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Holistic Acne Regimen from a Practicing Herbalist

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Hi there!

I am a Practicing Herbalist- that means I develop holistic protocols using plants and foods to help others with their health concerns.

I wanted to write a post about how I use herbs and food for acne, because years ago I suffered from deep, cystic acne and now work with many people with various skin conditions to help them heal.

This protocol is complex. I've tried to give you as much information and resources as I could think of, with the beginner herb user in mind. Regardless I think it still reads as a little intimidating due to all of the different ingredients, which may be unfamiliar and seem expensive, and steps, which probably seem complicated. So if you have any specific questions, please ask and I will try to answer the best I can. Regarding the cost of herbs, if this is the cure for your acne, you actually save a lot  in the end. Plus, you don't need to buy everything at once.

Most major metropolitan areas have an herb shop these days. Herb shops are not the same as "spice" shops, like Penzy's Spices. You want to find a store that stocks the healing herbs we are discussing. Be forewarned that quality can be a concern at many herb stores. To guarantee great quality herbs, instead, buy online from Mountain rose herbs . If you are on a tight budget, try Amazon instead. Vendors on Amazon can be hit or miss in terms of quality, but you will save lot of money, especially if you are a prime member. Tea Tree essential oil and bentonite clay (aka "Aztec Healing Clay") are widely available in grocery stores nowadays. If you can't find these ingredients, MountainRoseHerbs and Amazon have everything that I've listed here. I do not like using Whole Foods because they are really way too expensive for the average person.

When our bodies are confronted with stress, they do what they can to maintain homeostasis. If you have been suffering from acne for several years, that becomes "normal" for the body, and it stops trying to clear the inflammation and infection. Acne can also be a sign that your eliminative and digestive functions are weakened. If you do not digest and assimilate fats well, and they do not get broken down by the liver so that they can be used as nourishment, your body will compensate by getting rid of them however it can, sometimes through the skin (oily acne) and sometimes through the colon, undigested, (which results in dry, flakey eczema). What causes liver function to decline? It could be genetic. It could also be that you are genetically prone to be more sensitive to chemicals in your food and environment, which cause inflammation and eventually damage. In the case of hormonal acne, hormonal surges can be enough to cause "auto-toxicity". Hormones are processed by your liver too, and in excess can put stress on the organ.
Taken into consideration, a holistic treatment needs to address all of the above: we need to create a shift, clear inflammation, adjust the diet, identify triggers, improve elimination and digestion- especially targeting the liver, and balance the endocrine system to prevent excessive hormone production.

Clearly we cannot do all of the above with a topical cream, but we can give our skin some love and help it to heal in a way that will avoid scarring, dryness, and improve texture and vitality. We have to work with formulas taken internally to see real, lasting change.
Approach your skin like it is an open wound. One would not scrub away at a scab, reopening it over and over and pick at it- or it would get more infected and take far longer to heal and leave a big scar. Trust that the herbs you take internally are working and your body is slowly readjusting, and give your skin some TLC instead of punishing it with harsh scrubs, needles, acids, etc. 
Washing the face:
- Plain, whole fat, probiotic yogurt: Use 2x a day. Splash hot water on your face, then massage in about 1 tbs of yogurt with a wet cloth. Rinse with hot water. Yogurt is mildly acidic, which works to lightly peel away dead skin just like a synthetic acid peel. The probiotics also help to outcompete infection from bad bacteria. Fats in the yogurt provide just enough moisture to keep your skin from drying out, but won't leave you feeling oily.
- Tea Tree essential oil: Follow the yogurt wash with tea tree oil by soaking a cotton ball with hot water, then adding 2 drops of tea tree essential oil, and applying it to the problem areas. Tea tree has been clinically proven to be more effective than Benzaclin for treating acne.
- Coconut oil: finish by applying a very small amount of coconut oil with a cotton ball. Coconut oil is antimicrobial and very light. Use a towel to pat off any excess oil. It's really important that you keep your skin properly moisturized even though you have acne. If you strip all of the oils from your skin, your body will respond by  pushing out even more oil to compensate. 

I have had a lot of success using mineral powder sunblocks as a light congealer, and mineral makeup powders for spot treatment over break outs. My favorite brand to recommend is mineral fusion. Even men can use their mineral powder sunblock, which is translucent. The active ingredient is zinc which also helps to curb inflammation and acne.

