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Can allergies cause cystic acne is a question I had back in 2013, two years into have cystic acne. I found out in 2014 when I got my allergy test that they can!
Brief acne journey: I had stubborn cystic acne from October 2011 to April 2017. I finally cured my cystic acne that was all over my forehead, cheeks, chin, and even my back by addressing my food allergies and treating my acid reflux. This was after quite some time trying to figure out what was the root cause of my acne because merely treating the symptoms of it, the acne itself, was not helping.
Read on to find how I made the allergies and acne connection and healed my skin by focusing on my food allergies and acid reflux.
Important Note: I am not a doctor or medical specialist of any type. What worked for me may not work for you so take what I say with a grain of salt and enjoy the journey!
I strongly encourage you reading my journey to see what I tried and what didn’t work, but if you want to jump down to see what allergy tests I took, go right ahead here.
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My Arduous Journey With Acne
You know how everyone in high school gets pimples? Well, I didn’t except for one or two around my period. I led an acne free life, and yes, I took that for granted! All of a sudden at the end of 2011, at age 24, I started getting acne all over my face. I thought acne was just for kids, not women in their 20s!
It started out as a cluster of “normal-sized” pimples on my forehead. I finally knew what pizza face meant, and as much as I loved pizza, I’d rather be eating it than it hanging around my forehead. After a few months, the pimples on my forehead started making moves.
No they didn’t go away. They just decided to spread around my whole face because the forehead wasn’t prime real estate enough for them… or something.
They moved down to my cheeks and chin, and this time, they weren’t just “normal-sized” pimples. They were HUGE and deep. The pain was awful too. I couldn’t believe that something so relatively tiny to the rest of my body could cause a lot of pain. Even when I wasn’t touching them, my face felt bruised.
October 2014 at My Bridal Shower – Wearing Makeup Didn’t Cover My Acne
As you could imagine, I was devastated. This no-makeup natural woman started to wear makeup, but you know how it goes, make-up or not, I was self-conscious. Plus at the end of 2014, I got engaged, and in 2015, I had my wedding to look fab for! Great timing, right?
Anyways, after much trial and error and learning a lot more about my body than I ever thought I would, my acne finally went away in the beginning of 2017.
What I Tried But Didn’t Work
Anyways, from 2012 – 2016, my acne attacked my face daily and made my poor soul hurt. Every time I looked in the mirror, I gagged a little bit, and I had to relearn in this time period to love myself for who I was on the inside, not by the number of red dots on my face. Here’s everything I tried to make my acne go away:
- Self-love— Get ready for some hippie dippie sh*t. I didn’t start doing this until a few months of this horrendous battle, but I thought perhaps that my own mind was poisoning me and that my acne was getting worse because I was drawing so much negative attention to it. I even read posts about people who looked in the mirror everyday and said, “I love and accept myself for who I am” and healed their acne that way. That didn’t work for me, BUT I would recommend this practice to anyone, not just anyone who has acne. Good lesson, but I needed something stronger, or at least, something faster.
- Over-the-counter products— Of course, my first reaction to getting new pimples was use over-the-country products from a pharmacy. “They” say you’re supposed to give you new product one to two months to really start seeing the effect of it, and I did. I waited and waited, and you know how it went, it didn’t do anything.
- Prescription topical medicine— After I tried over-the-counter products for a couple of months without any success, I saw a dermatologist. He prescribed harsh topical medicines that only treated the pimples aka the symptoms. He did not look into why my body was producing these pimples. At one point, he suggested me taking oral prescriptions for this, but I read so many accounts online about how these antibiotics can mess up your gut and body balance. I declined this medicine as to not further mess up my body.
- Caveman method— For a couple of weeks, I only washed my face with water to let my skin naturally do its thing. I also watched a ton of Youtubers doing this for weeks. After week one, I couldn’t handle it, nor did it help.
