I don’t know why I was surprised that so many of you wanted to hear about my health stuff that I mentioned back in this post. I mean, I love hearing about health topics too! But while I’m very open about health related matters in real life, it sometimes feels like talking about health (or diet, your fitness regimen, etc.) can be awkward in polite company. Everyone has an opinion about what works, and what doesn’t! So let’s keep that in mind as I share a little about my own journey today. First things first: I am NOT A DOCTOR, so don’t take any of this as proper medical advice. If you’re worried about your health, or your skin, go see a professional. This is simply what worked for me, and my personal body — the supplements I talk about might be a good fit for you, but they might not be. Second, I’m going to talk a lot about my own approach to health and even skincare, and it might differ from yours. That’s cool! I definitely don’t want anyone to feel that I’m judging their own routines, this is just what I jive with, based on my own experiences.
Ok, now that the disclaimers are out of the way…
So, the path to great skin started with fatigue. Weird, right?
HOW THIS ALL STARTED
Without going into the gory details too much, let’s just say the last couple of years have been stressful. For good and bad reasons — cross-country moves, job changes, family illness, loss, personal evolution, lots of change all around. I’m the type of person that manages stress pretty well. I’m communicative, try to take care of myself, notice when I’m not feeling good, all that. But everyone has their limit.
Last fall, I felt like a MACHINE. I was working out 3 or 4 times per week, doing intensive sessions of strength training at Barry’s Bootcamp. I had taken on double the amount of client projects I normally do. We’d settled into life in SF, so our social calendar was busy. But the stressors from the previous paragraph? Also happening. Looking back, I think I thought going about my life like it was business as usual would help reduce stress. I think it ended up adding to it. In any case, while all this was happening, I had so much energy it was unbelievable. I felt like I was flippin’ unstoppable! New deadlines at work? No problemo. Add on another client even though I really don’t have the bandwidth? Done and done. Wake up at 6 am to workout(after going to sleep at midnight or 1am)? Let’s do it. The weird thing is, I kept up this pace for several months and felt super energized.
Then, shortly after the New Year, I crashed. It wasn’t a flip-switching crash and burn, but more like a steady free fall. I started noticing that I was more tired in the mornings. Soon, workouts at Barry’s were leaving me tired for days. Even though I was still trying to power through them, I noticed it was taking me longer to recover. After longer nights of rest, I’d still wake up exhausted. I also noticed my workouts weren’t effective. Instead of gaining tone and mass, I seemed to be losing tone and was super bloated all the time. These were the first signs something was off. I was dumb and ignored them. DON’T BE LIKE ME.
By April, I had stopped working out because I was pretty tired all the time. After physical symptoms, the next thing to go was mental concentration. Work was absolutely horrible, like trying to mentally row your way through a giant lake of jello. I had a hard time concentrating on tasks in front of me, and I felt unmotivated to complete the types of things I normally loved.
In May, there were a couple mornings that I slept until 10, and still got up feeling exhausted. I wondered if I was depressed; I think it was definitely part of it, but all that registers with me now is just how damn tired I was.
It was during this time in the late spring that I first noticed a rash on my face. I honestly thought it was a tiny breakout at first — a cluster of little bumps and patchy redness, all around my nose and upper lip. Which would be a bizarre place for me to break out, now that I think about it. I slapped some zit treatment on it and called it a day. Except when I woke up the next day, and it was worse. It wasn’t a case of pimples. It was eczema, or maybe dermatitis. Too bad I didn’t realize this for a while.
I ignored the rash for a good bit, which was dumb. I tried using all types of different lotions (especially ones for sensitive skin) and nothing seemed to help. Eventually, I got a similar type of rash on the outside corners of my eyes, though this one seemed to come and go more easily than the lip one. That upper lip one was a stubborn fucker. But duh, a rash that’s spreading across your face? Hello, warning signs. Again, DON’T BE LIKE ME.
