The Right Way To Pick A Zit

Given that you’ve heard all your life, “Don’t pick at your face.  Leave your pimples alone!”, you may be surprised that I am encouraging you to pick.  Don’t get me wrong, your health and beauty are of my deepest interest here but there is a time and place and I want to discuss that.

Let’s back up a bit, before we get to the extraction…

I’m a huge fan of Dr. Jessica Wu‘s book, “Feed Your Face“, and in that book she shares a story about a patient who came to see her after an overzealous esthetician attempted to extract a pimple.  Nothing came out of the pimple but the esthetician did not give up.  She continued to squeeze and milk the blemish until the client was in tears.  The only result, unfortunately, was to drive the infection deeper.  The poor patient now suffered from a huge “underground boil.”  The entire side of her face was swollen and her eye was even swollen shut!  A trip to ER and one IV full of antibiotics later and the swelling finally went down.  Dr. Wu spent months treating the scarring caused by this painful action.  Which is why we are told, don’t pick your pimples!  Infection and scarring are simply not worth it.

Don’t touch your face. Avoid all mirrors. Count backwards from ten. Keep your hands busy. Hands off! Unless…

With that gruesome story behind us (lesson learned, right?), I’ll admit I pick.  I mean, don’t we all (please say yes)?  I know it’s bad but sometimes it’s necessary when you have a white head ready to pop.  So on with the gross details.

  • When you absolutely must take care of the nasty uninvited guest, do it at night so that your skin can begin healing while you sleep.
  • Wash your face and hands.
  • Clean the zit with rubbing alcohol.  Use some of the alcohol to sterilize a needle as well.
  • Pierce the surface of your whitehead.  Gently squeeze with two Q-tips, not your fingers (remember, we are keeping it clean- the less germs spread, the quicker the recovery).
  • Dr. Wu advises that you should just squeeze enough to get the blockage, not to draw blood.  Blood means you’ll have a scab and the sore will be harder to cover.  Also, STOP if you nothing comes out so you don’t drive the infection deeper like the poor girl in the story above!
  • IMPORTANT and likely not known by many, don’t squeeze the zone between the tip of your nose and the inside edge of your eyebrows as this is a “Danger Zone.”  Dr. Wu says this, “The skin in this area sits about 1/8 inch above your sinuses, which are connected to your gray matter.  Squeeze too hard, and instead of winding up with just a skin infection, you could spread infection to your sinus cavities or even your brain.”  Yikes!
  • Allow your zit extraction to heal overnight without any acne treatment or drying cream.  Cover with a band-aid and go to sleep.  Wounds heal better when they are moist and covered.  I actually have used antiseptic first-aid creams myself.

Don’t even think about trying to extract ones without a head because you will only make it grow bigger and cause other pimples to pop up around the surrounding area.  If you have a deep cyst, apply acne cream hourly or use a warm compress throughout the day to help it head more quickly.

Don’t make picking a habit, use it only when absolutely necessary and it’s clearly a whitehead needing some pressure relief.  Keep your procedure sterile and don’t force anything.  Following these tips can help your pimple to improve rather than get worse.

Your turn to share (if you dare)…do you pick?

Your Dairy-Rich Diet May Be Causing Your Acne

I know, I know. People- ahem, experts- say that diet has nothing to do with causing acne. And we believed them, for a long time. Now, I think we are starting to understand nutrition better and our eyes have been opened. At least, I know mine have.

Last spring my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac, both auto-immune diseases. In an effort to heal her body from the inside out, we worked with a holistic doctor that uses food as the “medicine”. This experience really opened our eyes to how food impacts our health. During our intense dietary adjustment, my daughter had to remove dairy completely from her diet, as well as eggs, almonds and of course, gluten. We were forced to get creative, shop our local health food store and try a variety of new foods and supplements.

The main reason the doctor requested removal of dairy is because it is hard on the digestive system. Since Celiac disease attacks the intestines, it was only appropriate to give her system a break from hard-to-digest foods. We found there was dairy hidden in many, many foods (geesh, casin, which makes up 80% of the proteins in cows milk, is even in soy cheese!). We found many alternative products like rice cheese, rice milk and coconut yogurt (with flavored stevia drops…yum!). Eventually, we allowed her diet to be less rigorous. Having both diabetes and celiac already limited what she could eat and when. Forcing supplements and odd tasting foods down her was not fun for any of us. The one thing we still limit- dairy.