Holistic facials:
Try this intensive routine about once a week  to speed healing.

Step One: Steam Bath. Boil water on the stove, remove from heat and transfer to a hot pad on the kitchen table. Add 2 tbs of peppermint and/or lavender dried herb. Immediately hover your face over the steam, and cover your head with a towel so that it creates a tent whereby all of the steam is held in. Continue for about 10 mintues.


Two: Clay Mask: Now that everything is dislodged and your pores are open, combine


-       - 2 parts Bentonite clay
-1 part Non-nano zine oxide powder

- 1 part seaweed powder
-.5 parts activated charcoal
-.5 parts echinacea root powder




-       1 part apple cider vinegar

-1 part water
-5 drops tea tree oil per mask
( you can combine all of the dry ingredients before hand and store for multiple uses, and you can also use a small amount applied overnight to especially deep and stubborn cysts to draw them out).


 Wear the mask for about 20-30 minutes, then wash away with warm water.


Three: Peel: Combine yogurt with a little bit of honey. Massage into your skin and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, wash with hot water.

Four: Scrub: Combine:


 2 parts powdered almonds
-2 parts powder rolled oats
-1 part sea salt
-1 part green tea powder
-1 part sage leaf powder
-1 part calendula blossom powder
-1 part rose petal powder
Again, you can make a large batch of this scrub and set it aside for future use. Wet a little of the scrub with water and honey. Allow it to sit for 30 seconds or so, then use your fingertips to scrub away dead skin from the surface of your face.


Four: Now follow with tea tree essential oil as you would twice daily.


Five: Now apply coconut oil.



This is the most important part of the protocol. I cannot stress that enough. You will not really see that much improvement trying to treat acne topically, especially if your acne is severe or chronic. Although these herbs are generally considered safe, do not take them during pregnancy as they can cause miscarriage. Probably not a good idea to take them while nursing either, because they will be transferred to your baby through your milk.
It takes a little discipline in order for herbs to effective. Although you will see a difference immediately, you need to follow this protocol every day, for several months, in order for you acne to clear. I recommend you buy the following herbs by the pound so that you have enough to last you.


I think it’s also important to mention that these formulas are, for the most part, guidelines. As an herbalist I treat every person as a unique individual. These recipes I’ve listed below will work for most, but not everyone. If you don’t see a drastic change, or you still have just a little bit of stubborn acne, or you experience side effects like headaches, depression, or a rash, go and see an herbalist or acupuncturist in your area and get your formula adjusted.


If you are worried about the cost of tinctures, they are actually quite easy to make. All you need to do is combine 1 part by weight of the dried herb to 4 parts by volume of vodka.  Let this mixture sit for 4-6 weeks, strain through cheesecloth, and voila- you have a high quality herbal tincture.


So for example, if you had 1 oz of yellow dock root by weight, you would combine it with 4 liquid oz of vodka. If you had 8 oz of yellow dock, you would add 32 oz of vodka, and so on. I recommend starting with 1 oz of dried herb to 4 oz of vodka because that will make you enough tincture to last for up to a year.


If you get really into making herbal extracts, go to herb school! There are many quality herb programs out there that are for beginners!
Throughout the entire protocol, take either Evening primrose oil or Borage seed oil. These oils are high in GLA which helps to curb the production of excessive progesterone, which an cause acne in some people. Take a high dosage, especially at the beginning of your treatment, to see the best results. You can take this supplement even while pregnant, it is very safe.


Now, once you’ve got your herbs, head to the protocol:


Phase One: Take your evening primrose oil 2-3 times a day. We start with more gentle herbs to get the body revved up for healing. We don’t want to instigate a huge change immediately that will cause the body to react in a negative way and be even more stubborn about change.


Start by simply drinking the following tea every day for two weeks:




-       - 1part Dandelion Root
-1 part Burdock Root

-1 part Beet Root (may be fresh or dried)
- 1 part Red Clover Blossoms
-1 part Nettle Leaf


Once a day, lightly simmer 3 tbs. of this mixture in 1 quart of water. Drink this tea over the course of the day. You can make enough for up to 3 days in a large pot if you wish and store it in the fridge. It will go bad after a few days, so drink within the 3 day time frame. The most important part is that you do not let the tea get up a to a rolling boil- keep your stove on a very low temperature.


