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My Acne Breakthrough – How I Got Clear Skin

I’ve written in detail about my acne saga in my last post, now let me shed some light on my breakthrough.

I wish I could tell you that I can attribute my good skin to one thing…but no such luck!

I became a Clean Freak – and I’m grateful for the journey that led me here.

The long bumpy road to clear skin wasn’t easy. It was embarrassing and stressful and downright awful at times. I went through a lot of growing and pains.

I was forced to keep trying new things until something worked, which was a frustrating but enlightening process. I was also forced to observe and listen to my own body (an invaluable skill).

I had 3 major breakthroughs in my acne career: product, diet, mindset – my skin improved with each subsequent change

1. Skin Care Breakthrough

My first breakthrough was caring about the products I put on my face.

I realized that not all products are created equal, even though there are many that are almost the same. Some products really can ruin your skin, and ruined mine (had especially bad experiences with Nivea and Dior skincare products).

Moreover, I realized that I had a very special kind of skin type that needed special attention.

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I couldn’t just smear anything on my face, and became an absolute clean freak.

I washed my face religiously. My face would go through my four-step evening skin care ritual, no matter how late I got home

I wouldn’t buy a product without first researching its ingredients, and without first reading reviews.

Reviews can be misleading too, however. Most often a reviewer wants a product to work so badly that he has already posted a rave review before testing out the product properly.

I am guilty of posting a rave review for almond oil (back in 2010) before I saw that it was completely wreaking havoc to my face. I wanted it to work so badly!

I started noticing correlations between products and my acne.

For instance, when I bought Nars Orgasm blush, I was breaking out where I applied the blush – a dead giveaway that the product wasn’t meant for my skin.

Then I started seeing common ingredients in products that were causing me to breakout, like talc.

I began looking for products with fewer ingredients, and the ingredients that would actually benefit my skin.

For example, my moisturizer needs to contain water, glycerin, and niacinamide – no alcohol. My powders can’t contain talc or bismuth oxychloride. 

I found that I needed the gentlest of cleansers for my skin type and that I wasn’t allowed to skip moisturizing.

Through trial and error, lots of research and patience, I was able to eliminate the products that caused me to break out and find a skin care routine that truly helped my skin look and feel good!

More details on my exact skin care routine here.

2. Diet Breakthrough

My second breakthrough was paying attention to what I ate.

This breakthrough didn’t happen until a few years ago. Because I had been on birth control for five years, I could technically eat whatever I wanted and I didn’t break out. Consequently, I didn’t see the food and acne connection.

I spent the first five years of my life on organic fruits and vegetables from my grandmother’s garden, and organic meats raised by my grandparents or our neighbors. The food I ate was nutrient-dense and incredibly tasty.

After moving to Canada, my diet changed for the worse.

I ate the worst food imaginable: pop tarts, chips, cereal, cookies, frozen dinners, burgers, hot dogs, fries, milk chocolate, milk, ice cream, cake, pasta, cheese, pizza…I ate gluten, sugar, refined carbs, dairy, bad fats, too little fiber, not enough vegetables.

Unsurprisingly, the onset of puberty (hormonal changes) coupled with a horrendous diet and zero face washing resulted in bad acne.

I literally had to trick myself into eating healthfully after what seemed like a lifetime of cookies.

My diet change happened ever so gradually. It took the last 10 years to persuade myself to enjoy healthy foods, mainly because I didn’t understand the full effect of food on my skin, mood, and overall health and because bad habits are difficult to break.

The big changes happened way later, after reading tons about the subject.

I started with small tweaks like replacing my white bread with more fiber-rich flaxseed bread about 10 years ago, while still in high school. This was incredibly difficult to do, as I absolutely hated the texture of flax or multigrain bread.

I used to slather my bread with various spreads to make it more palatable (the spreads were not healthy).

I replaced orange juice with water only about 6 years ago. I would buy a carton of orange juice a week – basically sugar water under the guise of providing me with vitamins.

I learned that eating fruit was better than just drinking juice because fruit comes with fiber which helps digestion, but it also balances blood sugar and prevents blood sugar spikes that happen with refined sugar.

I started eating oatmeal instead of cereal for breakfast. I remember how gross I thought it was…I had to disguise the taste and texture of oatmeal with a tablespoon of honey (at least). Then I had to ween myself off the honey, using increasingly less of it each time.

I taught myself to eat grapefruit the same way.

Not to mention, I was and still kind of am a sugar addict. I can eat honey with a spoon, but I don’t (anymore).

I switched from milk chocolate to dark chocolate (70% or more).

I started eating hamburgers and fries once a month instead of 1-2 a week, and later I even eliminated fries altogether.

I started ingesting foods with fiber to ensure a healthy digestive tract. Studies show that problems with digestion cause inflammation in the body which can lead to acne and even cancer.

But in recent years, I made the biggest changes after experimenting with a few different diets.

I don’t recommend dieting as a way to lose weight, however, for me it was a great way to find which foods agreed with me and eliminate the foods caused me to feel low-energy or to breakout.

I gave up dairy! This is absolutely huge for me since I was raised on milk.

I grew up having milk every single day of my life, cheese too. I literally tasted milk so fresh that it was still warm.

All too often I saw new breakouts after drinking milk, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. 

I tested my ‘dairy is bad for skin’ theory (even though there was plenty of research available about it already).  I went vegan for 4 months, and after returning to milk I saw that it really didn’t agree with my skin.

Goodbye, dairy!

I went from eating wheat pasta almost every day to switching to buckwheat, rice, and quinoa. I’m very close to fully giving up gluten.

