The Pill – you’ve either been on it at some point or know someone who has.
As one of the most popular forms of contraception in the western world – with approximately 100 million women using a combined hormonal contraceptive and 33 per cent in Australia alone, according to the University of New South Wales – the contraceptive pill is an ingrained part of our sexual health history. Yet in recent years its dominance is dwindling as women are seeking new or natural alternatives.
While the conception of ‘the pill’ in the 60s originally marked the dawn of sexual liberation for women, allowing them to control their fertility, today our attitude is shifting beyond pure pregnancy prevention and towards holistic health and wellbeing. We want it all – controlled conception, optimal fertility and a product that supports our health, hormones and happiness. And unfortunately ‘the pill’ isn’t cutting it anymore.
A recent Cosmopolitan study found 70 per cent of women surveyed have either stopped using the contraceptive pill or contemplated going off it for the past three years. That’s three quarters of young women swerving away from the cult contraceptive of our parents’ days… and it’s not without cause. In recent years numerous scientific studies have linked the combined pill (both estrogen and progesterone) to an increased risk of depression, cervical and breast cancer along with stroke, heart attack, migraines, blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.
While it’s important to preface it is a individual choice that must be made in consultation with a medical professional, understanding the side effects is so important in making an informed decision. A study in the BMC Fam Pract journal revealed Australian women rate the side-effects of contraception as one of the top three concerns when it comes to deciding their contraceptive of choice. Yet, how many of us are getting the whole picture?
I know I didn’t. Only after a series of migraines, vision loss (my mum had a history of taking the pill and experiencing migraines with vision loss), and a fluke encounter with a good GP who connected the dots, that I eventually got the full rundown.
I began experiencing migraines in my early 20s; something I’d always put down to just hereditary or bad luck. Yet when they began to develop more frequently this year and I constantly experienced vision loss, did I decide to mention it on my next trip to ‘top up’ my prescription.
What had been a routine visit of simultaneously asking about my migraines, actually resulted in learning that not only was my pill potentially a contributing factor in my migraines, but it definitely put me at risk of a stroke because according to studies, those who experienced ‘migraines with aura’ had double the chance.
And there it was – after 10 years of taking the pill and enduring intense migraines, were the dots connected and I was given the right information by a GP.
While vanity had been the initial drive for going on the pill, it suddenly ceased to exist and replaced only by fear and shock. How had I unconsciously taken something for 10 years that could contribute to both migraines and stroke? Worse still, my GP couldn’t understand how no other doctor had taken the time to piece it together before.
While hesitant to give up my clear skin, I couldn’t fathom taking another medication that came with risks. So I made the decision to go natural; no synthetic hormones, no pills, no medication.
I won’t sugar coat it – it’s been a struggle. I’ve had to relive the hormonal woes of my high school past, battling breakouts with endless products and trialling diets, and of course relieving the emotional stress it brought back. I;ve had to shy away from people, not leave home without a full face of makeup, had the shame of being a ‘yoga and health journalist’ with less than glowing skin.
Yet in the quest to be as healthy as I can be, I spent months talking to a range of people – be it natural therapists (nutritionists and naturopaths), friends and family and other wellness women to find out their top tips.
A year on and by no means have I ‘healed’ my hormonal acne forever (it comes and goes), but I’ve learned how to manage it, got my glow back, and gained some pretty valuable knowledge and remedies along the way.
Top 10 Tips to Heal Hormonal Skin Post Pill
1. Try tea tree oil
A homegrown goodie, tea tree oil has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a cure-all for skin conditions, especially acne. Plus, a recent study found tea tree oil (in gel form) not only improves acne but is as effective as benzoyl peroxide, and with less side effects. Apply topically to blemishes or use a face wash with it as a key ingredient – I opted for Environ Sebu-Wash Gel Cleanser.
2. Mix in some maca
A Peruvian superfood with a punch, an International Journal of Biomedical Science study shows this potent powder supports the endocrine system and balances hormone production. As acne is the result of hormonal imbalance, a small scoop of maca (about ¼ of teaspoon) will make your hormones a little happier. Side note: the earthy flavour is intense so I add it to my berry smoothie to mask the flavour.