Cut to when I mentioned the rash on the blog, around the same time that I had put all the pieces together and realized something was super off. A reader, Shannon, mentioned she’d had something similar in the past, and that a dermatologist had diagnosed her with perioral dermatitis (thank you for speaking up, Shannon!!!). After an afternoon spent researching (don’t Google image it, y’all), I was 99% sure I had the same thing. Luckily, mine was a fairly mild case compared to others I saw, but the symptoms checked every box. Beyond the obvious rash on my face, here’s what bummed me out about it: most of the standard treatments I read about relied on steroids or antibiotics. For me personally, that wasn’t a treatment I wanted to start with. I subscribe to the idea that these types of ailments usually stem from some kind of internal inflammation, so I’d much rather treat the internal cause for a longer term solution, versus plying my system with a steroid to make it go away. Like I said at the beginning…this is my personal approach! If more holistic treatments didn’t work, then cool, I’d go see a dermatologist.
I am a member at One Medical, which is basically a system of doctors’ offices across a city. They have this collective in NYC, DC, Boston, Chicago, lots of places! It started in SF though, and I’ve been a huge fan for years. Basically, even though you have a primary care provider with them, you can visit any of the locations in the city and see any doctor, which allows you to get same day appointments. They have a ton of other cool features too in terms of patient care, but one thing I’ve always appreciated about them is the scope of care you can get. In this case, I decided to meet with an acupuncturist, who also served as one of their integrative medicine specialists. Integrative medicine just means she could integrate modalities beyond western medicine, like acupuncture, or Chinese medicine, etc.
We met for the first time in early June. She took a look at my skin, listened to my symptoms, asked me a ton of questions. Then she looked up and said, “I think you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue.”
WHAT THE HELL IS ADRENAL FATIGUE?
You have heard of adrenaline, yes? That hormone we produce that’s a big part of fight or flight response? That thing you feel right before you get on a roller coaster, or go into a nerve wracking meeting? We produce it all the time, and especially so when we’re under a lot of stress.
Anyway, the way she explained it to me is that when you’ve been under a ton of stress for a really long time, you might actually notice that you feel super energized (sound familiar?). You’re pumping out so much adrenaline that you can be-bop around like a maniac and look good doing it. I’m pretty sure this was me last fall. The running on little sleep, feeling like a machine, feeling like I could conquer the world — all that sounded like “fight” response to me.
With adrenal fatigue, eventually your little adrenal glands are like “thanks but no thanks” to having to produce so much adrenaline. You also start to see a drop in other essential hormones, because in simple terms, resources are diverted to produce more stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. With a big enough drop, this is when you’ll begin experiencing tiredness, lack of motivation, and even infections (colds, etc). In other words, your body stops being able to care for itself because it’s too busy trying to manage the stress. A perfect opportunity for some perioral dermatitis to rear it’s ugly head.
I did a few sessions of acupuncture to help with everything, but what most interested me was this huge coterie of supplements she prescribed. These, she told me, would hopefully help with the adrenaline and cortisol levels, and also assist with rebuilding levels of other hormones that typically drop with adrenal fatigue. The results would leave me feeling more energized, and with an improved mood. I was game.
You know it’s a good sign when you can’t just waltz into any old grocery store and buy prescribed supplements off the shelf. These were super specific.
This was the first supplement she mentioned to me, available via Amazon. It’s a mix of different herbs that’s specifically meant to help address adrenaline levels and improve energy. She called out the herb ashwagandha as a mood improver, too. I started out taking this one twice daily and saw a near immediate improvement in energy, though that may have been in combination with a few of the other supplements too. Now that things are better, I tend to take one in the morning.
If you’re here for the good skin: I DON’T think this one impacts my skin quite as much. Just energy levels.
A probiotic //
I was experiencing issues with digestion, so she also put me on a probiotic. Specifically though, she told me to only buy one that was refrigerated and had a minimum of 50 billion probiotic strains in it. I guess my cheap-o one from Walgreens was not cutting it! Pro tip: she also said you shouldn’t order anything that needs to be refrigerated off Amazon, since you can’t guarantee that it stayed cool. I bought mine from Whole Foods; it’s this one. Bonus: it also has ashwagandha in it. Double the mood boosting effects! I take one in the morning and one at dinner. If you can’t handle a probiotic on an empty stomach and don’t eat breakfast, you can try taking it at lunch, too.