Given that humans are the only animals on this planet that drink the milk of another animal, doesn’t it make sense that our bodies would have a hard time digesting the proteins? Plus, the milk is full of cow hormones! This is why it can cause humans prone to acne to suffer more severe acne and has been blamed for the early development of our children!

Every time you drink milk or eat dairy, the cow hormones are absorbed into your body and can affect your skin in the same way that human hormones can.  “Most milk is very high in IGF-1. IGF-1 is a growth factor that peaks in the human body during adolescence, when acne is usually at it’s worst. It is believed that IGF-1, along with testosterone and DHT, trigger acne breakouts.” (source)

While I’d say the majority of the doctors and dermatologists are still not on board with the theory that what you eat can cause breakouts, I am a firm believer. With an improved diet of lean meats, fruits and veggies with brown rice as a “healthy carb”, my family has learned a lot about how what we consume impacts us in many ways.  I say to you, if you suspect dairy may be the cause of your breakouts, cut it out for 2 weeks then slowly add it back into your diet.  If you break out, have tummy pains or other symptoms, check out the rice or almond milk at the store.  It’s easy to get used to, especially if it’s vanilla flavored!

Do you have any foods that trigger your acne?

Got Acne? Indulge in Omega-3s

Salmon is high in omega-3

Have acne?  Fight back by indulging in omega-3s!  Why?  Omega-3s are a natural anti-inflammatory, so they help calm your breakouts!  They also lower IGF-1 to help prevent clogged pores as well as reverse the effects of snacking on sugary, fatty foods!

To get your daily dose of omega-3s, eat fish (salmon, sardines and anchovies are best), tofu, soybeans, broccoli  flaxseed, mustard seeds, walnuts and almonds.

Or, simply take omega-3 supplements!  (Need a vegan option?  Try organic flaxseed oil, also rich in omega-3.) It is important to use only a high quality product. Do not take more than 3 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules without the supervision of a health care provider, due to an increased risk of bleeding.

Not only will your skin benefit from the essential fatty acids, many other benefits come from including omega-3s into your diet! Omega-3s can help with depression, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more!

Looking good on the outside and feeling good on the inside? That’s what we love!

Want Healthier Skin? Just Say No {to sugar}

I know, I’m such the killjoy. But did you know that sugar, particularly refined sugars and simple carbs that rapidly turn to sugar in your body such as pasta, potatoes, and bread, can adversely affect your skin?

Inflammation is now being touted as the basis of the aging process, and rapid rises in blood sugar is one of the causes of inflammation in our bodies. This can cause premature aging in those who eat a lot of sugar.

Another way that sugar ages us is through the glycation process, when the sugar that we ingest attaches itself to collagen, making our skin stiff and inflexible which causes wrinkles.  [source]

Want more proof?  According to Prevention Magazine, “experts now believe that a lifetime of overeating sugar can make skin dull and wrinkled.” [source] They also cite the glycation argument. In fact, when I Googled “sugar skin health,” I came up with a plethora of articles all touting the same thing: sugar = glycation = premature aging.

Besides that, sugar can cause acne, or at least, the body’s reaction to sugar can cause acne.

Sugar also impairs your immune system.  This causes an increase in insulin production.  As a result of, oil production is stimulated and inflammation occurs.  Because sugar weakened your body’s immune system (thus its ability to fight this inflammation), you become more susceptible to acne.  It’s important to understand that while sugar itself may not be the cause of acne, the reaction it produces within your body and the chemicals produced from that reaction are major contributors to increased skin problems. [source]

Now THAT is interesting! Lately I’ve gotten lax about my sugar consumption, and as I’ve been watching my skin closely and writing down what I eat, I noticed that my sugar consumption seems to be directly correlated to my acne breakouts. I already knew that sugar can inhibit my immune system and make me feel full too easily, but not until recently did I begin tying sugar to my acne.

As disheartening as it is to realize that I need to cut back on sugar, it’s rather freeing to be able to pinpoint the problem. I know that consuming too much sugar fills my tummy with empty calories and prevents me from getting the nutrients I need. My brain knows this. But it’s so hard to combat the cultural norm that food is to be liberally enjoyed as well as a great way  to assuage feelings of guilt, boredom and insufficiency. It doesn’t help that sugar is a highly addictive substance. The more you eat it, the more you want it.

