Friday, July 5, 2013

Acne update: Dairy's fine, something else isn't … but what?

Acne update: Dairy's fine, something else isn't … but what? == Hobo Mama
Were these coconut-heavy cupcakes the cause of my most recent outbreaks … or not?

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

For those of you avidly following the saga of my face, here's a brief update.

Quick recap so far: I have persistent adult acne, for which I've tried pretty much every treatment a dermatologist can offer. At this point, I keep it relatively under control at home with over-the-counter medication.

However: When Sam and I gave up (most) grains and sugars in October, my skin got worse. Since it couldn't be lack of grains that made it flare up, I determined it must be an excess of something else I'd added to my diet.

Suspect #1: Dairy

My first experimental removal was dairy, since cheese had become my new go-to snack. Removing it had — wait for it — zero effect on my acne.

What it did have was a high effect on my frustration level with elimination diets!

Whereas before giving up dairy, I adjusted surprisingly easily to not eating grains, once dairy went, too, all I could think about was cheating — on both counts.

After five weeks of No! Cheese! I saw no benefits to my skin and happily gave up.

On to suspect #2

I decided to move down the list of likely acnegenic suspects, based on reading through online forums, books on primal eating, and scholarly articles on acne and diet:

  1. Dairy
  2. Nuts
  3. Coconuts
  4. Nightshades

So now — it was on to nuts.

I have to admit, I wasn't optimistic. After dairy was a no-go, and since I'd had no problems digestively with any foods, including all those on the list, I figured nuts likely didn't make much sense. But there were enough anecdotes about nuts having an effect on people's skin clarity, including Tree's comment about her sisters' experience.

Losing nuts meant losing so-called paleo baking, which relies heavily on almond flour and coconut oil, numbers two and three on my strike-out list. Gone were my cookie dough dip and my fudgy cookies. Given how many goodies I'd been making to console myself for my loss of cheese, I was afraid the transition would be challenging. However, now that I had my precious cheese again, I actually felt fine. I'd been using the paleo-esque treats as a replacement for small snacks, but now I could grab a bite of cheese again and feel happy.

Just as a side note: Cravings and addictions are funny things, aren't they? I've been able to give up some things (fast food, for instance, and now grains, or like in my previous existence as a vegetarian) with little drama, but then other things (CHEESE! Soda!) make me obsessive for replacements if I have to give them up, and even threaten the stability of other healthy choices I've made. I guess we all have our Waterloos.

But, anyway. In addition to no paleo-style baking, I ate no nuts as snacks and avoided them in meals or as ingredients in foods (such as, sprinkled on salads). I think I kept pretty cleanly to this, though since I'm not actually allergic, I can't be certain it was 100% compliance. I don't know of any slips, in any case.

Ready for what happened?

My skin … CLEARED!

I was floored. And so excited! My skin hadn't been that clear since my pregnancy. Could it really be? Had I figured out what the dietary trigger was? Or … well, one of two things it might be …

And suspect #3

Because, it turns out I don't really use coconut oil in other food applications. (Don't tell Jennifer.) With my almond flour usage cut out, so went my coconut oil consumption. So I didn't know: Was it the nuts, or the coconuts? (Just to be clear, I confirmed that coconuts are not in the same allergenic family as tree nuts, despite the name!)

I decided to test it out. For the boys' birthday, I began experimenting with grain-free but nut-free paleo-ish baking. I tried out a few different recipes for cakes and cupcakes that rely on eggs and coconut flour, along with coconut oil. My face immediately began breaking out again.

Hmm … so it was the coconuts, then, not the nuts. Right?

Well, maybe.

The problem is, baking a bunch of cupcakes also meant I'd upped my sweets quotient again. Plus, in celebrating three back-to-back birthdays (mine, Alrik's, then Mikko's), with celebrations and coupons and just our general wild living, I found I'd been "cheating" a lot more in terms of the no-grains/no-sugar dealio. For most meals, I was staying true, but I was having more than occasional conventional treats.

What I needed to do, I decided, was go back to eating as cleanly as I had been before (say, 80-90% compliance with no grains and sugars) and then test out nuts and coconut separately.

So that's where I end the update, because … I apparently haven't managed to accomplish that yet!

Waiting to test again

Lately, I've once more cut out both nuts and coconut, but my skin hasn't cleared again, further muddying the waters. I've been trying to eat more intentionally, so I don't know if (a) I'm still not eating cleanly enough or (b) all my dietary theories have been wrong so far.

It's possible my skin troubles aren't linked to diet at all, though it still seems likely they are, at least partially, since my acne got so much worse after going grain-free. And it's possible there's no help for it even if they are, since I will not aim for 100% compliance with any dietary restrictions. But it still seems like a worthy goal to get my skin back to how it was before I went grain-free: prone to acne, but under an acceptable level of control with my over-the-counter treatment.

It's also possible it's some random combination of foods that trigger outbreaks only when things get out of balance: too much sweet (even natural sugars like fruit and honey), too much dairy, too many nuts, etc. I'm not really sure how I'd ever unravel that puzzle, except through a more intensive elimination protocol, which I am not enjoying contemplating.

I'm not ready to convict nuts and/or coconut yet as acnegenic for me, and I certainly have no recommendations for what might be acnegenic for someone else, since based on this experience, it seems pretty personally targeted.

For now, I'm going to keep on keeping on: cutting back on cheats, and continuing to avoid nuts and coconut for now. I'll let you know if anything gets better or worse!


Stephanie said...

So frustrating get to the root of the problem! I wish you luck!

Unknown said...

Funnily enough, I have been on the same road to find the cause of my eczema, and I am now at the point that I am convinced one of the main culprits is coconut!

Catch My Words said...

That must be terribly frustrating. Have you looked at soaps and laundry detergents? You might want to try washing your pillow case in a detergent for sensitive skin. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are on a pretty complicated mission! I started taking coconut oil in the morning my skin was fine but I noticed now I need to wash my hair everyday!

Unknown said...

I struggle with adult acne as well. I've started drinking hot water with fresh squeezed lemon in the morning, taking B complex vitamins, and cut out soda, juice, milk, etc and mostly only drink water. I use over the counter treatments as well, and I've not had a large breakout in months (knock wood)!

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