If you’re here for the good skin: I don’t think this one impacts my skin. Just regularity (ha).
A fish oil with super super high levels of EPA //
To be honest, I’m still not totally sure why having higher levels of EPA in an omega-3 supplement was more important, versus higher levels of DHA. But I do know that she told me to buy this supplement, with the higher levels of EPA, and expect it to help with internal inflammation and mood. Boy did it ever. Interestingly enough, since I had to order this supplement from an individual supplier on Amazon, it took a bit longer to get. In the interim, I started taking a different fish oil supplement that Joe takes, which has equal levels of DHA and EPA. I noticed IMMEDIATELY that my dermatitis started clearing up. But it never went away completely. When I got the new fish oil with the elevated levels of EPA, it went away entirely. Like, within a day or two. It was like magic! I’ve read for years about the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil, but OMG you guys, it’s spot on. Taking this also seemed to correlate with a boost in mood. It was recommended I take this twice per day, and I still try to. At the very least, I try and take one per day, usually in the morning. I’ve never been able to find a fish oil supplement at Whole Foods with as high of levels of EPA, but it’s possible a store like GNC sells it.
If you’re here for the good skin: ESSENTIAL. When I don’t take this at all, I notice an immediate difference in skin tone, clarity, and texture the next day.
Borage oil //
This was a new one for me. Borage oil is apparently super high in GLA, a fatty acid (just like an omega-3 is) that is an excellent anti-inflammatory. Luckily, we’re not talking about drinking borage oil or anything like that…you can get it in soft gel form. I was recommended this one. Because a lot of these supplements were coming from separate suppliers via Amazon, it was kind of cool to see how each affected me after adding it into the regimen. This was the last one I received, and this is what took my skin to next level glow. I couldn’t believe it. My dermatitis had already cleared up pretty well from the fish oil, but after taking this, I noticed I’d wake up with super soft, smooth skin. Even though my skin texture had always been decent, with this, the redness was gone in my cheeks and everything just seemed brighter. I think that extra dose of anti-inflammatory goodness just helps your skin shine.
If you’re here for the good skin: ESSENTIAL. Same as the fish oil, I try to take it twice per day if I want amazingly optimal skin. At the minimum, I take it once per day. When I don’t take it at all, I notice a change in my complexion.
The Whole 30 Diet //
I literally just felt all of your excitement wane. Haha!
A lot of why she recommended I do Whole 30 was to give my system a damn break. For me, it was really about clearing out inflammation and reducing stress on my digestive system (which, frankly, is tied to how your skin looks, but more on that in a sec). I’ll cop to it: I only followed the diet for about 2.5 weeks. To be honest, we don’t eat a ton of junk at home anyway, so it was helpful for me to reduce my dietary options further and see what was impacting me and my skin. I’ve suspected it for years, but as an example, through this process I discovered I’m very sensitive to eggplant and too many nightshades (which includes tomatoes and peppers). I always noticed that after a pot of chili, my skin would get red and inflamed. So now I tend to avoid eggplant especially, and eat fewer peppers. Tomatoes, I can’t avoid — I LOVE them. I’ve also always known I was sensitive to dairy (CHEESE!). Interestingly, once I reintroduced it after not eating it for a few weeks, I realized it gives me post nasal drip. I nearly always have to wake up in the morning and blow my nose, but when I didn’t eat dairy, I’d wake up with a clear throat. Weird, huh? Like I said, I still eat these things, but the great thing about giving my system a little break was it gave me the knowledge about what I’m sensitive to, so if I’m feeling run down, I know to avoid certain things to not put additional stress on my system.
HOW TO MAINTAIN GREAT SKIN (A LECTURE ON INFLAMMATION)
“Victoria,” you are saying, “This is getting in depth. JUST TELL ME HOW TO GET GREAT SKIN.”
Ok, ok, so you might’ve noticed that the pieces that correlate to great skin also dealt with inflammation. Fish oil, borage oil — anti-inflammatories. Eating eggplant, or dairy — the redness and post-nasal drip is a response, or a type of inflammation. So the number one thing you can do to have amazing skin is to reduce inflammation. For many of us who suffer from long-term skin problems, it likely has to do with some source of internal inflammation, either from stress or diet (but probably both). Do you notice you’re often bloated? It’s probably due to inflammation. Have digestion issues? Probably due to inflammation, or some imbalance in your gut (take that probiotic, yo).