Phase Two: Continue with the evening primrose oil. You may have started to see an improvement already. You may see many of your cysts coming to a head, and your skin may be less red. Now your body is ready to take it up a notch:


Continue with your tea for up to another 2 weeks, and add the following blend of tinctures, taken 2-3x a day for up to 6 months:


- 1 dropper full of Yellow Dock Roor
1 dropper full of Oregon Grape Root
-1 dropper full of Turmeric Root
-10 drops of Vitex Berry
-10 drops of Black Cohosh Root
-10 drops of Black Walnut Hull

Add tinctures to  2  oz water and shoot it back.


Phase Three: After 3-6 months of being on your tincture, you should see a huge difference in your skin. It is now time to wean off of the tinctures. Go back to drinking your tea, in smaller amounts, and cut back to half the dosage of tincture. Do this for 2 weeks, then cut the dosage in half again for another 2 weeks. Now you may stop the tinctures completely. Continue with the evening primrose oil. If you do not see a big difference after 6 months time or cannot get off of the tincture without relapse, again, consider getting some acupuncture or nutritional  counseling.  You can and will heal! Do not give up hope. 


Other Helpful herbs:


The psychological component of acne should also be addressed. Herbs can definitely help here, too. Here are some of my favorites- try them out and see what makes you feel most centered and calm, or combine all of them! I like to take these as a tincture that I can carry around with me and take by the dropperful as needed.


-Passionflower: for racing thoughts that get worse when you lay down in bed at night. Also good for mild insomnia.


-Scullcap: Good for mind-chatter and paranoia. Especially helpful if you feel insecure about other’s opinions of you


-Vervain: Helpful for muscle tension, like tight shoulders, that accompanies anxiety


-Milky Oats: works wonder for adrenal fatigue- when you have been under a lot of stress and now you have no energy, feel shaky, or feel like you have to have adrenaline to get through the day. 

Medicinal mushrooms can also be helpful. Try the mushroom powder blend from MushroomHarvest.com. Mushrooms help to modulate the immune system. They can help your body to recognize and fight inflammation and infection, and can also help you body to understand when it's appropriate to respond to something with inflammation and when its not, as in the case of auto-immune disorders like allergies. If you have severe acne and are really inflamed, it's likely taxed your immune system or may be caused by an inappropriate immune response. Mushrooms can be the thing that really cause the BIG change you've been looking for in your skin when the other herbs are maybe only clearing your acne 85% of the way.

And Last but not Least, LIFESTYLE FACTORS
Since we've already covered how to properly clean your skin, lifestyle factors we're discussing include diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and chemical exposure.

