Please help clear my acne! Looking for suggestions

Answered on August 15, 2016
Created June 12, 2014 at 3:22 AM

So this is going to be a bit of a long post but I am at my wits end with my skin and I'm not sure what to do now. I'm going to be 30 this year and my skin looks like I'm 13. My self confidence has completely plummeted and I need some advice. I started getting acne (face, chest and back) when I was about 12 years old and I've tried what seems like nearly everything to clear it. Initially I was prescribed topicals and then various antibiotics, all to no avail. When I was nearing high school graduation I desperately wanted clear skin and so I was prescribed birth control along with a course of accutane. It worked great at clearing up my acne and it stayed away until I was about 21, despite staying on birth control (I've switched brands throughout the years). Then it slowly starting coming back, which led to more topicals and eventually more antibiotics. I got clear by taking the antibiotic called minocycline and it worked great for about a year and a half. Then at the age of 23 it stopped working and the acne starting coming back again. I didn't know what else to do but to go on another round of accutane. I started the accutane when I was 24 and it worked very quick at clearing up my skin. My skin looked perfect! I was on it for about 5 months and saw no reason to continue with it because my skin was clear just like the last time I took it. So my Dr and I decided to stop the course and within 3 weeks I was starting to breakout again. I was then prescribed a low dose, long term course of accutane to maintain clear skin. It worked great at clearing my skin but I started becoming more conscious about how I was taking care of my body and I knew it was very dangerous and not a sustainable way of keeping my skin clear. I was on a very low dose for almost 4 years! Since waking up and realizing the harm I was doing to myself I decided I needed to stop all pharmaceuticals for good. This past November the first step I took was to discontinue birth control after being on it for over 11 years. Then I started spreading the dosages of accutane further and further apart in hopes of weaning myself off of it. I added some herbal supplements in hopes of not breaking out too bad once I stopped. I stopped taking the accutane in January of this year and my skin has been very bad since. I went gluten and dairy free shortly after stopping it and it didn't do anything and so for the past 10 weeks I've been eating a strict paleo diet. I've noticed some very minimal improvement but I was hoping by this point I would at least see more of a change in my skin. I'm currently taking 2 teaspoons of fermented cod liver/butter oil per day (started 4 weeks ago), 50 mg elemental zinc (started yesterday), probiotic (also kombucha, water kefir and saurkraut), some liver pills from my naturopath and vitex. I've been cleansing my skin with epsom salts and occasionally using a bentonite clay mask. I should mention that the acne I have now is on my face, neck, back and chest. My pores are all very clogged and the texture is quite bumpy all over. My skin just doesn't seem to want to budge. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



on June 12, 2014
at 03:45 AM

What do your daily physical activity routines look like?

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10 Answers


on August 15, 2016
at 07:31 AM

Hi Guys, First post here. I've been roughly following the paleo diet since 2004. My skin problems improved immediately but always came back occasionally. This is just personal opinion but I monitor closely what I eat and how I live to try and find the answers to skin breakouts, etc. Some things that seem to spark off a skin reaction: 1. Bread 2. Sunlight (I mean sunburn, intense sun on the face. The sunscreen seems to be a problem). 3. Dairy 4. Chocolate. I know they sound like the usual suspects but if I go overseas, get too much sun, eat sandwiches and don't drink enough water I am absolutely guaranteed a huge breakout. I'm over 40 and the problems never completely resided. I just need to take control and be way more conscientious than your average person. I'm sure anyone on this forum knows what I'm talking about. I don't think any medication has ever worked for me. Pills don't do a thing. I agree that quality sleep is also a big thing. When I wake up in the morning and my skin is starting to break out, I often have bags under my eyes, from a bad nights sleep or exhaustion.