- Apple cider vinegar— The acidity in the apple cider is supposed to cut the bacteria on your skin and somehow restore the pH balance of your skin. This didn’t work. Also, note, if you try this, DO NOT put this vinegar on your face directly; dilute it with water.
- Tea tree oil— Tea tree oil is supposed to kill the bacteria on your skin, but again, because this was topical and not treating the root cause, it didn’t help. Again, dilute with water. DO NOT apply it directly.
- Hospital pillow covers— I even got to a point where I was so paranoid, I was using disposable hospital pillow sheets to swap out my pillow cover nightly! It was a bit crazy, and of course, it didn’t work.
What I Didn’t Do to Make My Acne Go Away
Change My Diet
I must’ve read 100 blog posts and watched 1000 YouTube videos saying that in order to get rid of my acne, I needed to stop eating junk food, add more fruits and vegetables into my diet, and drink eight cups of water a day. Plus, I should exercise daily. Well, I didn’t change my diet or exercise routine because as a New Yorker, I walked five miles a day naturally, drank eight cups of water, and ate plenty of fruits and vegetables a day.
For breakfast, I actually drank a homemade cold-pressed juice in the morning of apple, carrot, kale and celery, and for lunch, would eat a handful of baby tomatoes, green beans, or whatever veggies I had. Then for dinner, I either went out with friends or cooked protein and veggies at home.
Of course, I ate poorly when I went out to eat or would get street food, but overall, my diet was pretty damn healthy so I wasn’t going to change it ’cause I didn’t know really how to! I already did the things that every blogger said I should be doing.
If you don’t eat a “healthy” diet, then perhaps for you, switching up your diet would help, especially if you eat lots of dairy. I am lactose intolerance so dairy’s not in my diet, but dairy and sugar are huge culprits for cystic acne because they cause inflammation in the body! Try (sadly) cutting those out for 3 weeks and see what happens.
On that note, my diet was actually NOT healthy for me and was one of the major causes of my diet. Keep reading to find out what in my diet made my skin freak out.
Take Prescription Medicine for Acne
My dermatologist recommended me taking an oral antibiotic after months of the topical prescription creams not working, but this is definitely something I did not want to do. First off, your acne gets WORSE before it gets better when taking these, and ugh, worse than it already is? No thank you! Second, antibiotics– enough said. Reasons why i didn’t want to do this.
Stop Picking at My Acne
Oh my, this was a hard one. Now this is something I definitely should’ve stopped doing, but I couldn’t resist. Who can? I would pick at the pimples coming in, and guess what, my skin started scarring! I looked this up online, and apparently, Asian skin scars more than a Caucasian person’s skin. So on top of all my acne, I had a handful of scars that made my acne look worse.
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The Only Thing That Worked (Temporarily)
Clear Skin on My Wedding Day!
After two years of trying everything I mentioned above, I was getting hopeless. My wedding was five months away, and my skin looked awful. All a bride wants for her wedding is clear skin, right? Ok, maybe clear skin, clear skies, everything to go smoothly, and 100 other things…
As a temporary fix, I decided to go to a facialist again, but this time, a more expensive one. Normally, I’m not one to spend a lot on beauty treatments. My usual routine consisted of going on Groupon, finding a relatively inexpensive facialist, Googling the company or person briefly to see if it was good enough for the price, and go. This time around, I did some proper research and found Facials by Bonnie. I was hoping that she could possibly help me out for the wedding, but I didn’t hold my breath. I wasn’t expecting much.
But wow! When it comes to a facialist, perhaps, more money DOES mean better results! I only went to Bonnie twice, and she did wonders for my skin. I started seeing her two months before my wedding, and by the time my wedding came around, I only had 1-2 pimples on my skin, and a lot of the scars were gone too. It was amazing! I glowed on my wedding day thanks to her.
