The Love Vitamin.

Hello there! Look whose stupid mug is on the home page of the new TheLoveVitamin.com webpage!

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CAN YOU SEE ME UP THERE? If you are suffering from hormonal acne, I highly recommend The Love Vitamin. (I said so right there on the website!) I stumbled across it one day when frantically looking for natural ways to clear my cystic acne, and it literally changed the way I’d thought about acne for my entire adult life. I’m getting zero kick backs from promoting the site, other than the joy of being super impressed with having my dumb face featured on it. And because I am the opposite of a paid Love Vitamin employee, I can tell you with sincerity that I got all the information I used to change my skin through the free blog posts on the site. I didn’t pay for any e-books or enroll in any online classes or groups. The free resources on the website are fabulous, so if you’re dealing with aggravating, persistent acne, go to there immediately!

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Healing Acne Naturally.

So, as promised, here are a few makeup-free photos of my face’s progress since the beginning of this journey into the hippie rabbit hole almost six weeks ago. I’ve taken all these photos either with cell phones or with Photo Booth on my computer, so the quality leaves something to be desired.

March 11, active, gross, unrelenting – pretty much what my face looked like from late January to March. These photos don’t do it justice, really, but suffice to say it was Not Good:

IMG_4055IMG_4054March 29, no active acne (just prior to The Great Red Wine Binge of 2014, which ended in total skin madness):

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Today, April 21, no active acne, just tons of hyperpigmentation:

Photo on 4-21-14 at 12.09 PM #2I apologize for the intensity in the above photo. I was struggling with the lighting. I can go from zero to ghost pretty quickly in Photo Booth in direct sunlight.

Guys. I think there’s something to this DIM/agnus castus/burdock root/zinc/vitamin A/omega-3 stuff. By being (mostly) mindful about what I put into my body, taking supplements to help regulate my hormones, and drinking tons of water to flush out my liver/remove toxins, I am keeping my acne at bay. Since getting home from Prague and clearing the latest major break out, I’ve gotten a few new pimples, but I’ve managed to treat them with small dabs of baking soda and water paste and they have been nothing near the caliber I’d been dealing with before. I went from waking up to new, deeply rooted pimples every morning to being able to pinpoint the causes of the one or two new spots I get occasionally. I’m even sort of grateful for being able to identify “break outs,” as for a while there, the acne was so constant, there were no waves, no breaks, no discernible changes. It may be difficult to tell from the above photos, but there has been major change in both the quality and the topography of my skin. All I’ve got at the moment is scarring.

I feel like this is handling several birds with one stone – I’m addressing the root of my lifelong skin problems, while also taking better care of my body and feeling better about myself. And all I’ve really had to do is eat more veggies, take extra vitamins, and get used to having to pee every hour. I am convinced that hydration is the key. Water, water, water – always. It has helped so much.

I’m not going to eschew all Western medicine, because I will be the first to admit I love Excedrin Migraine. However, it’s pretty remarkable that the answer to my acne, which has plagued me for my entire adult life, appears to be in making small changes to my lifestyle, and not in harsh chemical prescriptions or topical medications.

I will eat tons of broccoli and proudly fill my old lady pill divider with handfuls of supplements for the rest of time if it means I can have this control over what I look like and how I feel about myself. And I will recommend it highly to anyone else who is having similar issues.

Supplemental Information.

Let me begin by saying that the experience of acne is different for everyone. My grandfather had acne, my mother had acne, and my two brothers and I had acne, and every one of us had it differently. After years of having people tell me that my skin was “not that bad” when it was crushing my self-esteem and making me quit things I’d previously loved to do (like going to the beach or running track), I’ve learned that if you have persistent, stubborn acne, it will make you feel like you are out of control, even if it’s not “as bad” as someone else’s. I realize that my skin now is nowhere near where it was when I was a teenager pre-Accutane, but that doesn’t mean it’s not taking it’s toll.

I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this, but let’s move on, shall we?

Less about my feelings and more about how I’m becoming a total herbal weirdo in an attempt to clear up my face.

Disclaimer: 100% of this is either documentation for myself at the beginning of this experiment or hopefully helpful information for other super creeps furiously googling things like “angus castus acne” while panicking about their break outs. So, if you’re not into “before” photos and aren’t curious how to regulate your hormones with herbal supplements, you can probably skip this one. It’s okay. I’ll forgive you.