on August 11, 2016
at 04:38 PM

Hey! I am finally at the end of the horrible acne/ redness on my face and chest and back. Its been the largest trouble finding the right solution for me. At first I thought it was periorial dermatitis, candida, rosacea, and then gluten intolerance. I had gone through all the natural topicals from ACV, Coconut Oil, yogurt, tea tree oil, etc. I did not notice any real benefits until I started the HFLC diet with Intermittent Fasting, drinking as much water as possible. I also switched over to more organic foods, consuming mainly vegetables and protein for all meals with only rare cheats of sugars/breads. At this point I still have some inflammation but it is all leaving my body. This holistic approach has improved my nutrient absorption and gut health. I still use some topicals but hope to wean them out over time, I found InstaNatural Night Cream to do wonders for my patches of dry facial skin, since it has strong vitamin D content and Niacinamide, and use HandMadeFor after shave tea tree oil. Full disclosure I also stopped using shampoo for the most part and when I do it is a tea tree oil based one. I now take cold showers on top of this. I'm not sure which of these altercations to my lifestyle finally rid me of the fungus causing the acne, but in combination I see the light at the end of the tunnel. At times it seemed like my face was falling off and it is the worst experience being scared to look people in the face because you do not want them to see you, causing a bad cycle of higher stress and cortisol that in turn magnifies the acne. *side note* I also experience sensitive flushing/ blushing that is also gradually diminishing; I believe it all to be linked to chronic inflammation that takes form on your skin. Please keep in mind the idea of metabolic typing, if you read into it you can hopefully discover a diet that works best for your person genome there is never a one size fits all. But through my journey what I have found to be the only thing to keep the insane redness/postulates on my face at bay has been to transform my body from a sugar burning to a fat burning machine. Now food does not rule my life, since moving past the highs and lows of sugar intake. Mentally the diet seems to have reduced my stress, anxiety, depression and several other ailments that have held me back. Hopefully my experience can help you on your way. I was chasing a magic dragon for a long time before I found the keto/paleo/whole food lifestyle that brings a better balance to my internal biological activity.


on August 10, 2016
at 04:42 AM

I recently started a keto diet after doing almost three months of a candida diet. Prior to the Keto my skin was doing really well which I assume was from clean eating and no sugars. I was loving the results from Keto and followed the diet strictly for about a month. My thinking became very clear and my weight seemed to drop off easily but I developed hormonal acne on my chin. I would wash my face and treat my skin but it just seemed to get worse. A few things that have helped to clear it up were switching to Paleo (good bye dairy) and upping my carb intake. That seems to have made the biggest difference. I'm not really that worried about weight gain as I am keeping my calories in somewhat the same range, just switching my macros to more carbs (20 to 30% range) and less fat (50% ish) the rest being protein. I definitely dropped my carbs way too low and that caused a hormonal imbalance which caused me to plateau and break out really bad. Also, I tone with Braggs apple cider vinegar and also drink a tablespoon mixed in water once or twice a day. I recently read that tea tree oil works great but it needs a carrier oil to hold on the skin and not dry your skin out too much. This has given me the best topical results.I just put a small dab of coconut oil in my palm and add one or two drops of tea tree oil in and apply it to my acne spots with a Q tip. Beyond the paleo at night before bed I make a juice from the juice a lemon and fresh turmeric ( about the size of half my pinky finger peeled and chopped then chuck int my ninja juicer with 8 ounces of water to work internally on inflammation. Tastes awful, but I feel like it helps from the inside. Sometimes when I am feeling oily I use a zeolite clay mask which I assume has similar benefits to Bentonite. I have never tried a bentonite mask, but I have drank them both and they have a similar disgusting taste and mix similar. I also add a few drops of tea tree oil into that mix.


on January 31, 2016
at 01:29 PM

I can't imagine how hard it must be to have had this life struggle with acne. I feel like I can relate in that I have had pretty bad acne myself and have done a pretty strict paleo diet  for a while and have not seen a huge change in my skin.

I agree with everyone above in that taking care of your gut will be a major help, which it sounds like you are already doing.

For something to apply topically, I have actually found that tea tree oil has worked really well with my skin. I bought an essential oils kit on Amazon for like 20 bucks and it came with a small bottle of tea tree oil. I just put two - three drops on a cotton pad and wipe my face with it. I was skeptical about applying oil to my oily skin, but after a few minutes of having the oil on my skin, it starts to feel really great. You can also dilute it in coconut oil which I have heard is really great for skin as well. 

