Sometimes, skincare products aren’t enough. That’s right, I said it.
But it’s true, and I speak from experience. In 2018, I developed hypothyroidism, and with it came a range of other health issues like kidney stones, intense exhaustion, and – the one that frustrated me most – skin inflammation. As someone who’s had pretty severe eczema since I was 3, you’d think I’d be used to dealing with inflamed skin, but this was different. This time my face was being affected in a big way for the first time in my life, and it was all around the time I was fundraising to launch MadeWith.
I was humbled, and I felt desperation. I already knew that the skincare industry was incredibly difficult to navigate, which was one part of the problem, but no amount of skincare was going to fix what was happening on my face (and the rest of my body).
Over the course of 3 years, I’ve learned that I have to be VERY mindful of my synthetic thyroid dosage, that I’m allergic to Yerba Mate (and seem to have a general sensitivity to many types of tea), and my gut is missing 2 of the 5 main bacteria needed to be functioning best. I’m now on supplements to help keep things balanced, and I’m happy to report that the inflammation has calmed.
How did I do it? My personal order of events to find balance went something like this: I started with a Primary Care Physician (MD), then moved on to an Osteopathic Doctor (DO), I saw a Urologist (for kidney stones), a Dietician, a Functional Medicine Doctor, and now a Naturopath. I am finding the most success with my Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Emma Andre of Vital Mamas, but in fairness, I’ve had a lot of education along the way to help us find answers relatively quickly. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m doing MUCH better than I was 6 months ago.
In case you’re wondering why I didn’t go to a dermatologist for my skin issues, it’s because I grew up working with dermatologists, allergists, and a plethora of other doctors. I appreciate all they did, but I wanted to do something different than use steroids and see if we could find the root of the issue. Not to say there isn’t a dermatologist out there who would help me do that, but I haven’t found it yet.
I personally lean toward integrative or functional medicine (to learn more about both, check out this article). A good resource in finding doctors who practice integrative/functional medicine is www.functionalmedicine.org. Their search is great – it can also help you find doctors who work with your insurance.
One final callout before I share all the ways I’ve navigated medicine: this is my story. Your story will be different, but I do believe that sharing my story and where I’ve found success may help others. Nothing I share below is meant to be medical advice. This is how I find success with those I’m seeking medical advice from, and how I balance diet and supplements with medicine to maintain health.
TIPS I REMIND MYSELF OF WHEN WORKING WITH DOCTORS
1. Every body is different and massively complex: we can’t expect doctors to know everything.
They don’t. Remember your body is unique and complex. You know your body best, so you have to be your #1 advocate and help your doctor figure out what’s going on. We all have different sensitivities and ailments, which can change over time as your body changes. Doctors are generally smart, but they’re often hoping to find a resolution as quickly as possible, which isn’t always the best route to long-term success. ASK QUESTIONS and provide as much information as you can about your health history, symptoms you’re dealing with, if symptoms are more defined at certain times/events, whatever might help your doctor understand you.
2. Work with someone you like and can communicate well with.
This is true of any relationship in your life – the same goes for your doctors. Interview doctors before committing to working with them. Look for someone who listens to you and your questions, answers your questions in a way that you can understand (not just in doctor talk), makes you comfortable, and doesn’t make you feel rushed. Bonus for doctors who set the expectation that the first appointment will take some time so they can go through your health history. The search may be cumbersome, but we’re talking about your health. Invest time and energy into it. In my personal experience, Functional Medicine and Naturopathic Doctors have been much better at this.
3. Work with doctors who offer solutions in addition to/outside of medication.
When I found out I had hypothyroidism, one of the first recommendations my DO suggested was to cut gluten (because the body somehow sees gluten as an invader when your thyroid hormones under-perform). He started with a synthetic thyroid hormone, and when we increased the dose a bit, my body started holding calcium everywhere, and I developed kidney stones and skin issues. In this case, my medication was causing more problems while solving one, so I had to find the balance. I have better results with less medication and no gluten.
4. Work with experts who want to find the ROOT of the problem and address it.
When it comes to understanding what’s going on with your skin, there are likely some tests that need to be done. If your doctor immediately wants to put you on prescription medication without having another plan to get you off the medication, you’ll likely wind up with a different issue to deal with (from the medication). For example, too much prescription skin creams can cause sun sensitivity and/or cause your skin to flake. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use prescription medication, but ideally it’s to help you get your skin back to balance, then maintain the balance with more natural substances/practices after you calm your skin.