I’m trying to change my attitude about food. I’m trying to teach myself to see food as a source of nourishment and sustenance rather than an indulgence. When I lapse into old habits, my skin soon reminds me that there is a cost associated with eating too much junk. This week I’m hauling myself back onto the wagon of responsible eating habits, starting with reducing my sugar consumption. And it’s none too soon; I can already feel the telltale signs of acne brewing under the surface of my skin. Won’t you join me?

Do you notice the effect of sugar on your skin’s health and vitality? How do you combat the sugar cravings?

Whole Food Wednesday: Are Organics Worth It?

I recently came across this interview of Robyn O’Brien on Organic.It’s Worth It. I’ve been following Robyn on Twitter for some time, under the handle unhealthytruth but I didn’t know her story.

Well, it’s fascinating.

In her interview, she explains that she is a former food industry analyst who was insensitive to the rising incidence of food allergies and ignorant about the dangers in our food supply until one of her own children developed an allergy to eggs.

Suddenly she began to research our food, where it comes from, and how it is regulated.  She went from operating under the assumption that organic food was a luxury to be enjoyed only by the rich and famous to being a passionate advocate for the organic movement. She founded the Allergy Kids Foundation and wrote the book The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick – And What We Can Do About It.

Her story fascinates me because I, too, used to roll my eyes at food allergies and consider organics an elitist lifestyle only the wealthy could afford. As my own children developed various food allergies and I watched my gastrointestinal complaints as well as my children’s allergies and skin conditions improve by eating primarily organics and whole foods, I have become passionate about this topic.

I desperately want everyone to know the truth about the food industry and the financial relationship between the food and chemical corporations and their medical advisors. I want to spread the word that organics ARE worth it, and not only that, they ARE attainable for most of us. I want people to realize how healthy they can be and how good they can feel simply by eating good food.

This is such a personal issue. People are defensive of their choices and not everyone wants to know the truth about where their food comes from and what is in it and what it’s doing to us. Because then they might have to make some hard choices.

Most of us wait until we have no choice to make changes. I suppose that’s just human nature.

I abused my body for years with a soft drinks and carbs and sugar and chips until my body cried out ENOUGH! At one point, I was so sick that I was hospitalized. For years I went through rounds and rounds of tests, but there were no answers.

When doctors couldn’t help me, I began to look elsewhere for answers. That’s when I discovered  Michael Pollan and Nina Planck and Sally Fallon and Westin A. Price. We slowly began to change the way we eat as a family, and I slowly got better. My kids are also doing better. Their asthma and allergies are much improved, and the common cold is almost unheard of in our home whereas we used to suffer all winter long.

My gastrointestinal problems are certainly the most dramatic testament to my new diet, but I’ve seen changes in our family’s skin conditions as well.  My middle daughter used to suffer from terrible eczema, and she hasn’t had a flare up in over a year.  My skin used to break out uncontrollably (or so I thought) until I started eating differently.  I had awful flaky, dry skin all winter long.  Now, between my eating habits and a good skincare system, flaky skin is a thing of the past.

Not everyone has a dramatic story to tell, but we all are affected by what is in our food. The problems our food industry has created are so prevalent that we just accept them as the way it is.  Diabetes, food allergies, eczema, asthma, ADHD, autism, infertility, cancer, heart disease… it’s just part of life, right?


It does not have to be this way.

But wait, you say.  This is all fine and good, but organic sustainable farming can’t feed the world.

Oh but yes it can.  This article in Farmers Guardian explains.  I’ve also been reading Joel Salatin’s latest book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, where he addresses that topic in great depth.

So I’m here to propose that organics most certainly are worth it.  Not only are they worth it, but they are practical and attainable.

How about you?  Have you experienced an improvement in quality of life due to diet changes?  Do you feel that organics are worth it?  I’d love to hear from you.

This post was submitted to the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

The Psychology Of A Zit

Did you know that pimples can cause low self-esteem, social withdrawal and depression? They cause people to think, “I hate the way I look”. They cause anguish in the lives of people everyday. They make us feel self-conscious and embarrassed.  They are the bullies that make us want to stay home from life.  That’s a pretty powerful impact that clogged pores can have on us!