Although your acne seems to be a pretty extremes case, try experimenting with home remedies. Your may be upsetting your body with all of the toxins from the accutane and other chemicals that are just curing a side affect of what sounds like a different deep routed issue. 


on April 28, 2015
at 10:30 PM

Man, that's a whole lot of *stuff* to try to work out of the bod. 

I'd like to second the "heal the gut" advice by previous posters and also the "be patient" advice. I'm not patient. I try to be and then I'm so confident that if I pick at it (the deep, cystic zit), it will go away faster. <> 

I am (now) a 40 year old female. My acne started after my 2nd child (around 32) and we were in survival mode and eating convenience food all the time. I found my triggers slowly. Remember the skin regenerates every 28 days. If you have some deep do-do under there, give it time. Correct the fungus and bacteria on the outside, however you do it. Correct and gut, hormone, and vitamin imbalance and poof... it should work. :-) I know, if only it were that easy. 

What worked for me:

1)NO DAIRY - at all. If I have a little cheese, I'll have breakouts within 4 days. 

2)Vitamin D - in fairly large doses during the winter. Now, if I find myself working inside more, I'll take it to supplement. Vit D is very important for hormonal balance.

3)Coconut oil - on the skin as a makeup remover (I rarely wear makeup, but it is wonderful as a remover!) as well as a moisturizer. Not everyone can handle this. 

4)Not necessarily Paleo, but part of my profession, acid peels. I do NOT recommend it if you have open sores. That will hurt and impede healing. 


Once you find the method and habits that work for you, please share! 


on April 28, 2015
at 02:20 AM

Keep drinking that kombucha.  I'm a 25 year old man and I've had bad acne all over my back since I was 12 or 13.  I tried everything... Organ meats, suarkraut,  kim chi, low carb, strict paleo etc.  While it did get a little better I was never able to really get a handle on it.  

Over the past 2 or 3 months my back has really cleared up and I'm not even strict paleo anymore.  I've been kind of addicted to Kombucha.  I also started eating mushrooms..so it has to be one of those things because their is a HUGE difference.  I thought about backing off of the kombucha just because it's so addictive and expensive but now I'm not so sure.   My back has never been this clear!  I'm so happy.  

Keep a food diary!  Try a new food every month, eat it a lot and see if your acne respondes. If it dosen't, move on.  

Medium avatar

on June 16, 2014
at 06:56 AM

Only thing I would add to the good advice you've already had here is to apply diluted kefir (a kind of yogurt available in most grocery stores) directly to skin. It might make it worse before better, but it will definitely challenge the germs and make them rethink their colonization of your skin. It's my belief that acne is about the fungus on the skin. Unless it's painful, then maybe it's staph.

Where did I get these crazy ideas? I was on a journey one day through microbewiki (a website that gives good info on all kinds of germs), and looking up things that grow on skin. I remember something about the funguses being the ones that eat skin oils. If you want to chase it up, you could start with googling "skin flora" and it might help you restore order on your skin... eventually, after much reading.


on June 16, 2014
at 04:11 AM

You are on the right track, @bulletprooflower! Don't give up! Giving up hormonal birth control, going paleo, quitting dairy and adding probiotic foods are important steps in regaining your skin health. My skin saga has been a lot like yours. Keep reading (and reading...and reading) to see what I'm doing to fix it. I'm about 90% of the way there and I'm very optimistic about these next few weeks!

Just like you, I've been battling acne since my teens. I spent my late teens through my mid-twenties going to doctor's offices and getting the mainstream medical treatments for acne (thankfully, never accutane). Nothing worked for more than a few weeks with the exception of Proactiv, which is a good product, actually. But the acne always came back in the end. I gave up on doctors and started tweaking my diet with what I thought were good results. I identified dairy and fish as my major triggers. After I removed those, the acne went away for two full years. After it came back, I went vegan. My skin cleared up again for about 2 years. Eventually veganism broke my body and I started gaining weight and getting zits again. I went paleo/primal and the zits again went away...until I had my hormonal IUD removed last August.