TESTS I’VE RECENTLY HAD DONE
1. Blood panel (like you would in a physical)
2. Hormone panels to check my hormones are in normal range
3. Gut health test (yes, I had to collect and mail a solid bodily function, but the amount of information we can learn from our poop is massive. It’s how I found out 2 of 5 critical bacteria in my gut are wiped out)
4. Food sensitivity testing (this gets tricky because our sensitivities shift as our body goes in and out of balance and through changes, but it can be used as a baseline)
**These were my tests. Work with a doctor (that you like and communicate well with) to figure out what tests you should take.
I’VE FOUND THE MOST SUCCESS WITH MY DOCTORS WHEN
1. The intro appointment did not feel rushed
The intake with my ND took about 2 hours. She asked questions about my physical health history, past trauma (physical or emotional), my sleeping habits, food and drinks I consumed, and what I thought might be the current source of my stress.
2. They want to take tests to get a baseline
Our bodily excretions can provide a vast picture of what’s going on inside. All these tests can get expensive, but insurance covered many of the tests I did. I worked with my doctor to find tests that worked within my budget.
3. They ask about various areas of health
They want to know about your physical ailments and more. They want to know how your sleep is doing. They want to know past trauma so they can understand emotional pain you may be dealing with and provide resources. They want to understand your sleeping habits. When we sleep, our body produces hormones to help our cells regenerate and heal. They want to understand your stress levels. Cortisol (the stress hormone) is one of the biggest triggers of inflammation in our body.
4. They explain the plan to getting to better health
Finding your way back to balance usually requires testing, various medications/supplements, and check-ins to see how things are going (which may mean changing doses or switching you to another medication). My ND was very clear on the plan, tests and timing, and we’ve tweaked it as we needed to.
RULES I REMEMBER TO HAVE OPTIMAL SKIN HEALTH
1. What we consume impacts our health.
Our human bodies have been evolving for millions of years. Our bodies have evolved to eat food the planet provides us. Heavily processed food is going to impact us – our bodies were not built to properly digest it (other than the addictive properties tricking our brain into thinking we want it). There’s a reason excessive soda and fast food consumption cause problems like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Giving up things we love to consume feels intimidating. So when it came time for me to cut out gluten and dairy, I reminded myself that all routines become second nature with practice. The first few months were tough, but as time went on, I missed cheese and glutenous foods less and less.
2. Our bodies are 60% water.
So I keep it hydrated with water. I have a big, refillable water bottle and drink it throughout the day. On days I’m less hydrated, my skin looks less healthy (most noticeably – fine lines). I wonder what my organs inside my body look like when I’m less hydrated.
3. Stress is bad. Rest is good.
This is an area I’ll always have to work on – running a startup lends itself to stressful days & doesn’t leave time for self care, but I’m getting better at prioritizing it. I’m going for walks, doing yoga, and taking hikes as often as I can, and my skin is happier. I can commend myself for always prioritizing sleep: 7-8 hours of sleep almost every night is key for me.
4. Put good things on my body.
My skin is part of my body. It’s all connected. If I put bad things on my skin, it is going to impact the rest of my body. So yeah, I use clean skincare products to minimize the amount of manufactured chemicals & preservatives going in and on my body.
5. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Do I notice certain foods or skin products trigger skin inflammation? While the obvious answer might be, “it’s time to remove that” – it’s not always easy to pinpoint. My last flare up happened when I switched from coffee to Yerba Mate, and it took me months to realize that was the culprit. So now I try to think of when things got worse and what changed in my life when I started experiencing symptoms. Then I eliminate the suspected culprit and see what happens.
6. Everyone’s skin and body is different.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat well, exercise, rest, and make healthy decisions for your mind and body, but the specifics of what does and doesn’t work for me is my story. Just because I can’t consume Yerba Mate doesn’t mean you can’t. Just because synthetic thyroid hormone is working for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. We all have to take responsibility for the bodies we are in and figure out what it takes to make them work optimally.
It is work, but it is worth it. I’m 40, and arguably look better than I did in my 20s, have more energy, and feel more emotionally grounded than I’ve ever felt before. Sure, solid skincare and education on how to use skincare has helped, but it can only do so much. We have to take care of our bodies as a whole, stop masking symptoms, and find ways to keep the whole system in balance.