When I recently experienced a breakout of nasty cystic acne on my chin (I blame the over indulgence of Halloween candy), I wanted to hide until it was gone. I felt like I had leprosy and needed to cease contact with the outside world. My husband teased that I needed to get out of adolescence. My daughter asked my husband, “who is prettier, mom or me?” When he carefully replied we are both very pretty, she responded, “But Mom has zits!”. See? Even a six year old knows the ugliness of a zit (or four)! I buried my head and avoided all mirrors for as long as I could.

No one should have to feel this way but it is the reality for most people who experience acne, from occasional breakouts to Class IV acne. We want to hide.

Obviously, life doesn’t allow for this to occur so I’ve come up with a few tips to help you beat the acne blues:

  • Start and maintain an acne control routine. Be a control freak when it comes to prevention.  With the help of a dermatologist or one of the many books on the market, you’ll learn what products work best for you.  Feeling like you are taking action to stop the madness will bring comfort.
  • Fight Back! Use benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria.
  • When treating inflammation of present acne, ask for a prescription of oral antibiotics from your doctor or get a cortisone injection to get rid of red, swollen pimples quickly.
  • For an at home remedy, apply an ice cube on the area for 30 seconds then gently press a cotton pad soaked in eye drops to the top of the zit for 3 minutes.  The ice and eye drops will cause blood vessels beneath the surface to contract, minimizing redness and irritation.
  • Use your hair as camouflage. If your forehead is broken out, sweep your bangs in the direction to cover it up.
  • Learn how to be a master makeup artist.  The key to covering a breakout is not heavy makeup but a gentle touch with mattifying gel, foundation, concealer (applied with a small brush) and yellow tinted face powder (and Photoshop on images!).  Watch Carmindy demonstrate How To Cover Up Acne and Breakouts.
  • Play music that calms you. When you feel less stressed overall, you’ll be naturally less concerned about your acne.
  • Smile and know that people love you regardless of your breakout (and besides, it will clear…eventually!)
  • Wear big, dark sunglasses. Go incognito.  Maybe nobody will know who you are so they won’t know the acne belongs to you!
  • Vent with someone who understands.When I was suffering my recent breakout, I had a lengthy texting convo with my step-daughter who was also suffering at the time.  Bonding over the nastiness of it all is somehow comforting.
  • Realize that no one sees them like you do. Maybe they don’t even notice so don’t point them out or draw attention to them by saying, “I have the biggest zit!  Don’t look at me!”  Of course they will look simply because you pointed it out!
  • Eat another piece of chocolate to ease your pain…oh wait, you should probably skip that one!

Seriously, I only joke because I understand how traumatizing zits can be.  It’s unfair.  It’s ugly.  But, you need to go on living. Learn everything you can about prevention and treatment so you can enjoy less frequent breakouts.  Knowledge is power!  You can overcome the “bullying”!

If you are a parent to a teen suffering from acne, it’s important to open up the lines of communication and be a support system to them.  Help them get the products they need to treat acne, teach them healthy living habits and watch for signs of social withdrawal or depression then get them the help they need!  Good Luck!

How to Curb that Holiday Stress

With the pressure and busyness of the holiday season, it’s not long before the stress of it all starts to manifest in the condition of our skin.

As it turns out, when we’re stressed, our friendly stress hormone cortisol rises, which in turn causes our skin to produce more oil, which can cause those pesky breakouts that we are so fond of.  ‘Cause nothing says Merry Christmas like a big rosy zit on your chin.

So curb that holiday stress with a few simple, easy techniques that will keep your skin aglow -  the good kind of glow.


Five Ways to Curb Holiday Stress

1. Don’t neglect your exercise.

It’s hard to find time to exercise at this hectic time of year, but even getting outside for a 15-minute walk in the afternoon will help rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit.

2. Just say NO.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  But at this time of year, there is always too much to do.  At some point, you just have to say no.  Set some limits for yourself, and be firm about guarding your boundaries.  Everyone will be better off in the end, I promise.

3. Breathe.

Yeah, so that’s a given.  But also, try practicing Dr. Andrew Weil’s Relaxing Breath exercise two to four times a day.  Weil calls this a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”  The more you do it, the more effective it becomes.  I’ve been using this technique off and on for years, and it really does help you let go of the stress du jour.

4. Reduce noise and clutter.

Turn off the TV.  Try to keep your home tidy.  Set aside 10 minutes before bedtime every night when the whole family scurries around and picks up the clutter belonging to them.  Keeping your environment free from visual and auditory clutter will go a long way towards keeping your sanity during this frantic time of year.  And if you keep up with it, it won’t have the chance to overwhelm you.

