When I wrote about how I cleared up my acne, so many of my followers had great questions about how what you put into your body affects your skin. I invited my friend and macrobiotic expert Christina Pirello to answer your questions with me. Here we go…
Q.Why have you cut back on nuts and how do you feel about ‘fats’ in a diet? How do you feel about adapted versions of a raw diet, with local fruits/veg/nuts/seeds rather than tropical? E.g. apples, almonds, etc.
Alicia: A little bit of natural fat is good… like olive oil and avocado, and some tahini here and there. Don’t go nuts (pun intended!). Local raw can still be bad for your skin. Eating apples and almonds is not bad, but if I was only eating raw foods (especially in the winter) then my skin would still freak out. I eat an apple or a handful of almonds occasionally, but not more than roughly one cup per week. I’ve never had a problem with my skin from eating olive oil, but if I eat a lot of nuts or nut butters, I can run into trouble. I tell my story about going raw in the intro of The Kind Diet.
Christina: While fats are good for skin and that includes nuts and nut butter and tahini, once you have skin trouble, you need to cut back on fats (not eliminate, but minimize) until the skin clears up. Anything that is inflammatory to the system (and while fat is good for us, excessive use or inappropriate use of it will turn it inflammatory) or contributes to an acidic pH, will aggravate skin conditions. So while raw nuts and fruits and avocadoes are fine in a healthy diet, they need to be minimized until the skin clears.
Q. Any advice for getting rid of acne scars, or more generally, for wound healing?
Christina: Acne scars take time, but you can minimize them and see them fade over time with some ingredients right in your kitchen! Olive oil is the most amazing treatment I have seen for acne or any other scars. Simply massage it into the affected areas 3-4 times a day. Make sure to use pure or light olive oil (which has high acidity), not extra virgin (which has low acidity and is less effective). It could take 2-3 months to see a big difference. Tea tree oil will also help reduce the scars and you can use it in the same way. Next, get some fenugreek leaves and make a paste with the leaves and olive oil to create a facial mask. Do this 2-3 times a week and you should see results in 8 weeks. You may also boil 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds in 2 cups of water for 10-15 minutes and pat it on scars when it cools down. You can do this 3-4 times a day and could take 3-4 months to see a difference. But the number one remedy for acne scars is lemon juice applied right to the scars. Do this 3-4 times a day and you should see some changes in 4-5 weeks.
Q. What do you use as a daily cleanser? I’ve been looking for a new natural cleanser.
Alicia: I use a simple cleanser like the Juice Beauty Organic Face Wash. It smells so great and feels really yummy.
Christina: I love cleansers like Alicia’s, but I alternate it with a cleanser I make in my kitchen: a gentle scrub made from brown sugar and warm water which makes a soft, exfoliating scrub that works great for my sensitive skin. You may also use salt or regular table sugar (finally a use for sugar that’s good for us…) but the brown sugar is nice for sensitive skin. If your skin is dry, use olive oil in place of the water to create the scrub. Simply add enough water to the sugar to make a gritty paste.
Q. Are there any foods that make acne worse or cause more breakouts? And what foods help clear acne?
Christina: The foods that are the worst for acne are white flour, sugar, dairy, and any other animal food. Sugar and white flour clog the pores and prevent your skin from breathing as well as increasing the skin’s production of oil. Many times, acne is caused by hormonal imbalances, so you can see why dairy foods and other animal foods are a problem for acne. Most animal products naturally contain hormones (they are animals, after all…) and since most commercially produced animal foods are treated with hormones, it’s a lose-lose…for the animals and for your skin.
Q.What are your thoughts on soy? Why is it on the “no list” now?
Alicia: Soy isn’t on my “no” list. I eat soy, but in the healthy versions… the ones that have been keeping Asian cultures alive for thousands of years with little incidence of cancer (until they were introduced to the Western diet, that is). These include all organic miso, soy sauce, and tofu. I don’t eat processed soy products except as a rare treat (like vegan ice cream), but not in my regular superhero diet.
Christina: I completely agree with Alicia on this. Soy is a great food for us, but only when it is a traditionally produced product like tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso or soy sauce…and I also agree that on occasion, foods like ice cream are fine, but those kinds of foods are occasional treats…if you want lovely skin and good health.
Q. My skin looks much more luminous on a raw diet. Do you have any idea why people react so differently to diverse diets?
Alicia: That’s great! Mine got so bad on a raw food diet. I was happy, but my acne was crazy and I got chubby. But I was happy!
Christina: Everyone is different. We are all born under different conditions; have different constitutions; different health conditions. Some people thrive on raw foods although, in my own experience, I have never seen someone (or their skin) thrive for many years. Most often, raw foods work very well for a time. They are rich in fiber and loaded with moisture and enzymes all of which are just great for skin…and also great for cleansing. Many times our skin glows on a raw diet for a time because the body is cleansing and getting plenty of moisture. If it works for now, go for it, but remain aware of how you feel and be open to adjusting your diet as your health requires.
