Recently I have been seeking to better understand the science behind our skin and how we care for it. Just because a product is natural, does not necessarily make it safe or effective. I have been reading a lot about Korean and/or Asian skincare practices, and the use of low-pH cleansers is the very foundation – for good reason! Here is what I’ve learned…
Have you ever experienced that tight, dry feeling left on your skin after using a facial cleanser? You might believe that this is your cleanser doing it’s job. However, most standard cleansers are too high in pH, causing damage to the skin.
Our skin is made up of a barrier of skin cells and fatty acids. This barrier is known as the “acid mantle” and it serves to protect your skin. The acid mantle keeps bacteria from getting into your skin as well as holding water within the skin (keeping your skin hydrated). It keeps the good stuff in, and the bad stuff out.
Our skin has a natural pH of between 4 and 6 (acidic). A pH of 7 is neutral and anything over 7 is considered alkaline. Many basic cleansers are too alkaline to help protect and preserve the acid mantle. This leads to skin feeling dry, sensitive, redness, and acne. Your skin will start producing extra oil/sebum to overcompensate. Skin may feel dry immediately following the cleanser, and then turn into an oil-slick later in the day.
In order to protect your skin, prevent acne and irritation, and promote hydrated, glowing skin, you need to use a cleanser that has the same pH has natural skin: between 4 and 6.
Growing up I was always taught to avoid skincare products that contained any type of oils. The theory was that using oil on your face would clog pores and lead to acne. Having been an adolescent with less than perfect skin, I wasn’t about to put anything on my face that might worsen my acne. I continued to avoid facial oil into my adulthood, and used facial cleansers and other products that were intended to clear acne.
I became frustrated that I was now an adult and still needed to use acne products to keep my acne at bay. Aren’t teenagers the ones who have to deal with this problem? I started to do some research, reading and learning about other adult women who had similar concerns about their skin.
Through my research, I discovered healthy ways to clear my acne at the root of the issue that would provide lasting results. The most important decision I made was to improve my lifestyle and make healthier choices. I write about how I changed my diet and introduced supplements to my daily routine here.
I also discovered how to improve my skincare routine. Here is what I learned:
Oil-Free Cleansers can Damage Skin
Most commercial facial cleansers (especially those geared for acne) contain harsh detergents such as sulphates that strip natural oil from your face and drying your skin. Stripping natural oils (sebum) from your face can cause skin damage and accelerate the signs of aging. It can also further aggravate acne, eczema, and rosacea.
Facial Oil will Help Reduce Oily Skin
Using products that contain high quality oils can actually trick your skin into thinking it has already produced enough oil, and will decrease your natural sebum production.
Facial Oil will Clear Pores
Using oil to cleanse your face will actually help dissolve clogged pores such as whiteheads or blackheads. Water cannot dissolve oil – but oil can dissolve oil, so the oil will mix and clear up clogged pores!
Cleansing with Oil Removes Makeup
Nothing removes makeup faster and more gently than an oil-cleanser – even eye makeup! I use One Love Organics Vitamin B Enzyme Oil Cleanser and Makeup Remover. Some other favorites to use are plain joboba oil or virgin coconut oil. This method is sometimes referred to as the “oil cleansing method.” The key is to massage the oil on dry skin, then wipe away with a warm wash cloth and rinse. You can follow with another cleanser for a deeper clean or just stick with the oil-cleanser.
Have you tried cleansing with oil? What are your favorite facial oils? Please share!
Looking to improve your complexion, eliminate acne, and feel your best? Inflammation, redness, acne, and uneven skin tone are results of deficiencies in your health and lack of nutrition. In order to improve your skin on the outside, you need to heal yourself on the inside. Topical skin products that promise relief may only temporarily alleviate some symptoms, but to truly make a long-lasting difference in your skin, you need to increase your nutrition. Even when trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it can be difficult to get all the nutrition you need on a daily basis. Adding these supplements to your routine can make a big difference:
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Fermented cod liver oil is high in omega 3 fatty acids – the healthy fats! It is also especially high in vitamin D and A. It is packed with more nutrients compared to other types of fish oil. When the cod livers are fermented, the nutrients are extracted without being damaged like in other processing methods. The fermentation also allows the nutrients to be more easily digested. This supplement can be a little pricey – but well worth the money since you will get a lot of bang for your buck. Your hair, skin, and nails will GLOW! Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil is a reputable brand, and it comes in yummy flavors!
