfoliate your skin.
It is important to remove the dead, dry skin cell buildup by focusing on exfoliation. The more you remove the surface dry cells, the less the oil will stay trapped and clogged under the skin, which should help make those clogged bumps start to disappear.
Use a spot treatment formulated exclusively for stubborn cysts.
And if you're gonna use one for your cysts, you might consider trying the much lauded Renée Rouleau Anti-Cyst Treatment because it works like a charm. Roulea explains that it contains, "a purified form of lactic acid helps dissolve cells blocking the pore, as well as purifying within the pore and will also help prevent future breakouts." Bye-bye festering angry mountain on my face!
I didn't leave it there, though, because I do suspect that my acne might the result of a hormonal imbalance. So what's a girl to do if it seems that her hormones really are to blame?
Take Vitamin B6 daily one week prior to your cycle.
This supplement could help ease PMS symptoms by improving metabolic function and hormone metabolism. In addition, vitamin B6 can help the body manufacture neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which aids in the body’s ability to cope with stress. Obviously, it's important to talk to your doctor to find out if this is right for you. Rouleau explains, "I have some clients who feel this works well for preventing their monthly breakouts, but every person’s body chemistry is different so you’ll just have to experiment."
She continued saying, "The best way to determine if your acne cysts are directly related to your intake of dairy is to completely cut cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and milk out of your diet for at least three weeks. If you don’t develop any new cysts and you normally would have by now, then this might solve your problem! It doesn’t mean that you cannot eat any dairy at all. Slowly introduce dairy back into your diet, and the point you start breaking out again is your body’s tolerance level." Good to know.
Try taking oral probiotics.
Rouleau explained to me that our digestion can be affected by stress, which shifts our inner microbial systems leading to inflammation. This, in turn, changes the type and number of bacteria that live in the gut to unhealthy bacteria. "Eventually the gut lining becomes leaky and toxins are released into the bloodstream causing inflammation throughout the body," Rouleau continued, "which can result in a flare up of breakouts due to the shift in gut bacteria, and subsequent inflammation. Oral probiotics may regulate the imbalance of bacteria and reduce oil levels to treat acne. You can find them in health food stores as well as get your daily serving of probiotics from eating yogurt with live active cultures (assuming dairy isn’t your cause of breakouts), miso soup, and sauerkraut." Again, it's important to chat with your doc to find out if this is right for you.
Drink hot lemon water first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything else.
This is Renee Rouleau's personal secret! Squeeze fresh lemon into a mug full of hot water and drink it when you wake up. If you don’t have a fresh lemon handy, you can pour in lemon juice. Use enough so that the water tastes very lemon-y. Why do all of this? It could help flush out and purify the body internally, potentially reducing toxins and bacteria in the small intestine where the cycle of acne may begin for some people.
A week prior to your cycle, tweak your skin-care routine
Add in a few products such as a cleanser and moisturizer that are focused on keeping acne-causing breakouts from appearing. Switch to products that use the ingredient salicylic acid that can penetrate into the pore lining to keep pores clear like BHA Clarifying Serum, AHA/BHA Cleansing Gel, and Skin Clarifying Gel. (Note: the Skin Clarifying Gel has a gel consistency so you can use a thin coat under your regular moisturizer to keep the skin free of bacteria.)
Consult with your doctor.
When in doubt, consult a doctor. Your lady doctor, is your medical BFF. "A gynecologist may be most beneficial since they work more closely with women and have a better understanding of hormonal fluctuations. They will most likely have your hormone levels checked via a blood test and prescribe oral medications such as birth control pills (or switching your current dosage) or spironolactone, a popular drug that can work well for balancing hormones. Some doctors take more of a natural approach and may suggest vitamin supplements or have other dietary recommendations."
Now that we have all of those amazing tips, we can employ them and see what happens. And remember — it's important to be realistic, these changes might take time to noticeably change or affect the condition of your skin, but the patience and diligence may very well be worth it!