I used to ignore scary gluten claims – I thought ‘gluten-free’ was marketing used to sell a different kind of product – until I saw the effect of gluten on myself first hand.

For example, after ingesting almost no gluten for over six months, I indulged one beautiful afternoon – I had a huge freshly baked loaf of bread with a delightful seafood dish. The bread was decadent! It reminded me of the kind of bread my grandmother used to bake and I couldn’t stop myself.

I dipped every last bit of the bread into a delicious tomato sauce and enjoyed every heavenly bite. Half an hour after dinner, I found myself falling asleep. My brain was foggy, my eyelids were heavy, and my body was drained of energy.

This is what gluten and refined carbohydrates do to our body. After giving up gluten, I noticed far more energy, clearheadedness, and better skin (not to mention easy weight-loss).

One thing to keep in mind is that the effects of gluten are not temporary and transient. It might take months to feel better after ingesting too much gluten.

My most extreme change happened months ago. My sleep cycle was off, I was an insomniac, and I was stressed about it. The only answer seemed to be to give up coffee. I made the switch from coffee to peppermint tea!

I, of all people, gave up coffee!?

Caffeine was a wonderful stimulant, and I loved starting my morning with a delicious, hot cup of coffee. It was my favorite part of the day, in fact. It worked wonders for me before a workout!

However, caffeine is aging and messed with my hormones and sleep cycle. I had to take action.

Since I was on a mission to be clean inside and out, I knew I had another habit to kick.

I decided that I have enough energy without coffee, and I believed that I didn’t really need it (mindset shift from dependence to independence).

I thought I would never go through with this change because I honestly love the taste of coffee so much, however, my will power proved more powerful than expected. Now I might have a decaf americano once a week just for nostalgia’s sake, but I find myself craving it increasingly less.

It sounds like I gave up a lot of foods that I loved, but I assure you I’m not suffering. In fact, I feel better than ever before!

My cravings no longer rule me, and food isn’t something that takes up much of my mental energy as it used to on various diets (vegan, raw till 4, 80/10/10, Bulletproof, vegetarian, pescatarian).

Notice that when you’re dieting, all you think about is food. It’s a very distracting and unfulfilling way to be.

I did what my body required; I needed to eat clean to be clean, and to feel and look good.

I had low energy, mood swings, headaches, trouble focusing, and bad skin (my weight was slowly increasing too) before switching to a healthier way of life.

I actually love things like quinoa and kale now, and I found indulgent-tasting healthy alternatives that satisfy my sweet tooth without residual feelings of guilt or negative consequences on my skin, mood, or health.

Now when I eat poorly, I feel guilty because I know better. I want to ingest only the food that gives me energy, fuels my cells, improves cognitive function, and maintains my health.

Healthy food tastes great – because taste adjusts. You don’t have to do it overnight, but the sooner you realize that what you eat matters, the sooner you can feel better.

Trust me, if I gave up milk, cheese, and COFFEE, you can too.

Being a clean freak means being a health freak too.

3. Mindset Breakthrough

The third and final breakthrough I had that led me to even better skin was entirely in my own head – changing my thoughts; clearing out the mental clutter.

Acne is an internal battle – there was a constant negative feedback loop playing in my mind.

“I look gross. Everyone is staring at my pimples. They feel sorry for me. Don’t look at me!”

The word “acne” and “pimples” and other negative adjectives became my silent mantras. It was all I thought about.

After learning that thoughts are material – that what we think really matters – I began monitoring my thoughts.

I replaced the word acne and pimple with the phrase clear skin. When I looked at myself I decided to love what I see and to describe myself as beautiful and with clear skin (even if it wasn’t yet clear).

My silent mantra became: “I am happy and healthy and I have clear skin.”

I reprogrammed my negative thoughts and self-loathing into positive thoughts and self-love.

I started projecting confidence instead of fear and changed my attitude towards myself and my skin.

Low and behold, my skin began cooperating. I stopped stressing about it and began enjoying life instead.

Mindset was the remaining missing puzzle piece.

The real breakthrough with acne wasn’t one thing – it was a major lifestyle and mindset shift.

I call myself a Clean Freak because my skin, my body, and my mind needed my attention and affection.

I took increasingly better care of myself, and I was pretty intense about it.

Bad products were ‘dirty’ products, bad food was ‘dirty’ food, and negative thoughts were ‘dirty’ thoughts (still have enough of those floating around…wink-wink).

I know it sounds extreme, but I think there’s nothing extreme in learning to love yourself and treating yourself well.

I think that being careless with products, feeding yourself bad food, and thinking negatively is probably more extreme. It certainly didn’t serve me.

Being a Clean Freak is knowing that you deserve the best.

My ultimate ah-hah moment was that I needed to manage all aspects of my life – that I had to be responsible, diligent, and take action.

Working towards a better version of yourself is a good thing. It is more difficult than doing nothing, but when did doing nothing ever get anyone anywhere?

I learned that there’s no miracle cure and I learned to take responsibility.

My skin began to improve when I started treating myself the way I deserve to be treated.

I developed the Clean Freak Formula as a way to a better the self. Learn more about my Clean Freak Formula here.

As I mentioned above, it’s not just about the skin. The takeaway is that you have to take care of all of you, simple as that.

Acne can be painful, or you can turn it into something great – a catalyst for change. Acne can be part of your history, your story, a way you became more awesome by taking control of your life.

With love,

Olena

P.S. If you need help on your skin-clearing journey, sign up to get 28 of my BEST hacks for clear skin here!

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