That being said, having an excellent aesthetician really made all the different, but after my wedding, I couldn’t shell out $150+ per session so I stopped going, and as it goes with any topical treatment, it only worked as long as I was seeing her. I was so grateful for her help as she was also a super kind person with a warm, motherly vibe (yes it felt like home when I stepped into her office), but I had to keep digging deeper into how to heal my acne.
What Finally Healed My Allergy Acne Permanently
At some point in my non-stop acne healing research, I came upon a Chinese face map that pointed out different parts of the face correlate to different parts of the body. Although my acne was really everywhere, I pinpointed exactly where the problem areas were: my cheeks, chin, and forehead.
These spots apparently meant I had issues with allergies, hormones, and general lung issues, which made sense because I have asthma, and at the time, lived in New York City, a very polluted city.
Cutting Out Foods I’m Allergic To
I immediately went to the doctor’s and requested an allergy test to see if food allergies cause acne, and WOW! This was the start of something wonderful… or terrible… depending on how you view it. I found out that I’m allergic to carrots, apples, celery, green beans, hazelnuts, pistachios, peaches, cherries, cats, dogs, dust mites, pollen, cockroaches, and the list goes on and on…
Jump down to see what allergy tests I took.
This made a ton of sense since every morning for months, partly due to trying to fix my skin, I drank a homemade, fresh apple, kale, celery, and carrot juice. Then for lunch, I would eat raw tomatoes and green beans. I was eating everything I was allergic to!
Overtime, the stuff I was allergic to was breaking down my stomach lining and messing up my digestive system. Once I cut all the food out that I was allergic to, got off birth control pill, regulated my hormones, and focused on my healing my digestive system, my acne started slowly going away.
In addition to cutting out these foods, I started taking these supplements to balance out my hormones and heal my digestive system:
To improve my gut bacteria, I took Smoky Mountain DIM and BioPerine supplement.
To balance my hormones after years of birth control pills, reduce stress and regulate my adrenal system, I took Havasu Ashgawanda.
Note: I am not a doctor. These supplements are based on my own trial and errors. Please consult your physician before taking these.
Taking Care of My Acid Reflux
After cutting out the foods I was allergic to, I had much less pimples around my face in general, but the cystic ones on my cheek were extremely persistent. They wouldn’t go away until I finally address another stomach issue I had: acid reflux.
I had had acid reflux for years but because I had so many other health issues such as widespread nerve pain, tingling, and chronic muscle issues, acid reflux kind of fell off the list of things I needed to go to the doctor’s for. To be precise, I had acid reflux for 7 years before treating it.
Once I started taking Omeprazole, my cystic acne on my cheeks were finally going away!
Note: I do not recommend taking Omeprazole long-term. A lot of doctors get carried away and will prescribe this for life, but it can do more damage long-term than good. Take this until you feel like your gut is healing while making lifestyle changes like eating a anti-acid reflux diet and focusing on gut health.
Watching What I Eat
Ok so now that I stopped eating food I was allergic to and was managing my acid reflux, the final step in curing my cystic acne was watching what I ate. I’ve noticed on days I eat a lot of dairy or fat, I will get acne popping up around my face, or if my digestive health is poor, a lot of foods can trigger my acne even if normally they don’t.
Keep a journal of what you eat and how it affects your skin. Keep in mind that what you eat today can make something pop up on your skin in a couple of days!
My Skin Care Routine
Even though my food allergies and acid reflux were a huge cause of my acne, I still care of my skin diligently. Long gone are the days of my teenage years and early 20s when I would use any random store bought cleanser on sale and sometimes even forget to wash my face at night. Here’s my skin care routine.
Update 03/05/19 – I saw a new facialist who gave me so much technical information about my skin. My skin care to heal my acne scars and prevent new pimples has completely changed! Head to this post about healing acne scars to read about my skin type, routine, and exact products I use.
For Cleaning My Face
As of March 2019, I use the DermaQuest Acne Management kit, and my skin has never been clearer. I never thought spending more money meant better products, but wow, my skin looks like it glows now.