Probiotics are hugely important for keeping clear skin as well as overall health. “Good” bacteria is needed in your gut to digest food properly and maintain a strong immune system. Many health problems can be linked back to an influx of “bad” bacteria in the gut: yeast infections, acne, diarrhea, constipation – just to name a few. Having too much bad bacteria can result from taking antibiotics and eating too much sugar and breads. We get healthy bacteria naturally from eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, beet kvass, kefir milk, yogurt, and raw apple cider vinegar. However, it can be hard to eat the amount we need daily, so adding a probiotic supplement is a must! Try Garden of Life Raw Probiotics.
Milk thistle is one of the most well-known herbs to help support liver function. The liver is essential to flushing out toxins in the body. Having a healthy liver will heal your skin and keep acne away. Milk thistle contains silymarin, a property which supports the liver by increasing glutathione levels and cleaning toxins out of the blood. It also helps regenerate liver tissue and decrease inflammation. Show your liver some love, boost your body’s healing power, and try taking Pure Encapsulation Silymarin.
Have you tried any of these supplements? What supplements have helped to clear your skin? Please share!
Blissoma Solutions Smooth A+ Perfecting Serum has been a wondrous product for me! This little gem is packed with antioxidants that provide ultimate healing power. My skin has truly changed for the better since I started using this product almost a year ago. I have noticed fewer breakouts, more even skin tone, and smaller pores.
The secret ingredient in this serum is Niacinamide: a topical antioxidant that combats oxidation of the pores.
One of the main reasons we get breakouts is due to oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen damages the molecules of our sebum. You know how an avocado will turn brown if you leave it out? That is oxidation happening. Our sebum contains squalene, a fatty acid. When squalene oxidizes, it becomes squalene peroxide which will clog your pores. Once the pore is clogged, bacteria accumulates and inflammation occurs… leading to acne.
Niacinamide is essentially a topical Vitamin B3. It is a powerful antioxidant – which is the antagonist of oxidation. When a topical antioxidant is applied regularly, it will effectively decrease the likelihood of oxidation, resulting in less breakouts! Win!
This serum is incredibly light and dries with a matte finish. The fragrance is not potent, and smells like roses. I use only one pump for my entire face while it is still damp after applying my toner. It can be used alone or along with an oil or moisturizer. I allow it to dry before applying my facial oil.
Have you tried Blissoma? Do you have a favorite acne-fighting serum? Please share!
In part 1 of this post, I discuss my experience using birth control pills for several years, the health problems related to using hormonal birth control, and my decision to find a natural alternative.
After deciding to quit birth control pills, my body did not react so kindly to the transition. The biggest change I noticed was an outbreak in acne. I had tiny pimples covering my forehead and larger pimples around my cheekbones/temples that left some ice pick scarring and hyperpigmentation. It was devastating. I can recall many moments staring into the mirror with tears in my eyes. It was so incredibly frustrating!
I wish I could say there was a quick fix to my acne, but my hormones needed a chance to regain balance. With a healthier diet, natural skincare products, and time (it took nearly two years), my acne was finally at bay (except for the occasional pimple before my period).
I’m pleased to say that I never went back on hormonal birth control, and I started to look into natural methods of birth control. There are a few types of natural birth control I tried:
Most intrauterine devices (IUD) work by using synthetic hormones. However, there is an IUD made from copper called Paragard. The IUD is inserted into the uterus by your gynecologist, taking just a few minutes in the office. The copper acts as a spermicide, killing sperm and blocking sperm from traveling to the egg. The copper also thins the lining of the uterus, making it less likely for an egg to implant.
It is effective immediately after insertion, and can last ten years before it needs to be replaced.
It can be removed at anytime by your doctor and there is no need to wait until hormones have been balanced before pregnancy can occur.
It is 99% effective.
Depending on insurance coverage and how long a woman plans to use Paragard, it can be cheaper than birth controls pills or condoms – and sometimes even free!
The insertion of Paragard can be painful.
It can cause heavier periods.
It can cause more painful periods.
Too much copper in the body can deplete zinc, so a zinc deficiency may occur.
It does not protect against STD’s.
Many women respond to the Pargard wonderfully. Unfortunately, I was only able to use the Paragard for eight months.
The actual insertion of Paragard was only a brief, sharp pain. The most uncomfortable part was the intense cramping right after the insertion. It felt as though my body was trying to expel the IUD. My cramps were so intense that my legs were shaking. The only way I was able to get up and walk out of the office was by pressing a hot rice-pack on my lower back. The cramps continued to be intense for a couple of days before lessening.
My periods became heavier with much more cramping. I was even experiencing intense cramps when I didn’t have my period. The best way to describe my pain was mind-numbing. There were times when I couldn’t speak or think of anything other than the pain. It finally got to the point where I realized my uterus was not going to tolerate this IUD, and I had it removed. And I immediately felt better!