First I really want to stress that simply cutting foods out of your diet is not enough to see radical change. In fact, by limiting what foods you can eat, you may go longer periods without eating thereby causing blood sugar swings that can make your acne worse. You also might not get balanced nutrition if you cut important food groups out of your diet like meat or grain.  
However, it is a really good idea to limit the amount of fat and sugar that you get in your diet. There are many healthy fats out there. In fact, fats are needed for proper brain function and hormone production and synthesis. But be carful about what fats you eat and how much. We are working on healing your liver whose job it is to produce bile that breaks down fats. Its a good idea to give your liver a little break from having to digest lots of fats while it's healing.
Healthy fats include all whole, fresh fats that are rendered without using heat. That includes: butter from grass fed cows, virgin olive oil, virgin coconut, oil, red palm oil, sunflower seed oil, etc. Salmon and nuts are also high in healthy fats. In general, if the fat came from something that is inherently oily, like an olive, it took less energy to refine it and is more stable (less likely to go rancid) than something that is not inherently oily, like rapeseed (which is where canola oil comes from), or corn (where vegetable oil comes from). Eat all fats in moderation and avoid eating a lot of cheese or cream.
Eat lots of  cooked vegetables , especially in the form of soups. Vitamins in minerals in cooked vegetables are actually more bioavailable than in raw vegetables. Your meal should be 50% vegetables and almost always include some kind of leafy green. The other 50% of your plate might include 20% grains, cooked properly and not overly refined, like oatmeal or  brown rice or beans, and 30-50% protein, such as organic chicken, mushrooms, fish, etc.
Fermented foods are largely missing in the standard american diet. Pro-biotics help to regulate the immune system and help you to digest foods properly. Learn how to make sauerkraut and kombucha at home and enjoy these every day. Avoid taking yogurt internally, however, as it is too fatty and dairy can cause issues for some people.
Try to identify triggers. Mine are, without a doubt, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, fruit juice, and sugar. Yours might be different. Try taking one-two suspected triggers out of your diet at a time for at least 2 weeks and see if you see a difference.
Exercise with acne is about sweating , getting the blood moving, and most importantly, reducing stress. Pick an exercise routine that is not stressful, such as hiking, yoga, tai-chi, or swimming. 
Sleep and stress management:
We've already discussed how hormones can effect acne. Stress can affect sleep and can throw the entire endocrine system out of whack. Go to bed early and allow yourself up to 10 hours of sleep a night. Your body heals itself when it sleeps, so don't deny yourself a good nights rest. Establishing a sleep routine, a regular time at which you go to bed and wake up, also helps stress management.
Try meditation and deep breathing. There are many, many good meditations out there. Youtube can be an excellent resource for the beginner.
If your are experiencing severe anxiety and depression from your acne, it may be time for you to get some counseling from a counselor or psychotherapist. Getting counseling doesn't mean you "have depression" or are "crazy". Everyone gets depressed from time to time. Counseling can help you learn to move through your emotions and teach you about yourself.
Chemical exposure:
Again, we are trying to heal the liver, so why not give it a break from chemical stressors? The fragrances in our dish soap, laundry detergent, perfumes, and other cleaning products are actually quite irritating to the liver. Replace these with natural, fragrance free alternatives. You might even replace your counter cleaner with vodka, or vinegar, and your laundry detergent with borax and washing soda. Once you stop using synthetic soaps and fragrances for a while, if you try to go back to using them, you might find they make you break out now or give you a headache.
I had one client whose acne healed completely after she got a chlorine-filter shower head. Consider the quality of the water you drink and bathe in as perhaps playing a role in your acne problem. There are so many good water filters out there for you to try.
Unfortunately we do not have much control over the air we breath. If you live in an urban environment, try to take a trip out to your nearby state park to do some hiking every once in a while. You can also get air purifiers for your home, which helps to reduce toxins inside the house from carpets, molds, paint, and urban pollution which has gotten inside the house.

...I hope you will try this protocol if you are suffering from acne. I have now seen herbs help many people through many health trials, many much more stubborn than acne. I know that acne can feel overwhelming and be debilitating. But, it is possible to heal. It is always possible. Green blessings to you, as we say in the herb world. 

-IllumineHerbs Edited by illumineherbs
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Hello illumeneherbs!
So happy i stumbled upon your post, I was looking for  herbal recommendations to heal from the inside for a while, unfortunately its very hard to find a herbalist where i live.

My brief story is I had clear skin all my life until 20 years old, Im pretty sure my poor diet has driven my body crazy because I started breaking out and nothing helped for months. I went to a dermatologist and she said i have hormonal acne, so i started on birth control (diane 35) which cleared me up pretty fast.

I realize all the negative aspects that synthetic hormones do to our body and after 3 years, i want to finally stop taking it and switch to natural remedies. My biggest concern is balancing out my hormones after i come off. My plan is to slowly wean myself off (by cutting the pills) and as im weaning myself slowly introduce herbal remedies.

I would like to try the regimen you described above and have couple questions:
On 5/9/2016 at 10:24 AM, illumineherbs said:

     - 1part Dandelion Root
-1 part Burdock Root

-1 part Beet Root (may be fresh or dried)
- 1 part Red Clover Blossoms
-1 part Nettle Leaf
On 5/9/2016 at 10:24 AM, illumineherbs said:

- 1 dropper full of Yellow Dock Roor
1 dropper full of Oregon Grape Root
-1 dropper full of Turmeric Root
-10 drops of Vitex Berry
-10 drops of Black Cohosh Root
-10 drops of Black Walnut Hull

what does this tea do?
and what does each one of these herbs do?

would this regimen work for someone with hormonal imbalance getting off strong birth control? Should I make any changes to it?

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Hey cool post. I'm taking both Superantioxidant green tea and Skin Detox tea which have most of those herbs you listed.

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