How to Treat Acne Naturally Part 1: Causes


12 years ago, I felt hopeless in my hormonal acne journey—as many of you reading this can probably relate. I had cyclical breakouts, uncomfortably dry and reactive skin, chronic digestive issues, all made much worse from my high-stress film tech career. I didn’t have the time to take care of myself properly, and I really didn’t know what changes I needed either. Everything I tried soon failed. My body was sick of it, and the more that I wore that imbalance on my skin, the more self-conscious I became

After several years learning what was really causing my acne as I became educated about skincare and the holistic approach, I not only cleared my acne but also felt so much better in general! The changes I implemented into my life not only cleared my skin, but improved my whole body’s health along the way. I was healing the root cause and not just the symptoms anymore. Ultimately, as complicated as it seemed understanding acne really came down to three things:

  1. Hormonal balance
  2. The microbiome
  3. The skin barrier

Once I understood those things (and mostly, how NOT to aggravate our body’s natural balance in these areas), I was able to clear my acne. But understanding these things took time and research—so I want to share what I learned with you, so that you can find the balance too. 

Welcome to How to Treat Your Acne Naturally Part 1, where we’ll learn where acne comes from in the first place, and some of my first tips for treatment! Here are the questions we’ll explore today: 

woman stretching peacefully


I think we all know what it looks like. But here’s what’s going on underneath the surface, according to the National Health Institute: 

Acne is a common skin condition that happens when hair follicles under the skin become clogged. Sebum—oil that helps keep skin from drying out—and dead skin cells clog the pores, which leads to outbreaks of lesions, commonly called pimples or zits. Most often, the outbreaks occur on the face but can also appear on the back, chest, and shoulders. Acne is an inflammatory disorder of the skin.

There’s a lot that the scientific community has learned about acne, and a lot that they're still figuring out. For example, only a few years ago the bacteria that was thought to be causing acne was redefined, from P. acnes to C. acnes! But the biggest challenge is that it was never as simple as just killing off that bacteria. Here’s why…


If you didn’t already know, our skin is COVERED in bacteria—but much of this microbiome is helpful to us and even supports clear skin! Killing everything on the surface just leaves you vulnerable to continued imbalance. And, it turns out that since C. acnes has so many strains, both clear and acneic skin have C. acnes in their microbiomes. So if C. acnes is common even in clear skin…

Why do some people seem to have perfectly clear skin without effort, while others struggle for years to find clear skin solutions?

Simply put, even though the presence of this bacteria is pretty normal, unchecked overgrowth isn’t. C. acnes thrives in low oxygen environments like clogged pores, where a sebum barrier prevents oxygen circulation. Hiding away down there, it can multiply and wreak havoc on your skin from within. Your body's instinct is to fight this infection, which results in the creation of pus, redness, and inflammation—a pimple!


Pores can easily get clogged with excess sebum and dead skin cells, and then C. acnes is ready to swoop in. But once again (you’ll notice a theme), EVERYONE has dead skin cells and sebum! So why do some of us have clogged pores and not others? 

The answer is complex, but the differences come down to genetics, diet, environmental factors, stress levels, and your skincare routine. All of the above can have a big influence on those three factors that we discussed: hormonal balance, the microbiome, and the skin barrier. 


So, you’ve made it this far—let’s discuss what’s really going on with those three factors. Here’s why each of them matters: 

  • Hormones control so many things, including your skin and your sebaceous glands. If you particularly struggled with acne during puberty, or tend to break out during menstruation, these breakouts may have been influenced by hormonal changes. When our hormone balance is in flux, certain hormones like testosterone and progesterone can impact skin and sebum production. We’ll explore this in more detail in Part 2!

  • The health of your microbiome is an important factor in your skin’s  ability to fight off the bad bacteria, dehydration and more. This flora can be affected by your gut health, which impacts elements of your microbiome all over your body. The microbiome also may be changed by skincare practices like using broad spectrum antibacterial cleansers or products that shift your skin’s pH. We’ll discuss the microbiome in Part 3.

  • The skin barrier relies on balanced lipids, microbiome and pH. Many skin concerns, including acne, stem from a damaged skin barrier! The good thing is that its protective function can be renewed once these elements are brought back into balance. (Spoiler: Hydration is key here.) We’ll learn about the skin barrier in Part 4!


    This is both the most important question and the one most difficult to answer. Why? The cause of your imbalance is different for everyone, and most of the journey to clearing your skin will involve discovering your own why. But you don’t have to do it alone. 

    First of all, it is extremely beneficial to speak with a licensed esthetician for guidance on your individual case. To make this step accessible for everyone, we offer free video chats with our estheticianBOOK HERE

    Aside from that, you may already have a few hints. The timing, frequency, and severity of your acne can provide some insight. Here are a few common cases:

    • If you tend to break out only during your menstrual cycle, it is most likely related to hormonal balance at that time of the month. 
    • If you regularly develop small white heads and black heads with no obvious timing, it might indicate imbalance in your microbiome or skin barrier. 
    • If you have chronic pustules or nodules, you are most likely dealing with a whole body imbalance, which could include hormones, the microbiome and your skin barrier.

    We’ll learn more about how to determine your imbalance in Part 5!

    The good news is, all of these imbalances can be improved with the right knowledge and practices. The solution to acne is multifaceted and may shift alongside other bodily changes across the months, seasons and years. But when you learn to be in tune with your body, determine the source of your imbalance, and understand how to address it, you are well on your way to healthy skin and full-body wellness

    I hope you’ll follow along with these series to learn the knowledge that changed my life, and that of so many others! For now, let’s start with the first tips that I promised. 


    Even if you’re totally unclear on what’s causing your imbalance, there are some steps that you can take today to reduce inflammation affecting your skin. Trying picking one of these suggestions to start addressing inflammation (being ambitious is great, but the #1 reason a change fails is because it isn't being followed!) 

    1. Remove products from your skincare routine that have a drying or irritating effect.
    2. Intake plenty of water every day! (this can include water-rich foods & caffeine-free drinks if water is a bit boring for you)
    3. Cut back on processed sugar and complex processed foods (so that they are a treat, not a habit).
    4. Make sure you eat fruits and veggies EVERY meal.
    5. Include foods high in zinc (like spinach and pumpkin seeds) and omega-3 (flaxseeds, sea vegetables, and walnuts) in your diet.
    6. Include fermented foods rich in probiotics.
    7. If you aren’t very active, consider adding 15 minutes of exercise to your daily routine to promote healthy circulation, remove toxins, and keep body and mind healthy. 

    Beyond that—come back to this series and learn the in-depth causes and solutions for different types of imbalance. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter below to get notified when part 2 comes out! After healing my own skin years ago with this holistic approach, I am so happy to be sharing it with you. And the Apoterra community is here to support you every step of the way.

    Thanks for reading!

    Do you want to know how hormones can play into acne? Read Part 2: Hormonal Imbalance to learn more. And sign up for our newsletter to read Part 3: The Microbiome when it comes out!

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