My Skin Journey

I remember when I was in fourth grade I went to the pediatrician for a routine checkup. The pediatrician got to the skin portion of the exam and just very casually, as in passing goes, “oh you have pimples on your face, you have acne” When I heard those words that were uttered so casually my stomach dropped to the floor. Up until that point I was unaware of my physical appearance, but once I heard the words “you”, “pimple” and “acne” I immediately became self-conscious and upset.   

It was not until I was in middle school when my pimples bloomed into acne. This is when I started trying to self treat with acne face washes. My mother could see how hurt and upset my skin was making me so she scheduled me for monthly facials.  In high school my acne was still bad, so we decided to up our approach and we went and sought out a dermatologist. Initially he put me on a topical combination of benzoyl peroxide and an antibiotic. Once I got that medication I thought all my problems would be solved. I used this religiously for months, and I barely noticed any symptom resolution. My self imagine and outlook continued to plummet. Finally after months of being on the topical he finally prescribed this great new acne medication, Accutane. Now we were pulling out the big guns, and I just knew this would be it. All my skin problems would be over. At the initial Accutane visit I was told that if I was sexually active then I should be on two forms of birth control, but even if I was not sexually active I would have to come in monthly for pregnancy tests because it is very teratogenic, harmful to the developing fetus. They did not mention anything about monitoring my lipids or liver enzymes, as it would also be incredibly harsh on my liver. None the less I was gleeful to take this miracle drug. At the end of the first two weeks my skin had completely changed, but not for the better, I barely produced any oils so my skin was constantly dry and uncomfortable, and my lips were so chapped they would crack and bleed. My acne was also worse in appearance and it was so much more painful. I held out hope that I needed to wait the full term of treatment. I finally was done with the prescription of Accutane, and my skin had not improved at all, in fact it was worse. I knew that I could not go through another round of treatment, so I denied that option, and was left with a sense of now what? 

A few years later I went to see my primary care physician and I still was struggling with acne. She noted this and put me on oral contraceptives and oral antibiotics. I took the pills religiously, and my acne started to improve! I was finally clear! I stayed on the antibiotics and the pill for a year and a half, but decided that maybe being on antibiotics for long term was not the best, so I discontinued them, and immediately my skin flared. This lead to me seeking out another dermatologist, with that dermatologist I started light treatments, which helped my skin marginally, but acne was still there. I had several of these light treatments with minimal improvement until we finally tried a topical solution combined with the light that would basically give me the worst sunburn of my life. This improved my skin again, but it was not clear. I finally switched dermatologists again. This dermatologist was a dream come true, she was spunky, beautiful, funny, and most of all she genially cared about my dilemma. She prescribed me spironolactone, a potassium sparing diuretic that also blocks androgens, testosterone. On this medication, my skin became so clear, it was flawless. Once my skin was clear we decided to go ahead and treat topically with IPL and microdermabrasion to even out my skin tone, and diminish the scars. This was incredible, my skin looked flawless. By this point I am a sophomore in college and transferring to the University of Hawaii to finish my undergrad degree. I could no longer continue to get weekly IPL and microderm treatments. I could also no longer fill my prescription of spironolactone. My skin flared again, and worse than ever before. For the next several years because I was working on obtaining my undergraduate degree I could not seek the same type of medical attention as I had before, so I was again on my own trying to manage my skin with mostly over the counter topical solutions, which did not have a huge impact on my skin. 

I finished undergrad and started naturopathic medical school at Bastyr University, at the start of school my skin was still a problem. As I progressed through medical school my stress level grew but to my surprise my skin health was improving. As I went through school and as I took classes I started to learn about lifestyle, diet, exercise, stress management, gut health, homeopathy, nutritional supplementation, herbs. I was learning naturopathic medicine and I was applying it to my everyday life. I started to clean up my diet, eating less processed foods and increasing my intake of fresh vegetables, basically following a whole foods diet. Instead of eating a whole bag of chips in one sitting, or eating a whole package of Oreos in one sitting when I was stressed I would go for a walk or talk to a friend. Instead of coming up with excuses on why I could not work out because I was too tired or did not have time I would carve out time to go to the gym, I found that using the stair climber was an excellent place to review flash cards. Exercise also became an excellent way for me to relieve stress. I started taking herbs and supplements to support my gastrointestinal function and clear my liver. I discovered homeopathy, and took what was matched most with my constitution. My skin had looked the best it has in years, and now I sit here 5 years post-graduation with clear skin. Sure, my skin breaks out still but I know the triggers and I know what I need to do to get in under control. Now I also have to worry about wrinkles. 

Obviously, I focus on diet and lifestyle to control my skin but since graduation I have also discovered something that has so many uses it almost seems unbelievable, I refer to it has a panacea. This panacea is platelet rich plasma therapy, or PRP therapy. PRP is derived from your blood and what makes the PRP so special is the growth factors that the platelets contain. These growth factors promote the development of new blood vessels, new collagen, heal tissue, have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. I can use this PRP to help prevent wrinkles, treat acne scars and hyperpigmentation caused by old acne breakouts, and it also helps to control active break outs and prevent future breakouts. It can also be used for reversing hair loss, rejuvenating the genitals for better sex and to manage joint pain. Like I said this stuff is a panacea, and one of the best things about it is its completely natural. It comes from your own body so side effects are minimal. Another great thing is PRP also fits in with how I have come to regard health. If you lead an active, healthy lifestyle your PRP is very potent. Also, since we are essentially stimulating the healing cascade, your healing response will be more robust. Overall the better you take care of yourself the more you get out of your PRP treatments.  

Extra stuff I tangented about:  

What I learned from all of this was its not just one thing that will clear up skin issues. It is a whole package deal. One needs to bring their diet, mental health, supplements and exercise all together in a balanced way. One cannot rely on a pill, topical or exercise program without also looking into what they are eating or taking.

My skin is what got me into medicine because of that dermatologist that actually took the time to listen to me, she inspired me to help others that were in a similar situation. I wanted to be that ray of light and offer hope when everything seemed hopeless. Eventually my skin would be what proved to me that a holistic approach to health is the most sustainable and powerful way to truly heal. Once the medications ran out the acne returned. And honestly knowing what I know now and living the long-term effects of those medications is not something I want to see others go through. I took antibiotics for years, and I recently did a stool test and the results were dismal, I had a very low gut biodiversity. This is extremely concerning to me because most of the research coming out now is showing how important a diverse microbiome is to overall health and wellness. It is especially concerning to be because gut health is so important for skin health. To help manage most skin conditions as well as for anti-aging. 

 

  

Author
Dr.Madison Fandel, ND 2019 Dr. Madison Fandel ND Naturopathic practitioner in Pacifica, California. Owner of this website, I often blog on my site, as well as offer guest bloggers to come on and blog from the patient perspective. Thank you for following, and I hope our posts provide insight for you into the natural world of medicine.

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