The Lady-Comp is a fertility computer made my a company in Germany. It has become more and more well-known among women who are seeking hormone-free birth control options. It works by tracking your Basil Body Temperature (BBT). every day to detect the hormone progesterone to detect fertility. It also compares your cycle with hundreds of thousands of other women’s cycles.
Your basil body temperature is your temperature right after you wake up – before you stretch, drink water, use the bathroom, speak – etc. The Lady-Comp has a thermometer attached to it that you use to take your temperature orally each morning right when you wake up.
After ovulation occurs, progesterone rises in the body, causing a slight increase in body temperature. Progesterone stays high until the day you get your period – progesterone drops, and so does your body temperature.
The Lady-Comp tracks the rise and fall of temperature and detects when you are fertile/ovulating. It will give a red light on days that you are fertile (indicating no intercourse unless you have a backup plan for birth control or want to get pregnant), a yellow light (it is still learning your cycle), or a green light (you are in the clear!).
It is 99.3% effective immediately.
It is completely natural.
It lasts at least seven years.
It is easy to use.
It is rechargeable.
It takes time for the Lady-Comp to learn your unique cycle, so it will give a lot of red and yellow lights in the beginning.
It requires daily maintenance, although only a couple of minutes to take your temperature.
Some substances or situations could effect your temperature. For example, drinking alcohol the night before will increase body temperature. Having irregular sleep patterns could interfere as well (however, the Lady Comp maintains its effectiveness by giving red or yellow lights if it detects your temperature seems to be off and out of place). Therefore, as long as you abide by the red and yellow lights and avoid intercourse, it will still be 99.3% effective.
It does not protect against STD’s.
Watch this video on Lady-Comp:
My experience using the Lady-Comp has been really life-changing! It feels liberating to know I can manage my birth control by simply understanding my body. The Lady-Comp makes it really easy! There is also something very feminine about knowing when I’m fertile. Learning to track my hormone cycles has helped me detect other types of symptoms I experience such as breast tenderness, irritability, or even when I tend to be in a really good mood! I have been using the Lady-Comp for over a year, and don’t see any reason to discontinue.
Kindara is an app for your computer or phone or computer that helps you track your fertility to either get pregnant or avoid pregnancy. You enter in your data daily: BBT, cervical fluid, menstruation, and intercourse. This app can be used to make the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) of birth control a little easier to track.
When using FAM, you track your hormonal cycle through tracking BBT to detect levels of progesterone (what the Lady-Comp does), as well as the presence and consistency of cervical fluid to track estrogen levels.
Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. The first part of your cycle is referred to as the Follicular phase. This is when estrogen is dominant. Estrogen increases once menstruation begins and peaks at ovulation. Ovulation marks the end of the Follicular phase. The next phase is referred to as the Luteal phase of your cycle. This is when progesterone is dominant. Progesterone remains dominant until the day you get your period. Then your cycle starts over again.
Cervical fluid coincides with estrogen. Cervical fluid is the white discharge you get as ovulation approaches. It ranges in consistency from thick and sticky to runny and watery (kind of gross to talk about, I know). The thinner the discharge, the more fertile you are. Sperm travels through cervical fluid, helping to reach the egg.
As mentioned earlier, your BBT coincides with progesterone. When you see a spike in temperature, you will know that you are entering the Luteal phase of your cycle, and ovulation has occurred the previous day. When you see a dip in temperature, you can expect to get your period on that day, and you are now in the Follicular phase of your cycle once again.
When you take into consideration that sperm can survive for up to five days, and ovulation lasts for two days, you can identify that you are fertile for about seven days. Most women will also add on another couple of days after ovulation just in case you ovulate twice (twins anyone?). Therefore, most women are fertile for about nine days. You can avoid intercourse for those nine days or use a barrier form of birth control instead.
By tracking basal BBT, cervical fluid, and menstruation, you can identify which days you are able to get pregnant, thus avoiding intercourse on those days and maintaining effective birth control. Kindara takes all of the data you entered and puts it into a monthly calendar as well as line graph to provide an easy to follow visual.
Kindara is also now launching a thermometer called Wink that you can use to take your basal body temperature, and the thermometer will automatically sync with the app.
Kindara offers a comprehensive, user-friendly method to the Fertility Awareness Method.
When used correctly, the FAM is 99.6% effective.
Can predict which days you are likely to be fertile as well as menstruate based on your previous cycles.
Phone app makes tracking convenient and discreet.
Graph of your data is easy to understand.
Requires daily tracking.
Will need some basic understanding of FAM before using (there is a learning curve).
FAM does not protect against STD’s.
