I, like many of you, just got back from an awesome summer vacation and wanted to share my experiences with gut and skin health during travel and how I’m resetting my system.
Here’s the scenario for you: I was on a trip to a few foreign countries, gluten-free and vegan options just weren’t a thing, but centuries-old recipes really were. What to do? I could have shut out all the local food and sought out the nearest superfood café for each meal, but instead consciously chose to let my hair down, lighten up, and embrace something new on this trip. I’ve got amazing new memories, plenty of new passport stamps, lovably tighter clothing… and a few new pimples on my face to top it all off.
Good skin has been one of the biggest motivations for eating the way I do. I had acne starting in the fifth grade, then went on oral antibiotics in middle school and Accutane not once, but twice in college. All this wrecked havoc on my gut health and microbiome, but didn’t ultimately help clear my skin. I’m apparently one of the lucky 5% of people who don’t respond to Accutane. I’m in my late 20s and even to this day, my skin isn’t 100% clear. I don’t think that completely clear skin is an appropriate marker of health for acne-prone individuals. My acne is not gone, but it is under control because of the lifestyle choices I’ve made, namely eating a plant-heavy, gluten-free, refined sugar-free and dairy-free diet.
If you’re someone who has had similar skin experiences and values their wellness routines, then you’ve probably also someone who dreads the possibility of being on vacation and breaking out. Trust me, I’ve been there with you. What I decided on this trip was that my acne triggers were a part of me and were something I was aware of, but didn’t have to stop me from enjoying myself to the fullest. When “enjoy”, I’m of course referring to the enjoyment of insanely delicious food with others, but for me, my body genuinely enjoys healthy foods the most. I crave foods for how they make me feel, but also appreciate centuries-old recipes from around the world that don’t necessarily meet any skin health dietary guidelines, but will definitely make me smile for years to come. Here are a few things I learned on this trip and a few ways I’m approaching healing my skin and gut after I get back home.
Adult acne? It’s a part of life. Take a deep breath and embrace yourself as you are.
One of the greatest parts of traveling is experiencing new cultures through new foods. There was a time a few years ago when you would not have heard me say that. I spent my first big post-grad trip a few years ago refusing to go off my gluten-free, refined sugar-free ways and you know what? I kind of regretted it.
Gluten is okay sometimes! I say this with a grain of salt because I’m fortunate enough to not suffer from Celiac Disease, but for the most of us a little gluten isn’t the end of the world. You can get a juice anywhere, but there’s something about those pastries in Paris and that pasta in Italy that you can’t find anywhere else. Listen to your body, but open up to new experiences. In my case, I had some inflammation that gave me a few zits as a souvenir on my trip. The experiences I had were worth it to me.
photo by Julia O Test Creative
Yes, you’re going to feel different when you’re not eating “clean food” at every meal.
I think that one of the most interesting parts of letting go during travel is that it reminds you why you started eating healthy in the first place. Yes, I tried new foods and loved it. Yes, my eyes are also a bit puffy right now, I’ve got some acne, and my gut health isn’t exactly in top form. I feel sluggish and tired with these changes and it makes me appreciate how energized I feel eating plenty of whole, plant-based foods back home. It reminds me why I make the choices that I do and gives me a reference point that makes healthy eating genuinely pleasurable.
First thing I’m doing to heal? Breaking the stimulant cycle.
I realized on this trip that my energy levels were so completely different when I was eating a more traditional diet. Gluten and wine made me groggy, so coffee #1 came along, which eventually made me crash, so coffee #2 happened and the cycle repeated.
Acne is (sadly) linked to caffeine and alcohol, so the first things I’m doing to heal are transitioning away from coffee and indulging in a glass of red wine once a week only. I know some people can get off caffeine cold turkey, but I am so not one of them, so the first step for me will be swapping coffee for matcha lattes or maca tonics for a cleaner energy boost in the morning. I’ll also be avoiding gluten for the next month to heal.
2 topical treatments that help me jump-start acne healing.
Since gut health and skin health are linked, that means that acne can be healed by healing your gut. For me, however, healing my gut takes a few weeks to a few months and I’m often looking for something to help my acne right now.
Truth be told, I’m still on the journey of healing my acne through gut health and sometimes need some help clearing my skin. The one combination I’ve found to work wonders is blue light/red light LED facials and retinoid. This is a very simplified explanation, but the blue light basically penetrates your skin to kill bacteria while the red light prompts your skin to heal scarring. When my skin is really breaking out badly, I might to a weekly session for a few weeks, then taper off from there. I personally pair it with the Ren Skincare Bio-Retinoid cream which helps fight acne and wrinkles at the same time (YASS!) and doesn’t dry me out too much in the process. If you check these things out, just be sure to wear SPF every day on top since your skin will be extra prone to sun damage! My personal favorite right now is Drunk Elephant’s Umbra Sheer SPF 30.
Facials aren’t free and your face is trying to tell you that something is off balance by making you break out. Don’t forget to be kind to your body in addition to the topical stuff too. I know it can be a hard process, but we’re all in this together.
It’s okay not to have all the answers.
Guess what: I’m still learning too! I’m not a hormone or gut health expert, so am leaning on the wisdom of others to help me heal this month. Here are some people who are inspiring me right now:
- Kali from @myfacestory. She is just amazing. I recently found her article in Mindbodygreen about healing her cystic acne holistically and am in love with her insights and honesty. She writes about how she healed her acne without Accutane or antibiotics and goes into amazing detail which is super helpful.
- Sarah Gottfried who writes about balancing hormones through diet and lifestyle choices. I just ordered her book “The Hormone Cure” and am excited to dig into it over the next month.
- I’m also excited to nerd out over Ayurveda and skin health and just bought this book.
Acne can be frustrating, but let’s heal together! These are some of my thoughts on the topic and some of the ways I’m going to be healing over the next month. I’d love to have you join in!