5 Not-So-Obvious Solutions to Your Frustrating Acne

Acne is so f**king frustrating.

It’s increasingly annoying when you develop it in your 20’s. And you’ve had clear skin for years. And you eat healthy. And you don’t know what’s wrong.

I’ve had clear skin for most of my adult life. But for a period of 6-7 months, I had cystic acne that simply wouldn’t go away. For much of that time I was clueless as to why I’d been suffering from acne. I didn’t eat animal products, especially dairy. I didn’t consume highly processed foods or refined oils. I washed my face every morning and night and ate almost exclusively fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Yet I still had a pizza face like a preteen middle-schooler.

If you’re at your wit’s end with acne, try the following solutions. All of them contributed to my success of finally reducing my acne. Some of them work better than others, but they’re all worth trying if it seems like you’ve tried everything.

1. Stop eating oats

cooked mango oatmeal

If you’ve searched high and low for causes of acne, you know that refined grains can significantly amplify acne problems. Nevertheless, switching to 100% whole grains still may not be enough.

Various people have discovered that eliminating oats from the diet, at least for a period of time, can help eliminate acne. The reason for this isn’t clear. A few say that gluten is the problem, though that’s doubtful as oats are naturally gluten-free. The only reason that oats may contain gluten is because they have been processed in the same factory with gluten-containing grains such as wheat.

Others may blame the Glycemic Index (GI) of oats, as they’re not classified as a low-GI food. Quick oats can result in a higher rise in blood sugar (which can also increase acne) than rolled, steel cut or oat groats. Yet they aren’t considered a high GI food. They are barely over the definition of a low GI food. Low GI foods have a GI score of 55 or lower. Oats are set at 57.

A more plausible but not scientifically explored explanation is the amount of fat oats contain. Most grains contain 7% fat or less. Two exceptions to this rule are oats and corn, with oats being higher than corn at 15% fat. It may not seem like a colossal difference — 8% fat — but it’s my leading theory.

Switch up your breakfast if oatmeal is your go-to. If you want to stick with grains, check out wheat or rye. Rolled rye is a comparable alternative to oats. Baked beans on whole wheat toast is a filling option that includes both a grain and a legume. Or ditch the grains altogether and sip a hydrating fruit smoothie for breakfast.

9 smoothie recipes as healthy as they are sweet

If you opt for bread, ensure it’s 100% whole grain, not a mix of white and whole wheat. Use fruit with no added sugar for smoothies. And don’t set yourself back by using dairy milk or added sugars. Big no-no.

2. Stop drinking sweet drinks by themselves

Make sure to drink any drinks that could cause a blood sugar spike with fiber

I rarely drank sweetened fruit juices and chose soda and energy drinks even less. They’re horrible for your health and wreak havoc on your skin for a multitude of reasons.

Even if you perceive you’re consuming healthy drinks, it may be contributing to acne. Drinking homemade tea sweetened with sugar can increase your blood sugar quickly. This is because the sugar isn’t ingested with fiber, which slows down the absorption of the sugar into the bloodstream.

You may think you don’t drink anything that should cause your blood sugar to rise. I assumed the same.

However, it was pointed out to me that I drank kombucha tea on an empty stomach right when I woke up in the morning. Hypothetically, there should be a negligible amount of sugar in kombucha tea after it’s brewed. The SCOBY used to create the fermented drink is supposed to consume the sugar for energy, leaving no sugar for the person consuming the tea.

This may not always be the case, especially if you prefer your fermented drinks a little sweeter. I only add 1/3 cup sugar per liter of tea. Some add higher amounts. This can leave pure sugar calories in the kombucha after it’s fully brewed.

Instead of abandoning the fermented tea (I’ll explain why in my next point), I altered the time at which I drank my kombucha. Rather than drinking it right when I wake up, I drank it with my breakfast. If there is leftover sugar in the tea, it will be paired with fiber. The fiber will prevent a blood sugar spike that can cause spots on your face.