Bring on the zits! My forehead, cheeks, and chin were covered in big, painful, blood and pus-filled mountains. Not fun. They colonized my chest and back, too. Good news, though: they're 90% gone in under two months! I've cleared my back, chest, forehead, chin, and right cheek. My left cheekbone still gets a few in one tiny spot, but I think I'll get rid of those pretty quick.

Here's what I did:

1) Quit phytoestrogens. Did you know flaxseeds contain 3 times as much plant estrogen as soy? I didn't. So I quit my daily flaxseed oil. Consuming flax is the same as consuming little estrogen pills. Also quit soy if you haven't already.

2) Start autoimmune paleo. It's OK if you don't have an official autoimmune disease. I don't, and the diet has worked wonders for me. What is acne after all but a series of immune overreactions? It's a bit daunting, but if you can go paleo, you can go autoimmune paleo. Go here and scroll down a bit for a bulleted list of restricted foods. I highly recommend that blogger's book.

3) Take probiotics and resistant starch. This will heal your gut from the inside. The good bugs in the probiotic digest the resistant starch and produce byproducts that heal the lining of the gut, which will go a long way toward clearing your skin. Watch the short video here to get the basics. Careful, not just any probiotic will do. You'll need to take Prescript Assist or another SBO. Primal Defense Ultra will work in a pinch, but don't give up until you try Prescript Assist. Going into detail on this would make this post into a novel, so I'll just say to read through the previous link to get more info. Also, plantain flour from Barry Farm is your friend.

4) Wait. Yep, this will take some time. Give it at least two months if not three. While you're waiting for your acne to clear, notice all the other cool things happening to your body. Your digestion and elimination will improve, aches and pains will disappear, seasonal allergies may decrease, and you might lose weight. Here's the coolest thing that happened to me in my waiting period: the previously unnoticed inflammation in my abdomen went down to the point that I now have visible abs. I barely work out. How cool is that?!

5) Troubleshoot. If you don't see any results at all by about week 6, add in some MSM. It assists the mucosal lining of the gut and helps keep things that shouldn't be in your bloodstream from passing through your intestines. It's cheap, widely available, and has the great benefit of reducing seasonal allergy symptoms. I just started taking it and it stopped some newly developing zits in their tracks. Also I'm not sneezing anymore. Win-win. Digestive support supplements may also be necessary for you. The biggies to look at are Betaine HCl and plant enzymes. Start with the Betaine HCl and then try the plant enzymes if things are not working for you. I have not used the plant enzymes, but the Betaine HCl is helping.

Best of luck and don't hesitate to ask if you have questions. Also, any reading you do on the gut microbiome will be good reading for you to do. Chris Kresser's site is a great place to start.


on June 12, 2014
at 06:53 AM

You need to go on an elimination diet to find out exactly what food(s) is/are causing this. How is your sugar/honey/fructose intake? That and grains were a big one for me. Also: go easy with the topical stuff, aim for 1-2 lbs fresh wild seafood per week and at least 1 lbs liver per week.

Like I said, you need to experiment to narrow it down. It sounds like you are stressed out so you may consider putting together an exercise & meditation routine.



on June 12, 2014
at 06:17 AM

Man, you were prescribed accutane for years?... and antibiotics for.. years? Damn modern medicine, you scary. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotretinoin#Adverse_effects)

What's your vitamin D / sunlight situation looking like? (Accutane comes with a label that recommends avoiding sun exposure.)

What are you using as a soap / moisturizer?

2.5mo might not be enough time to adjust to these changes in drugs / hormones / diet while you're trying to narrow in at the same time on beneficial supplements & herbs / trigger foods. You might want to start a diet log and see if there are any patterns for what helps and doesn't.

50mg of elemental zinc is a trip to nausea town for me. Not something I would want to take frequently. The recommended dosage for FCLO & Butter blend for adults is 1/2-1tsp, where you're potentially at 2-4x the recommended dosage (+ taking liver pills.)

Quality sleep / stress management is paramount.

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