If you’re on a budget, or actually even if you’re not, The Face Shop Cleansing Oil Moisturizer is the way to go.
In science, “like attracts like” and it’s so true for oil cleansing and oily pores. This cleanser is great for attracting whiteheads and blackheads out and also brightens up your face.
And don’t worry! It washes away clean and doesn’t make your skin oily or worse; coming from someone who tried so many products to manage their acne!
How to Use the The Face Shop Cleansing Oil Moisturizer: You use the oil by rubbing it on your face for 5 minutes. Afterwards, you’ll see and feel tiny white and blackheads on your hand as the oil attracts and pull out the oily substances on your face.
I still use this once a week because I feel like it really helps pull out a lot of blackheads and whiteheads!
I discovered oil cleansing in my trial and error phases, and it really does help keep my skin clearer by taking out oil before it becomes a problem.
For Treating Pimples
I used to use this Differin Adapalene Gel, and dab a pit on my pimple every day until it went away. But with the DermaQuest Acne Management Kit, which has an acne serum, I don’t really get pimples unless I eat cream cheese or too much.
Head to this post to read exactly how I use the Dermaquest Acne Management Kit day and night.
For Moisturizing My Face
Before I apply lotion at night, I use this Dermaquest acne serum that helps with acne scars and prevents future breakouts. It also helps with wrinkles and making your skin glow!
According to my facialist, because of the many products I used on my skin while trying to get rid of acne, it’s important for me to get back to my roots and simplify by skin care as to not confuse my skin and let it heal!
Head to this post to read exactly the insight and care tips that my new facialist gave me.
What to Personally Take Away From My Experience of Allergy Acne
So you might not have food allergies or acid reflux, but what you can take away from my acne experience is that you should try to find the root cause of your acne. Acne is simply the symptom resulting from something deeper going on underneath the skin.
For a majority of people, it’s about:
- drinking 8 cups of water a day,
- eating more vegetables,
- taking out processed foods from your diet,
- taking out dairy and sugar from your diet,
- and exercising to get your toxins flowing.
For people like you and me who have tried the above without much relief, it might be gut, allergy, or hormonal related.
Whatever your root cause of acne is, keep trying to heal yourself within. Know that once you fix the root cause, you’ll be healthier overall, and you won’t have to rely on expensive products to keep your acne at bay. It’s a win-win!
What Allergy/Intolerance Tests to Take
Over the past five years, I’ve taken three different types of test to figure out my allergies and intolerances. Of course, between those five years, I’ve tried out various diets to figure out what foods work best for my body, so taking a test won’t be your only solution. It is only a small piece of taking better care of what your body needs.
Hair Test for Food Intolerances
Before I tell you about this testing, I want you to know that this is not accepted by Western medicine. It is more of a pseudo-science type testing, and I used it more as a guideline instead of a 100% factual report. This is because I got four FULL pages of foods and chemicals that it said I’m intolerant to. If I cut out every single one of those items, I would go crazy and being so restrictive could actually make me more sick, mentally and physically. Take what this test tells you with a grain of salt.
Also, this testing is for intolerances, which can also impact your immune system and gut, but intolerances are not the same thing as allergies. “A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.” (Mayoclinic) From my experience and limited knowledge, intolerances can go away!
I recommend this food intolerance test by 5strands. Essentially, you mail in 4-5 pieces of your hair, which they test and give you a full report of food intolerances you may have.
The test is easy to read as it tells you the level of intolerance you have to a food. Level 1 is just for you to be aware and Level 3 you should definitely avoid for a couple of weeks to see how your body does without those foods!
What My Results Were Like
As for me, my results showed that I was intolerant to about 60 foods. Anyone who got those results would panic!
What I did instead of panic was look through the list and see which items I actually eat a lot of. For me those were salt, beef, foods with wheat, and olive oil. So out of 60 items, I only really cared about four items and that’s what I focused on.