In my last post, I promised I’d talk all about my fancy new vitamins – and the day is upon us! I’ve just lived my first full 24 hours taking all the supplements I’d planned on, and I haven’t gotten sick or had any headaches, which were things I’d read were side effects. I’m entirely off of sugar, dairy, caffeine (except what’s in green tea, as I’m drinking a ton of that these days), and am phasing out gluten, at least for the time being.

I’m also not wearing face makeup anymore, as of this morning. Everything is drying up anyway and putting makeup on a scab is pretty much exactly as effective as it sounds. Still, though, despite the fact that this actually means progress, today was pretty humiliating. There’s nothing quite like having the one thing you are hugely self-conscious about being on display for all to see.

Before we get to the vitamins, here’s some hard-hitting photojournalism I call “The Records of My Face”:

19, pre-Accutane, miserable:

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Just looking at these photos pains me. Seeing how much that girl hates herself is still traumatic, and I’ve been staring at these photos for years.

26, post-Accutane, on birth control:

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Accutane left me with that horrible squint line down the center of my forehead, probably because it did irreparable damage to my skin’s ability to heal and then made my eyes so sensitive to light that I squinted all the time, so I have a massive wrinkle now. Still and all, though, it’s a win, I’d say.

December 2013, 27, taking supplements and not eating sugar:

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Today, a day I went to work at my professional job:

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Lovely. That’s what my adult face looks like right now. Today was a horrifying day of meeting up with bosses and other esteemed professionals (as well as students I am teaching) without wearing any makeup on that chin.

These five gems are the healing pimples. Everything else is scarring. Again, post-Accutane, my skins heals so slowly.

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In addition to discontinuing the use of makeup, I’ve also stopped putting any acne treatments on my face. I gave up on salicyclic acid and benzoyl peroxide long, long ago – long before Accutane, actually – so what I mean is that I’ve stopped using a homemade goo made of nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey, and have ended my brief love affair with tea tree oil. I’m washing my face with warm water only.

I figure, at this point, I’ve done everything but just let my skin heal up on its own. Therefore, have at it, Skin! Get well soon, pretty please!

So, I’m cleaning up my diet, I’m not spreading pale-ghost-tone shellac on my face in the morning, and I’ve stopped spot-treating with goo. On to the supplements!

For the last week, I’ve been taking the same course of supplements I took at home in LA: a multivitamin, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, and beta carotene. The multivitamin is mostly because, prior to cutting out sugar and only buying whole foods at the grocery store as of last Monday, I am a terrible eater and felt bad for my bones. Cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, and beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) are good for the skins.

On Saturday, I added agnus castus and burdock root to the mix. The last time I tried agnus castus (a hormonal regulating herbal supplement also known as Vitex or chaste berry), I got splitting headaches for two days and stopped taking it. After doing some research, I learned that ol’ Agnus can cause hormonal headaches if not taken with a liver detoxifier like burdock root or milk thistle, also (you guessed it!) herbal supplements. Burdock is said to “cleanse the blood” and ease inflammation. I’ve taken agnus castus and burdock at the same time for four days now and have had no headaches, so despite the fact that writing about blood cleansing herbs makes me feel a bit like a maniac, I’m inclined to say it works?

Just last night, I started DIM, or diindolylmethane, which is a natural plant extract taken from cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It has an incredible reputation for restoring hormonal balance in people who are total messes, like yours truly. In fact, I was a bit intimidated by DIM – I’ve read such amazing stories about it’s success that I thought 1) this shit is powerful and 2) this shit could be really disappointing. (Any product with 270 ratings and four stars on Amazon is something to be loved and feared.) According to all the literature I read (and there was a lot), DIM works by detoxifying the liver and promoting the production of “good” estrogen, which aids in the balance of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.

It is entirely too soon to report on any possible benefits (or terrible problems), but I’ve been taking all of these together (with food), and thus far, I have not had headaches or nausea or other crazy side effects. This is huge, because my body is pretty prone to sensitivity freak outs (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve had acne for the majority of my adult life). In addition, there appear to be the trappings of healing happening on my face.

Despite not wanting to put the cart before the horse, because the only pills that work within 24 hours are pain relievers and narcotics, I am extremely optimistic about the improvements all this will make. I am being extremely careful about what I’m ingesting now and regardless of how obnoxious and granola all of this sounds, I really believe that there’s no arguing that what you put in your body impacts what you get out of it. I’m making a conscious effort to change the way I treat myself, and I’m hoping I can see improvement in how I feel and (obviously) in how I look.