3. Try a SCOBY

kombucha SCOBY

If you aren’t consuming fermented foods/drinks you should definitely start.

Clearing acne is only one of the numerous benefits that come along with fermented products. 80% of acne sufferers given a probiotic showed improvement in their skin. When combined with other acne solutions, it can heal acne better and faster.

(Read about Kefir: Water Kefir Grains and Kefir Water)

Don’t limit yourself to simply eating probiotics. You can also apply them to your face.

While the idea may seem alien, using a kombucha SCOBY on your face can act as an enzyme peel. It may also contribute beneficial bacteria to your acne-ridden skin, thus decreasing acne causing bacteria in the first place.

I was skeptical of putting a SCOBY on my face in the beginning. When I first put it on, it felt like a cold jellyfish stuck on my face. Despite my doubts, I kept it on for 15 minutes. Within the first few minutes I could feel the SCOBY starting to work; my skin tingled. Immediately afterward my pimples felt marginally less inflamed though the problem areas were slightly redder.

I noticed progress within two days of my SCOBY facial. I did it three times total and I noticed improvement after each repetition.

An alternative to slapping a SCOBY on your face is to create a mask by blending up the SCOBY. I haven’t tried this method yet because the intact SCOBY works for me. One downside to a blended probiotic mask is that it’s not reusable.

4. Increase your antioxidants

Berries contain high levels of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are essential for health. Every diet has a certain amount of antioxidants, but how much could be a key in fighting acne.

Antioxidants are found predominantly in plant foods. Fruits and vegetables tend to contain the most, but grains, legumes, nuts and seeds have them as well. They are incredibly concentrated in amla, a powder made from dried Indian Gooseberries. I decided to ensure enough antioxidants by taking a teaspoon of amla every day.

Antioxidants fight free radicals that would otherwise damage you organs. Free radicals contribute to inflammation; deterioration of muscles and tissues; nerve cell damage; aging; cancers and heart disease.

It’s no secret that when you have acne, your skin becomes inflamed. But fighting acne isn’t on your body’s priority list for antioxidants to take care of. The body is concerned about necessary organs and body functions more than it’s concerned about aesthetics.

My theory is that if you consume enough antioxidants, antioxidants left over after the body cares for vital organs will be allotted to unnecessary tasks, like fighting acne. In fact, studies show that blood levels of antioxidants are lower in people suffering from acne.

Unfortunately, it’s not proven which causes the other. Acne could result from a lack of antioxidants. The other option is that the acne depletes the body of antioxidants in an attempt to cure it. Whether antioxidants cure acne or not, an excess of antioxidants will benefit your body.

5. Change your birth control or usage

Sometimes birth control can produce acne

Sorry males, but this last point is targeted towards females. But you should read it anyways for present and future girlfriends and wives.

I hypothesize the main cause of my acne was adjusting the usage of my birth control.

I’ve been taking Nuvaring for 2 years now. I didn’t notice a difference in acne when I started Nuvaring. Most people who start using Nuvaring actually improve their acne. Many dermatologists, including my own, recommended it to cure acne.

What changed?

Instead of using Nuvaring according to its traditional usage, I started keeping Nuvaring in full time. (Don’t worry, I checked with my doctor beforehand and she said it was okay.) Two benefits were mood stabilization and lack of menstruation.

The downside? Acne.

Not long after I switched to keeping Nuvaring in all the time, I developed acne. At first I reasoned it was because I was stressed. I switched my usage around the time Rob and I were married. However it didn’t dissipate after the wedding. It refused. Despite using clay masks, enzyme peels, tea tree oil and multiple types of facial washes the acne wouldn’t disappear.

So for all you ladies out there on Nuvaring with acne problems: full-time Nuvaring usage could be the main culprit of your acne.

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5 Not-So-Obvious Solutions to Your Frustrating Acne. If you think you've tried everything try these. A natural, holistic approach can be more effective than more drugs.
  • Updated a couple of years ago
Sara Binde

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.