So again, DO NOT PANIC. In the first 2-4 weeks, just focus on the food items that are Level 3 that you eat a lot of.
Then in the next 2-4 weeks, you can choose the next batch of foods. You don’t have to restrict yourself like crazy; then you won’t be able to tell which foods are impacting you.
Why I Recommend 5Strands
My friend took a hair intolerance test because he felt achy everyday. He only had a list of four foods (versus I had a list of 60 foods). He took out those four foods and felt better so he recommended a food intolerance test to me.
A 5strands test is very cost effective (vs. tests on certain health insurance plans) so if you cannot afford to go to the doctor’s for a skin prick or blood test, then you might want to try this first. This was by far the most inexpensive option for me.
If you still don’t have the money for this, I suggest taking out dairy for four weeks. Dairy is a huge issue for inflammation.
Must-Know About Food Intolerance Testing
I want to stress again that hair testing like this is not accepted by traditional medicine and they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Here are guidelines to your test results:
- Don’t panic if you get a huge list like me. Focus on a few items at a time so you can see/feel the impact on your body. Stress can cause acne too so less stress, the better; even if the list is big, focus on the foods you eat a lot of first.
- Intolerances are NOT allergies and as your body heals, your intolerances can change and go away. Because of this, I took a hair test again twice (six months after the first time).
- Read this on healing your gut by Chris Kresser. The hair test is just a small piece of healing yourself from within.
Order your hair testing kit now. Get 10% off with code LTD10.
Skin Prick Test for Allergies
This was the first test I got at my general practitioner’s office. They will literally prick your skin a tiny bit, then put allergens in the form of a liquid on top of each area they pricked. If your skin reacts to it with hives, then voila, you are allergic to that substance.
On one arm, I was tested for things like pollen, cats, dogs, dust mites, and different types of trees. On the other arm, I was tested for foods.
If getting a skin prick test is too expensive at your doctor’s office, then I suggest getting a blood test from True Health Labs (US based). There are labs around the USA that they work with to get your blood sample.
Blood Test for Allergies
After seeing that I was allergic to so many substances from the skin prick test, my doctor wanted to see what else I was allergic to and get more precise with my results. So he did a blood test and tested for things related to what I reacted to in the skin prick test.
From my own knowledge (I could be wrong), blood tests are more accurate than the skin prick test and test for more items.
If getting a blood test is too expensive at your doctor’s office, then I suggest getting a blood test from True Health Labs (US based). There are labs around the USA that they work with to get your blood sample.
They test over 60 items, which is more than what my own doctor tested for. Also, the turnaround time is 7 days.
Note: Despite having all these tests done, I still tried out various diets for two months at a time to see which one was best for me. I also focused on healing my gut too*, which is essential. Tests don’t fix everything. Your willingness to put in the work for your body does.
I 100% believe that you will have greater reward when you fix your body from within instead of slapping on topical creams or taking antibiotics. You will feel better too!
*Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome is another pseudo-science belief that there are holes in your stomach lining, which allows foreign substances to permeate the stomach and go right into the blood stream, which can make you sick, or in your case, cause acne.
You don’t need a test for this and could eat gut healing foods because gut healing foods are healthy regardless of leaky gut or not, but if you want to test it out, True Health Labs has a leaky gut test. There’s a test if you live outside of New York State and a test for if you live inside New York State.
Made it this far in the post? Then come say hi!
I’d love to know if you made it this far down into the post. It’d actually make me quite happy if you reached out on Instagram and said hello!
I’ve had a few people reach out to me on Instagram and Facebook letting me know this helped them, or at the very least, gave them more information. I’d love to connect with you too.
It’s been over a year since I’ve had no cystic acne on my face! Finally! Now I have remnants of scars from the acne I had in the past, which are almost gone too because of my skin care routine above.
I hope my post helped clear your skin a bit. Good luck and thanks for stopping by! xo.
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