Q. Why do non-local fruits affect the skin? Is it because tropical fruits have more sugar? Is it because local, organic fruits have more available nutrients? What if you move to a tropical island, would you still not be able to eat the fruit? Does everyone on a tropical island have acne?
Alicia: Fruits like mangos and pineapples help to cool off people in those tropical climates. It’s ideal to eat what is indigenous to your area to avoid stressing your body. When you align more with nature and the seasons, you’ll align more with yourself and your body.
Christina: Not all fruit affects our skin in a negative way, but tropical fruits have a lot of sugar, which can contribute to skin trouble if you eat a lot of it. And yes, a lot of people who live on tropical islands struggle with their skin in terms of breakouts. While tropical foods can help cool the body, that concentration of sugar can take a toll. That said, if you also eat lots and lots of dark leafy greens, you can likely enjoy some tropical fruit now and then with no consequence to your skin.
Q. Is there something you can substitute for miso soup? (Every time I have ever tried it, the smell alone makes me nauseated).
Christina: Nope. There is nothing that can do for us what miso does for us. If it makes you sick when you eat it, it’s an indication that your intestines in fact need fermented foods. So you have some choices. You can use a light amount of miso (using salt to make up the flavor) and gradually increase it until you tolerate it better. You may also use other fermented foods like sauerkraut or unpasteurized pickles to help strengthen digestion. Finally, you can take a pro-biotic to help alkalize and strengthen digestion until you can tolerate miso.
Q. I get acne all the time! Since starting the vegan diet, my acne has become worse…maybe it’s the stress. I’m not sure, but I would love for it to go away! Will try to cut back on fruit, though I love it and up my vegetable intake. All the whole grains I’ve been eating have made me gain a little weight. Maybe I’m doing horribly on this whole balanced and healthy diet-planning thing.
Alicia: You won’t gain weight from whole grains so it’s possibly something else in your diet. Maybe the fruit? How much fruit are you eating daily?
It might be good to limit your grains to 1/2-3/4 cups at each meal instead of more. Remember to chew really well and make sure that you’re eating superhero-style and balanced. This means lots of vegetables and legumes as well!
Christina: Sounds like your diet is off-balance. You need to eat more protein in the form of beans, tofu and tempeh, less volume of grains (but still eat them) and lots and lots of veggies, and a few good quality fats like olive oil. Minimize nuts and avocados, and fruit and juice.
Q. What are the effects of birth control and natural alternatives to it? I have read many times that it is good to get off of birth control, but not about alternatives.
Alicia: Birth control is very intense on your body. While very effective at preventing making babies, it’s very damaging to our natural balance and is not healthy. That said, my skin was a wreck when I stopped birth control. When I first went to see a macrobiotic counselor, she noticed how bad my acne was after going off the pill and that was how I started on a superhero diet. I’ve practiced a natural method for many years. When you practice natural birth control (sometimes referred to as “Natural Family Planning”) be aware that you could become a mama if you don’t practice it perfectly!
Christina: While birth control can help prevent unwanted pregnancies they do have an effect on our health. This is a complicated answer, so this will just scratch the surface. Preventing pregnancy with pharmaceuticals messes with your body’s natural hormonal balance and the long-term implications are far-reaching and complex. A lot of how birth control affects you depends on what you take, how often, how strong it is and your health and age when you begin taking it.
Natural alternatives exist but are not as effective as pharmaceuticals. They include: withdrawal method; knowing when you ovulate and abstaining during that time; condoms for both men and women; contraceptive herbs like wild yam, neem oil, and pomegranate can help; they are between 70-85% effective.
Q. I still get blackheads and little bumps under the skin that never turn into anything but they still annoy me. Any advice for those?
Christina: Sugar and dairy are the main causes of these blackheads, although excessive soymilk can contribute since it’s so fatty. Skipping these and other fatty foods will help, as well as scrubbing the skin (see the scrubs above). Blackheads are an accumulation of dirt and bacteria and sebum that clog the pores, so steaming your skin can also be helpful. Boil a pot of water with calendula oil in it (a few drops) and then make a tent over your head with a towel and steam your skin for 5-10 minutes. Follow the steam with a scrub and then moisturize with a natural, vegan moisturizer that will not clog pores. You can steam 2-3 times a week.
Q. I began experiencing skin problems a few months into my vegan diet. After much trial and error, I found that almond milk was the culprit. I’ve not had any problems since I’ve stopped drinking almond milk daily. I now use soy or on occasion coconut milk. Hope this helps someone who may be experiencing similar skin problems.
Alicia: Yes, too much nut butter or soy and rice milk can cause this problem too… You don’t need to necessarily cut it out completely, but don’t eat/drink a ton of it.
Christina: I am with Alicia on this one. While all the non-dairy milk and nut butter are fun and all that, it’s more important if you want great skin, hair, nails, and normal weight, that you eat whole grains, beans, and lots and lots of veggies, especially greens.