3. Cleanse and cleanse again!
Beauty editors always bang on about double cleansing, but I get it now. If like me, you tend to wash off your makeup with cleanser (because #lazy) then the second round of cleansing is really the first proper cleanse. As our skin is exposed to harmful soil, toxins and chemicals every day (which contribute to roughly 40 per cent of deaths worldwide according to Cornell University), it’s not only gross but kind of scary. So, repeat after me – rinse, scrub, repeat. Don’t get too weighed down by having the right brand either; ultimately clean skin is healthy skin.
4. Fuel up on zinc
Confession: I’ve never been a fan of vitamins but zinc is a acne game changer. Both a naturopath and friend referred me to zinc and I haven’t looked back. Zinc’s role is to help skin cell renewal and studies have found ‘zinc sulphate’ in particular is effective in helping acne inflammation. So, whether as a supplement or sourced naturally in foods – such as beef, chicken, nuts, chickpeas, beans, yoghurt, and spinach – the main thing is to opt for a method that you will actually integrate into your life and consume daily.
5. Hydration is key
Before you leave the house, check your phone, hit the gym, or down a coffee, remeber to drink up. Our body is made up of approximately 60 per cent water, which means when we lack water, our skin suffers and becomes less supple. By making a conscious effort to drink water you’ll boost it from lacklustre and dry (in my case flaky as a result of drying out pimples) to glowing and dewy. And who doesn’t want dewy looking skin? Get in the habit of carrying a drink bottle everywhere, and ALWAYS refuel post-coffee or beach (my downfall) as both tend to set your hydration levels back big time.
6. Oil up
Contrary to how it sounds, oil on oily skin can work wonders, especially if it’s rosehip oil. I first fell in love with rosehip when I was looking for a solution to cure my dry skin, but it became a powerful scar healing solution post-pill. With high levels of essential fatty acids (omega 3, 6 and 9), rosehip oil works to repair the skin’s membranes and acts an antimicrobial, thereby repairing skin tissue and preventing bacteria from spreading. Massage one to two drops of a 100 per cent organic rosehip oil into face before bed, allowing it to seep into the skin before hitting the sack.
7. Wash your pillow cases regularly
No one loves doing the laundry but when you discover pillow cases contain as much bacteria as toilet seats (according to a US study) let’s just say it instantly ups motivation. This realisation was the result of Googling why my cheeks kept producing pimples more than other zones. As it happens, sleeping with your cheek against a pillow that has the remnants of makeup, drool, sweat and skin cells (gross!) will do that. The New York University School of Medicine recommends washing pillow sets at least once per week, or if you’ve got more than one pillow like me, rotate between them so you aren’t a slave to your laundry.
8. Up your exercise
The whole post sweat glow isn’t just a sweaty mirage. It’s legit. Studies show when we sweat we flush toxins from our body and clear blockages in our pores, and I experienced this first hand when I increased my exercise routine. I wound up doing seven to eight exercise sessions a week over the month and power walking a lot, too. By the end I had a serious outward glow, but also found I experienced a boost in vitality, a decrease in anxiety and stress (formed as a result of breaking out), a little more confidence and deeper self love that ultimately allowed an inward glow.
9. Eat alkaline
Elle Macpherson and Gisele Bundchen are all about it, and I’m all about their glow so I knew I was onto a winning diet. The alkaline diet focuses on eating foods that hydrate the body and skin, and balance your blood’s pH levels. By incorporating more greens (kale, spinach, celery and silverbeet), orange and red foods like sweet potato and tomatoes, having the right acidic foods (lemons and apple cider vinegar), reducing red meat and cutting back on dairy and refined foods your skin will radiate, promise!
10. Practise kindness
This was – and still is – my biggest challenge. When I first developed acne as a teen I formed a pretty intense hatred with it and myself. One comment from a popular girl at school became a scar deeper than any pimple could have created. After that I began squeezing the life out of any blemish that surfaced, hoping to rid it from my life and somehow alleviate the pain and disgust it had inflicted. Of course this only perpetuated hate, spread bacteria and created an anxiety that crippled me and left me wanting to control and ‘extract’ all blemishes from my life. It took talking to someone and understanding the psychology of ‘why’ and acknowledging how my mental health influenced my behaviour to create a habit of change. Now when I’m alone in the mirror I acknowledge my emotional state and aim to lovingly touch or wash my skin (using palms more than fingertips or nails), using affirmations that reinforce love not hate.