I have been using Kindara in conjunction with Lady-Comp for nearly a year, and absolutely love it! Kindara is what truly helped me learn my hormonal cycle and better understand why the Lady-Comp may have given me a red light versus a green light. My favorite aspect is the graph visual – it really helped me see what was going on with my body.
I have not tried Wink, but I am considering ordering it since it is much smaller, travel-friendly, discreet, cheaper, and overall seems more convenient compared to the Lady-Comp. However, it will not give lights indicating your fertility – you need to make those determinations based on your tracking.
Here is a video about Wink by Kindara:
To be completely honest, the Fertility Awareness Method is much easier than it seems. Once you learn the information on how fertility works on the body, and track your temperature and cervical fluid, it just becomes part of your daily routine – much like remembering to take a pill everyday – only FAM has given me a feeling of empowerment and understanding over my own body. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of more women using this method!
Have you tried any of these forms of natural birth control? I would love to hear your stories!
My experience with birth control started when I was in my late adolescence. Like so many women I know, I struggled with painful, heavy periods, and was told by friends, family, and my doctor that taking the birth control pill would make my periods less painful, less intense. I took the pill consistently for about four years. And I have to say, my periods were regular and much more bearable.
However, I hit a point in my life where I started to feel like I wasn’t in control of my emotions, and my happiness was suffering. Was it because of a rocky relationship with my then-boyfriend? Hardships of entering adulthood? Did I have a mental health disorder? Or perhaps it was a side effect of my birth control pill…
Looking back now, I can’t say for sure what exactly was causing my emotional toil – it was most likely a combination of factors. Something needed to change. At this point in my life, I was starting to realize that what I put into my body made a big impact in my overall well-being. I was working hard to improve my diet, so I figured I would examine any substances I was taking: birth control pills.
I started to do some research online. I read about other women’s experiences with the pill. So many of them discussed feeling depressed along with many other health symptoms. I started talking to my close friends who were currently on the pill or had used the pill in the past, and several of them described similar symptoms.
Through my research, I learned how birth control pills effect the body:
1. Birth control pills prevent production of natural hormones, causing an imbalance in hormones.
Generally speaking, birth control pills work by preventing ovulation. They contain two types of synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin. Synthetic estrogen works to prevent the pituitary gland from producing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to stop ovulation and thin the lining of the uterus. Progestin works to prevent the pituitary gland from producing LH.
Some forms of birth control include both synthetic estrogen and progestin, and others contain only progestin (the mini pill). Hormonal birth control does not only come in pill-form, but also in patches, vaginal rings, and some intrauterine devices.
The monthly bleeding women experience when taking the 7 days of placebo pills mimics a woman’s period, but is not in fact a natural occurrence of menstruation. The cycle of natural hormones causes the uterus to build up a lining of tissue to welcome a fertilized egg, and when the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds the lining – thus, your period. When birth control pills were first created, doctors felt more women would use the pills if they kept the ability to menstruate. When synthetic hormones are suddenly stopped while taking the placebos, the uterus sheds its lining. However, because the lining is already thinned due to the synthetic hormones, the perceived period is lighter than a natural period. Technically, there is no biological reason for a woman to get her “period” while on birth control pills.
A lot of women go on the pill to have clearer skin (I admit, my skin was very clear while on the pill). The reason for that has to do with the extra estrogen in birth control pills. Estrogen works to decrease the effects of hormones called androgens. Androgens are viewed as “male” hormones such as testosterone. Women also contain these hormones, but in lesser amounts than men. Androgens are linked to sebum production in the skin. The higher the level of androgens, the more sebum is produced. Having a lot of sebum can increase the chance of clogged pores.
Have you ever experienced a breakout right before your period? This is likely due to androgens being at their highest during this point in your natural cycle, and estrogen being at its lowest. Estrogen increases once menstruation occurs, which tends to be why breakouts clear up after you get you period.
Androgens are crucial in managing our moods, sense of well-being, and responding positively to exercise. Having too high or too low levels of androgens can cause problems with our sense of happiness.
Why might there be an excess of androgens in the your body? Research has shown there to be a link between spikes in insulin and increased level of androgens. Eating high-sugar and starchy foods increase insulin, which in turn increases androgens.
Birth control pills tamper with a woman’s natural hormonal cycle. While birth control pills may help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms such as heavy, painful periods or hormonal acne, birth control masks the root of the problem. When women choose to come off the pill, many of them experience worse symptoms than prior to taking them as their body attempts to regain a sense of balance.