5. Take some time for YOU.

I know it’s cliché, but during this time of year when we tend to give, give, give, don’t forget to make time for yourself.  Take an hour every few days to take a bubble bath, read a book, pour a glass of wine and gaze at your Christmas tree — whatever it is that floats your boat.

And don’t forget to enjoy the season!

You Are What You Eat

For years I’ve been told by dermatologists that diet doesn’t affect my skin, but I am convinced that nothing is further from the truth.  (Unless it’s the ridiculous notion that HFCS is the same thing as sugar, but I digress.)  I’ve seen my diet directly impact the condition of my skin, and the more I read about the benefits of eating real food over the industrially processed foodstuffs that are such a large part of the Standard American Diet, the more I am convinced that our diets effect every aspect of our health.  When your mother told you, you are what you eat . . . she was correct. 

When I’m eating what I call a “clean diet,” my skin is smooth and moist and my complexion is generally clear.  When I fall off the wagon (this often happens when I’m traveling and I have to eat out a lot) my skin goes to pot.  I start breaking out with zits and pimples, it gets bumpy, and it feels dry and rough to the touch.  NOT so pretty.   No skincare product and no amount of exfoliation can help it when it’s in that state.  (Good skincare products are also a component of keeping my skin looking great, but they can’t do it alone.)  The only thing I can do to get my healthy skin back is to get back on the clean eating wagon and wait for it to clear up.  It always does, but it takes a few days.

Here are my best tips for keeping your skin healthy with diet.

Five Diet Tips for Optimum Skin Health

1) Drink your water, and avoid too much caffeine, alcohol, and soft drinks. Drinking lots of water keeps your skin hydrated, but it also aids digestion and helps flush out the toxins that your skin absorbs from the environment.  Moderate consumption of coffee and wine may have health benefits, but over-indulging definitely does not.  A good rule of thumb is to try to drink two glasses of water for each non-water drink you consume.  This works in your favor in numerous ways.  You will drink fewer non-water drinks this way.  Also, drinking water helps to fill you up so you don’t over eat.

2) Eat good fats. This may come as a surprise to some, but we do need fat in our bodies.  The popular low-fat eating fad is not healthy; your body actually needs fat to absorb nutrients from food.  But what KIND of fat?  Hint: go back to the fats and oils that your great-grandmother used.  Lard, butter, and olive and coconut oils are good fats.  Butter your veggies, use olive oil in your salad dressings, make smoothies with coconut oil, bake with lard, not hydrogenated shortening.  News flash: eating healthy can taste good too!

3) Stay away from industrial vegetable oils. While good fats ARE good for you, bad fats are quite harmful.  If it says corn oil or soy oil, steer clear.  (Warning: soy oil is in EVERYTHING.)  These industrially processed fats are high in Omega 6 fats*, which promote inflammation when consumed in excessive amounts.  I have no scientific proof that these fats cause my skin to break out, but I know that when I get lax and start allowing them into my diet, I feel the breakouts coming on.

*For more information on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, see this concise article from Dr. Andrew Weil.

4) Eat your veggies. You knew that was coming, didn’t you?  Again, when I’m traveling, I have a hard time getting my daily allotment of vegetables; instead I find myself consuming too many empty carbs and sugars.  When I’m at home and making sure to get a few servings of vegetables (liberally slathered in butter for better nutrient absorption) every day, my skin always improves.

5) Cut out sugar AND artificial sweeteners. I know, I know.  No one wants to hear this, but honestly, refined sugar weakens your immune system and wrecks havoc with your body’s ability to regulate insulin levels.  Again, I have no solid proof that sugar affects skin health, but I can tell you how my skin looks and feels when I’m eating it and when I’m not, and the difference is striking.  Instead, grab a piece of fruit to satisfy that sweet tooth.  Over time, your taste buds will adjust, and you will find sugary treats much less appealing.  I promise.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist or an expert of any kind, unless you count my ability to simultaneously wash dishes, make dinner, help a child with homework and remove batteries from a pesky electronic toy, all while keeping up a conversation with a friend on speakerphone.  All that to say, this post is based largely on my personal experience and my obsession with the websites of Dr. Weil and Dr. Mercola.