I’m doing literally every single thing differently than I have in the past – cleaning up my diet, taking aim at the root of the hormonal issues, not touching my face or painting it with chemicals, letting my skin heal on it’s own, despite how embarrassing and unsettling it is for me to do so – and I’m hoping it makes a difference.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Skin Is In.

A lifetime ago, I dedicated lots of blog space to the condition my skin was in, because I’m generally a vain and horrible person who thinks strangers on the internet care about my acne. I’ve heard tell that the Youngs these days (you know, the spry, energetic college undergrads who use SnapChat and listen to Miley Cyrus ironically) call this day of the week “Throwback Thursday,” so I figure today I will post again about my face skin and what it’s been up to, just for old times’ sake.

When I was 19, after living for five years with persistent, permanent, and absolutely unfortunate acne on my face, chest, and back, I was prescribed Accutane. The prescription came after much begging and pleading with my dermatologist, who eventually referred me to a physician’s assistant who specialized in Accutane paperwork. (Yes, the drug is such a tremendous pain that, at least at that time nearly a decade ago, people needed to be Accutane specialists in order to feel comfortable enough to hand it over.) I left the appointment with the PA with a prescription for this acne wonder drug, a huge smile, and an enormous three-inch binder full of warnings and precautions.

I spent the next six months having routine blood tests to check that I wasn’t pregnant or dying of liver failure and watching my face dry, peel, and crack into a bleeding mess. I stopped smiling, because a genuine grin was enough to split the corners of my mouth. I stopped wearing contacts and battled sties and pink eye on the regular. And yet, I was thrilled. I’d spent years cycling through antibiotics and prescription acid creams and various face washes tens of dermatologists promised me would work. I’d been on hugely high doses of hormonal birth control, which made me feel dizzy and spacey and ballooned out every part of my body so quickly that my college dorm floor thought I’d gotten breast implants. I’d subjected my body to so much nonsense, and none of it had worked. Despite how miserable I was on Accutane, I felt I was finally doing something that would help me. I was finally miserable for a reason. (And yes, I am aware of how pathetic that sounds.) I would be done with acne forever and I could put all the pain and crushing self-hate behind me.

And I was right. I got off the big orange pill, and my skin was gorgeous. Very shortly afterwards, I fell in love and got on hormonal birth control for the second time, albeit at a much, much lower dose. I was on birth control very happily for about five years, with glowing skin. It was the first time I felt worthy of attention, and if I’m honest, of love.

I stopped taking hormonal birth control in May 2012, 1) because I was having strange chest pains and headaches and I was concerned I may throw a clot to my brain and 2) because I was planning on having a baby. Luckily, I did not die of an embolism (there’s still time!). I also did not get pregnant.

In addition to failing to die or get pregnant, I also experienced acne for the first time since I tortured myself on Accutane for the privilege of never having to see it again. For a long time, I was in full panic mode, expecting every morning to wake up with an upper body (face, back, and chest) covered in angry cystic pimples that would force me back into high-necked t-shirts and constant makeup application. I’d wake up from dreams about break outs with my hands on my face, reassuring myself that it wasn’t real the same way most normal people do when they wake up from nightmares about normal people things, like zombies or home invasions.

While things never got that bad, they also didn’t improve. For the first year post-hormonal birth control, I was also trying to regulate and get pregnant, so I was taking things like Clomid and progesterone replacements, which I figured were not doing wonders for my skin. And then, at the end of June 2013, I left home for an archaeological field school in Ireland, where despite having my face in giant dirt holes all day, my skin was perfection. Thank you, manual labor outside in the lovely UV radiation of the summer sun.

By the time I came home, however, my life had completely fallen apart. I was getting divorced, I was finishing a Masters thesis, I was leading a classroom, I was living with my parents. In a desperate attempt to gain some control over my life, I started looking into natural ways of regulating my hormonal acne, which by this time was back in full force. Having spent all my teenage years sitting in dermatologists’ offices, I had been of the mind that what you eat doesn’t influence your skin. Doctor after doctor had told me that my diet had no impact on my face, and that the only thing to do was slather on some more benzoyl peroxide and hope for the best.