2. Birth control pills create yeast overgrowth
Having higher levels of estrogen in the body due to synthetic hormones lead to yeast overgrowth (a bacteria called candida) in the digestive system. This happens when the beneficial bacteria is killed. When you consider other common contributors to yeast (refined sugars, high stress, antibiotics) the problem can develop quickly. An overgrowth of candida weakens the immune system, bringing a slew of other health problems.
3. Birth control pills cause a deficiency in nutrients
To metabolize birth control pills, the liver must use high levels of B-complex, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrients are depleted quickly. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to a variety of symptoms such as migraines, fatigue, weight gain, fluid retention, moodiness, and depression.
When you consider the potential health risks of consuming birth control pills over a period of time, it’s no wonder that taking the pill has been shown to cause an increase in risk for breast and cervical cancer, blood clots, heart disease, decrease in bone density, infertility, and benign tumors.
I, myself, had a benign tumor in my right breast that required surgical removal. Was the tumor a result of having been on birth control for years? I cannot know for sure, but it very well could be.
At this point, I had heard enough about the hardships of others taking the pill, and discovered the potential brutal consequences – so I decided I would go off the pill…for good.
In Part 2, I will discuss my journey to finding a natural solution to birth control. Stay tuned!
I’m a firm believer in taking time to engage in self-care rituals that help me to slow down and enjoy the little pleasures in life. I usually give myself a facial every Sunday evening. There’s something about that deep-skin-clean feeling that gives me a little boost of confidence and prepares me to face the workweek ahead. If I find myself eating a little too much sugar or sodium, or perhaps having a few too many glasses of wine, my skin starts appearing dehydrated, dull, and more prone to blemishes. There’s nothing like a facial to jumpstart my skin and give me that little bit of motivation I need to get back on the healthy bandwagon. Beautiful, healthy skin comes from the inside out! Nothing helps me look more radiant than a clean diet, lots of water, and plenty of sleep.
Here’s how to give yourself an at-home facial:
Step 1: Double cleanse
Use an oil cleanser like Vitamin B One Love Organics and massage into face and eyes while skin is dry to loosen any makeup, oil, and dirt. The oil in the cleanser works with the your skin’s natural oil to dissolve clogged pores. Take a hot washcloth and wipe away the cleanser. Then use a second cleaner such as my favorite Shamanuti charcoal cleanser on wet skin. Using a second cleanser further helps deep clean into your pores.
Step 2: Manual Exfoliation
While your skin is still sopping wet, use a facial-scrub such as my personal favorite Brand New Day by One Love Organics. I love this scrub because it is super gentle. You want to scrub VERY gently in circular motions. Scrubbing too harshly can damage your skin’s acid mantle, causing it to become more vulnerable and irritated. You want to scrub just enough to remove any dead skin that can contribute to clogged pores. Rinse and pat dry.
*If you have active acne, you may want to skip this step since scrubbing blemishes can open up them up, and intereferes with your natural healing. It’s the same as picking a pimple – which can lead to scars!
Step 3: Steam
Use a facial steamer such as this one by Conair or heat up some water in a pot over the stove. Not only will the steam help clear your pores, but its great for clearing sinuses! Sit with your face over the steamer and a towel over your head to trap all the steam. Steam for at least ten minutes to give the steam enough time to open your pores. You can get creative by putting some rose water, a few drops of lavender essential oil, or green tea in the hot water to infuse the steam. Breathe in slowly and deeply – and relax!
Step 4: Facial Mask
Use a facial mask to further chemically exfoliate your skin and provide it with skin-happy ingredients! Chemical exfoliation occurs when natural acids or enzymes loosen dead skin cells so that they can be easily removed. Some masks can be quite harsh so be careful and test a small patch of skin before applying it to your face. My skin does not always react well to stronger masks or peels. I have tried many masks and finally found one that is both gentle and very effective in cleaning deep into pores, exfoliating, and healing blemishes. I really like using Refine clay mask by Blissoma. You can also use organic yogurt or sour cream. The lactic acid in the dairy will exfoliate and make your skin glow!
Step 5: Tone
Use an organic toner to remove any remaining bits of your face mask and tighten up your pores. I use a homemade toner with one-third apple cider vinegar and two-thirds rose water. No other toner has worked better for my skin!
Step 6: Moisturize
While skin is still a little damp, use your favorite moisturizer, balm, or oil to seal in moisture. I use rosehip seed oil by Pai. Rosehip seed oil is excellent for diminishing the appearance of discoloration or scarring left from acne.
And voila – Gorgeous, healthy skin is revealed! I have had facials at salons in the past – even ones considered to be organic and for sensitive skin. I always left feeling like my skin was attacked – feeling irritated and raw. Doing at-home facials has given me far better results than any salon I have been to. I hope you find these tips helpful!