If you have acne, you don’t need me to tell you that breakouts affect more than your skin. Acne can bring emotional consequences, like low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression.Now, a new study has confirmed what you already know: Researchers looked at close to 2 million people over the course of 15 years and found that having acne increases the risk of depression by 63 percent. The study also found that individuals with acne are more likely to be younger and female.It’s easy to understand the emotional fallout of acne. When you don’t feel confident in your skin—literally—you can experience a cascade of unwelcome symptoms and emotions, from anxiety and loneliness to diminished quality of life. But acne and depression are connected in more ways than one: they share many of the same root causes. Yes, the appearance of acne can have an emotional impact. But acne, like depression, can be a sign of underlying imbalances, including impaired gut health, inflammation, and hormone imbalances. Another connection? Both acne and depression are associated with taking the pill...which is often prescribed to “treat” acne. But there’s good news: You can help heal the underlying imbalances that fuel both acne and depression with lifestyle strategies and natural remedies. Here’s how.
Why Conventional Acne Treatments Make Acne Worse
Acne has multiple root causes. So does depression. Intriguingly, several of those root causes are the same. In some sense, this is old news. Over 70 years ago, two pioneering dermatologists proposed an overlap between anxiety, depression, and skin conditions like acne. They believed impaired gut health was a key factor in these conditions, and they dubbed the connection the gut-brain-skin axis. Contemporary research has proven these early experts right. Poor gut health is a factor in the development of both acne and depression. Other root factors, like inflammation and hormone imbalances, contribute to both conditions, too… And that is why topical acne creams don’t work. They don’t address the root causes. Same with going on the pill and taking antibiotics, These treatments only address the symptom (acne) and ignore the root causes. And, ultimately, these treatments make both conditions worse. Taking hormonal birth control (the pill) is a risk factor for developing depression. And while the pill may stop breakouts while you’re on it, your acne is likely to flare up with even more intensity when you stop taking it. That’s because the pill paves over symptoms, all while the root causes simmer under the surface. Many antibiotics are hard on the gut microbiome (because they wipe out the good and bad bugs in the gut)—and a less diverse microbiome is a risk factor for skin conditions and mental health conditions. To help ease acne, and to help support good mental health, it’s important to heal the root causes that fuel them both.
Root Causes of Acne
To heal the root causes of acne, it’s important first to understand them. It’s also helpful to know which root causes overlap with depression.
- Your detoxification system is sluggish. If you experience acne as part of your 28-day hormone cycle—for example, if you notice breakouts around ovulation (mid-cycle) and/or right before your period—it’s a sign that your body isn’t processing and eliminating excess hormones. Here’s what happens: during the second half of your cycle, estrogen and testosterone peak. If your detox system is congested and can’t get rid of these excess hormones quickly enough, estrogen builds up in your body (estrogen dominance) and causes problems (like skin inflammation). The extra testosterone sends signals to your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Acne is the result.
Women are at greater risk for depression throughout their lifetimes than men, and research suggests that this may have to do with hormones. Neurotransmitters and hormones share several common pathways in areas of the brain associated with mood, and when hormones are imbalanced—or when women go through natural, hormone-shifting events (like giving birth or going through menopause)—it may affect these pathways and increase the risk of depression.
- Your microbiome is imbalanced. The gut microbiome influences the skin microbiome through the gut-skin axis, so if your gut flora is off balance, your skin can be thrown off balance, too. Gut flora also plays a role in inflammation and oxidative stress, factors that fuel both acne and depression. So addressing gut health is a top priority when you’re working to heal both the dermatological and emotional consequences of acne.
- You have a micronutrient deficiency. If you’re deficient in key micronutrients—like vitamin B, magnesium, and zinc—your skin health will suffer. Studies suggest that zinc is a promising alternative to conventional acne treatments. Other nutrients, like magnesium and vitamins B and C, promote optimal hormone balance. And omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation, which fuels both acne and depression. If you’re deficient in any of these nutrients, that deficiency will be reflected in your skin. (Even if you’re getting enough essential micronutrients, if your gut microbiome is imbalanced, your body may not be able to absorb them. This makes addressing gut health even more important when it comes to easing acne.)
- You’re (unintentionally) eating pro-inflammatory foods. Inflammation is a root cause of acne and depression...and some foods promote inflammation. These foods include dairy, sugar, refined flour (baked goods), soy, gluten, caffeine, non-pastured and non-organic animal protein, and unhealthy fats (like the fats found in canola, sunflower, safflower, and vegetable oils). Foods that have been grown conventionally (non-organic foods) also contribute to inflammation.
- You live in an (unintentionally) inflammatory environment. Exposure to everyday toxins fuels inflammation...and you can be exposed to harmful, acne-promoting toxins almost everywhere you turn in your daily life. Hormone-disrupting and skin-damaging hormones hide in health and body care products, home cleaning products, lawn and garden chemicals, and furniture upholstery.
- You have a heavy, irregular, or otherwise problematic period. If you suffer period problems like bloating, PMS, severe cramps, heavy periods, irregular periods, or moodiness and irritability, it’s a sign that your reproductive hormones are imbalanced...and that those imbalances are playing a part in your skin issues.
- You’re sedentary. Sweating helps the body eliminate toxins and clear the skin. Not getting enough exercise can be one factor in persistent acne.
Natural Remedies for Curing Acne
Here’s how to address the root causes of acne and, in some cases, depression:Support your detoxification system. Your liver is one of the body’s main organs of detoxification (so is the skin, of course, which is one reason that sweating is so good for skin health!). The liver can’t do its job properly without support—and the best way to nourish your liver is by eating organic leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, and by taking a high-quality liver-support supplement. I like supplements like turmeric and green tea extract for liver support. Nurture the good bugs in your gut. Ditch sugar, caffeine, dairy, and other inflammatory foods, which are hard on the microbiome. Take a high-quality probiotic and incorporate foods rich in good bacteria, like coconut yogurt and sauerkraut. Patch up micronutrient gaps. Your first goal here is to stop micronutrients from leaching out of your body. Coffee is one thing that speeds up the loss of micronutrients. So is over-excercise. I recommend giving up caffeine and bringing exercise back into balance. But stopping the leaks is only the first step. I recommend targeted supplements to replace lost nutrients and help balance your hormones. Supplements are absolutely essential if you have a history of taking the pill or drinking caffeine. Reduce inflammation. Give up or greatly cut down on pro-inflammatory foods. Focus on eating foods that reduce inflammation, including spices, cruciferous vegetables, and foods full of healthy fats, like avocados and pumpkin seeds. Try to eat organic (especially vegetables, fruit, and animal protein) whenever possible. Take a high-quality omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful inflammation fighters. And make it a priority to avoid everyday chemicals that harm the body’s delicate hormone system. Practice The Cycle Syncing Method™. This might sound complicated, but it’s easy and intuitive. Practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ simply means tuning into the rhythms of your 28-day hormone cycle and then eating, moving, and engaging in self-care that is the hormone-supportive during each phase of your cycle. The first step in the process is to track your cycle, which you can do with the MyFLO app. Get moving. Move your body in healthy, hormone-supportive ways...which can include getting your heart rate up by having sex!Always remember that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this—the science of your body is on your side!