However, as a person who has put every synthetic acne treatment in existence both on my face and in my body only to be physically hurt or deeply disappointed, I started to think that maybe pharmaceuticals weren’t the answer. I cut out sugar and started taking supplements like agnus castus (an herbal progesterone regulator), beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body and is essentially nature’s Accutane), and cod liver and flaxseed oils. I saw lots of improvement in my skin, but I was also buried by stress and anxiety, and losing terrifying amounts of weight. I wasn’t at my healthiest in any sense.

Then, I moved across the world to England. I was tired and crazed and yet finally, mercifully, eating again. I started drinking double-shot lattes and eating delicious English cookies. I stopped taking the supplements, because my skin was better. I adjusted to a new routine, and vitamins weren’t a part of it.

Until my face starting boiling. That is the best, most evocative description I can manage. Huge, cystic pimples on my chin, that flared up, became enormous, and then healed just in time for another one or two to take their place. For a while, I thought it might have been the weather here, which is decidedly less sunny than Los Angeles, or the stress of the move. I kept waiting for improvement. Instead, it kept getting worse, until my acne was the worst it had been since I was 19 and carrying that three-ring binder.

So, I started tracking the flare ups. I’ve never done anything like that before. I am usually content to just float through my life in my body, not really taking much stock of what is causing various reactions. For my entire adult life, I have been amazed by women who can tell when they are getting their periods or if they are pregnant, just simply based on how they feel.

Now, though, I am normal human woman (physically – not mentally, obviously), so I could finally make some assessments. And the results? My skin gets worse after I have dairy, sugar, and caffeine – all things that are known to aggravate hormonal imbalances. All those days drinking at least one double-shot latte? Wreaking havoc my face.

I am currently conducting an experiment. I have not had sugar, dairy, coffee, or black tea since Monday morning (when someone very kindly bought me a latte and I drank a few sips, to be polite, okay?). I am drinking tons of green tea and eating more whole foods. I have had not one new pimple. (And that there is saying something. We were on a day-by-day basis just last week.) Those I did have are healing up and going away.

COULD THIS BE WORKING? After all this time, is it possible that what you put in your body does matter?

That remains to be seen. I think most scientific journals will require progress that lasts more than three days.

On Saturday, my package of herbal supplements and teas is finally arriving. When I get it, I will lay out all my hippie granola freakshow purchases and take photos and then tell you all about them.

Get excited.

Facial Topography.

Disclaimer: this post is going to make me sound insufferably obnoxious. I know this. If you don’t want to read an ode to my ridiculous first-world problems, maybe skip this one and hold out for tomorrow, when I tackle such heavy hitters as “the six months my now-husband was dating someone else.” Proceed with caution, everyone. And please don’t like me any less when you’re done.

Lately, my audience has expanded a little beyond just those incredibly wonderful and gracious followers who have been with me since the beginning, when all I wrote about was whether or not I was pregnant (read: the answer was always “not”) and what my face skin was up to. Due to this broadened readership, I’ve tried to make my posts a little less myopic.

However, I am still getting visitors daily, daily, from Google searches of the words “chest acne” and “hormonal pimples,” so I think it’s about time for a blast from the archival past.

This is a Chin Skin Update.

Last summer, despite being off the pill for a few months, my face was still flawless (in terms of blemishes. Even then, at the height of my glory, I had no upper lip). In the fall, after I jambled my insides with progesterone replacements and Clomid doses, I was reintroduced to having at least one active volcano on my face all the time. At times, I’ve had up to seven giant Vesuvii at once. Always around my mouth and always enormous. Nowhere near what my acne once was pre-Accutane, but still upsetting. People take Accutane for a reason, and that reason is not that we all loved getting monthly blood tests to make sure our livers were functioning while having our skin crack and bleed and flake off.

The breakouts ebb and flow. There is no rhyme or reason to my hormones right now, so I don’t know what the deal is, but sometimes I have raging zits and sometimes, I get a two-week reprieve, when I can wear no concealer and feel free to touch my face at will.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the skin thing doesn’t upset me. It is obviously hormonal and out of my control and will probably be a problem until I either get pregnant eventually or just decide to go back on birth control. My husband is contractually obligated to say things like, “I don’t even see anything,” even when it’s really bad, and he’s the only person who gets to see it unmasked. Usually, I am irritated, I am occasionally in minor throbbing pain, I am unfazed.