Drinking water is also HUGELY important. I can’t stress this enough. You need to be hydrated not only to flush things from your system with urine (obvious), but also for your intestines to work properly. You’ve definitely heard this piece of beauty advice over and over again, but drink more water. When I don’t drink enough, I always notice a change in my skin texture the next day. It’s been helpful with these supplements, because since I take so many in the morning, I force myself to drink an entire glass with them too.
For me personally, I find that taking one of the fish oil and borage oil supplements daily is enough to maintain good skin. If I want absolutely glowing, vibrant, healthy looking skin, I need to take two of each per day (I’d dose it at fish oil in the morning, borage oil at lunch, then both again at dinner or before bed).
BUT DO YOU THINK IT’S SOME KIND OF LOTION OR SERUM YOU’RE USING?
Maybe, but not really. I will say that in July, I started using this lotion (the one I mentioned in Tuesday’s post) and absolutely love it. I chose it because honey is hydrating and soothing for skin, and the gals at Credo in SF told me this was the most hydrating lotion they offered in the store. But what blew me away about it is that for something so deeply hydrating, it dries matte. I’d never seen a thick, natural, oil-based lotion do that before! Sometimes I pair it with a facial oil layered underneath, but other days I wear it on its own. I routinely don’t wear any makeup or concealer when I go out (only armed with lotion, supplements, mascara, and this cream blush) and people tell me I have nice skin. So give it a try.
If you suffer from oily skin, you might want to experiment with products that address dryness. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. But in some folks, oiliness is actually caused by dry skin; you keep treating your skin as if it’s oily, which only dries it out more, so your skin tries to produce even MORE oil to deal with the problem. I always hear about gals who start applying facial oils to their skin and the oil levels actually even out, normalizing things. That, when combined with fish and borage oil (which in addition to being anti-inflammatory seem to lubricate my skin somehow?) might sort you out.
Wanna know how else I’m sure it’s not just the creams? Around the time I started the supplements, a friend of mine here in SF shared that she was having a similar dermatitis/eczema thing around her eyes (she was also super stressed out). I told her to buy a fish oil tablet with high levels of EPA, and some borage oil. She did. The next week when I saw her, she couldn’t believe it — the rashes were completely gone. She hadn’t changed anything in her skincare routine, she just started taking those two supplements. These weren’t even the same brand of supplements I had bought, which just goes to show the power of these anti-inflammatories!
Hey, are you stressed out? Take a chill pill. Maybe it’s in the form of these supplements I’ve mentioned, maybe it’s doing more yoga or meditating, maybe it’s learning to say no to things. Something I’ve learned through this journey is I have a very bad habit of telling myself that I’m invincible and can handle anything thrown my way. The truth is, you can still be a badass and NOT make yourself sick. I think as women, there is so much pressure on us to do all and be all and we forget to stop and tune in with ourselves and put ourselves first. So if you have been feeling stressed, or noticed your health taking a dive even in the smallest of ways, let this be a friendly reminder: it’s ok to put yourself first. Check in with yourself. Give yourself a break. Address those little health related things you’ve been noticing but ignoring. If I’m any indication, it CAN spiral out of control until you literally can’t get out of bed one day.
I saw my acupuncturist/integrative specialist again in early July, after I’d been on the supplements for 3 weeks or so. She said looking at me was like night and day compared to my previous visit — that the previous version she saw was like a shell of who was sitting in front of her. “But my skin!” I told her, “I didn’t know the side effect of all this would be such AWESOME skin!”
“Yeah,” she said, smiling, “That’s the part I don’t tell patients about when we’re focused on making you simply feel better. But everyone comments about awesome skin and hair in their follow up appointment.”
So anyhoo, that’s my thing with the supplements! I’m so happy you guys were interested, and that you enjoyed this (ridiculously long) post. Please feel free to ask any questions or share your own journey below. I’d love to hear from you, and it might be helpful for others in the community too!