Except for right now. Tonight. When, out of the clear blue, after weeks of relative calm, I’ve got two massive eruptions brewing. This wouldn’t be a surprise, or even a blip on the radar – in fact, these sneak attacks has been happening for months and I haven’t written about them because who cares? – if Wednesday wasn’t the first time in my entire life I was going to “model” in front of a camera.

I’m one of three women participating in a promotional photo shoot organized by the insanely talented photographer who shot our wedding photos and I’m already terrified because we keep getting referred to in group messages as “the talent” and the only talent I have is to be hugely awkward all the time. Am I going to be expected to smize? (That’s “smile with my eyes,” for those of you who haven’t seen every progressively-more-insane season of America’s Next Top Model.) Am I going to be expected to know what I’m doing? Do I have to have TALENT???

In addition, and most importantly, one of the other “models” is an actual gorgeous model, so totally no pressure.

I can’t wait to be the only person there who has no talent and actual facial topography.

Off My Chest.

Disclaimer: I could not possibly be more pleased with myself for coming up with that title for this post. It’s the little things.

I’ve discussed before how no one comes across this blog by searching “incredibly good looking hilarious person,” which really is quite a shame because I mean, come on:

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I added a cartoon pipe to a black and white photo. How much more incredibly good looking and hilarious do you expect me to be?

As disappointing as it is to have my hilarious stories and super good photography be largely ignored by the Internet, I legitimately love that the only search terms leading people here are variations on “pimples on chest.” (Or, on occasion, “acne crazy person.”) I am fully aware that my readership is indeed smaller than the average college lecture, but I still enjoy that I am, in some small way, giving the acne sufferers of Google somewhere to go to feel less alone.

In high school, at the height of my acne insanity, I would have given anything to feel a little less like the total singular monster I felt I was. At the time, I was the only person I knew (aside from my mom, who took Accutane in the late 70s) who had such terrible skin in so many places. I was a sprinter for seven years before quitting track my junior year because I was too embarrassed to wear the low-cut jerseys. I suffered through humiliating drugstore conversations with strange old ladies, who would ask me earnestly (and loudly) while motioning toward my head, “Have you ever tried washing your face?” I wore t-shirts every day for six years and washed (and made up) my face twice a day.

Just before Accutane, on the advice of my third dermatologist, I started taking the highest dose birth control available, in the hope of banishing my acne forever. My entire body ballooned up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. My acne didn’t go anywhere:

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I’m wearing about ten pounds of concealer in this photo. And twenty pounds of water weight. My body’s transformation from “normal human” to “estrogen overdose” was so rapid, guys on my dorm floor thought I’d gotten a boob job over summer break.

Here I am being “sexy” at 19 on Halloween in West Hollywood. Notice the only part of my upper body visible are my arms. I had that horrible dress, with its high halter, custom made in order to hide my chest:

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I’ve used a PicStitch sticker to obscure the identity of my friend. I figured the men didn’t need any more help.

If I could give my teenage self (and those who aren’t here for pictures of cats) some hard won advice, it wouldn’t be to just get over it, because living it sucks. Having no control over your body (be it due to acne or weight or depression or restless leg syndrome) is a nightmare. Don’t get over yourself. Be sad. That’s understandable and totally acceptable.

However, do not let it rule your life. One day, like when you’re in your twenties and writing a blog, you will not give one shit what anyone thinks about you. (You will prove this by talking at length about your menstrual cycle and pregnancy tests and cystic pimples in a public forum.). And you will regret all the things you did when you were too busy giving a shit, like for instance, refusing to swim freely in the Caribbean when you were lucky enough to go there once because you didn’t want to wash off your concealer or dating that toolbag for far too long in college because you were afraid no one else would ever be attracted to you.

Never let your perceived shortcomings rule your life because the simple truth is that no one who loves you cares. No one who might love you cares. And anyone who does care is a sadistic jerk who isn’t worth it in the first place.

Finally, feeling like a physical mutant in my formative years forced me to sharpen my academic and social abilities. I assumed people were going to stare at me and I wanted their attention focused on things I could control, like doing well in school or being an entertaining personality. Thus, I wouldn’t be nearly as remarkably intelligent or hysterically funny or obnoxiously loud if it weren’t for bad skin. For that, Acne, I thank you.

Google searchers of the world, come for the key words and stay for the life coaching!