Acne and ED, Part II: The Never Ending Detox

According to the vegan blogosphere and their best-selling spokespeople, the best way for me to get all the benefits of my new vegan experience was to not only clean out my body from the inside out, but also from the outside in. In truth, it really does matter what you’re putting on your body as much as it matters what you put into it. And far be it from me, the queen of perfectionism, to half-ass a detox.

So, out with the whey powder and out with the shampoo.

If you’ve ever been brave enough to try to turn over the bottle and read the ingredient list on any of you’re beauty products, I commend you for at least making the effort–because I couldn’t pronounce a single component of any of mine. Not only did parsing the ingredient list make me feel slightly illiterate, I was also kind of frightened. What, exactly, had I been absorbing into my body?!

I found an amazing vegan, natural blogger called Bonzai Aphrodite (by way of a carefully worded Google search) who wrote about her experiences going “no-poo.” And while the title is a bit off-putting, the concept made a lot of sense: stop washing your hair with shampoo and conditioner and just let the natural oils balance. Apparently commercial shampoos and conditioners are an unnecessary modern convenience, and the practice of shampooing daily has only been in place since the advent of widespread indoor plumbing–but in employing these methods of cleaning our hair, we’ve actually upset the balance of oils that naturally occur on our scalps. When we use shampoo to wash the oils away, we actually stimulate more oil production than natural, and therefore need to keep using the shampoo to avoid looking like complete greaseballs.

Me with very short hair

It also helps that I continually cut my hair shorter and shorter as the vegan experiment dragged on… (Broke down and put on concealer in this picture)

Fortunately, there’s a fix: just stop using shampoo and conditioner. Instead, mixtures of baking soda and water and apple cider vinegar and water become your new shampoo and conditioner. Sure, there’s a several-week-long adjustment period in which your hair will overproduce oil as it gets used to going au naturel, but it’s worth it in the long run because you spare your skin the harsh chemicals and your wallet the unnecessary costs of commercially produced hair products.

So, I sucked it up and wore a hat for several weeks until my hair adjusted. (I also relied heavily on cornstarch to soak up any excess oil and keep my hair somewhat tame.)

And I didn’t stop there.

After intense acne-forum research I stumbled upon even more uses for my new bottle of apple cider vinegar. As it turns out, even the most “gentle” soaps out there are toxic, so I threw all of my soaps, creams, and toners away. Instead I turned to ACV. Apparently it is a centuries old tonic for skin problems–used both internally and externally. I began my mornings with a tablespoon of ACV diluted in a glass of water, and I also used as a toner after I washed my face with water.

My detox also meant giving up things like makeup and deodorant as well. Makeup was hard to part with, mainly because the only makeup I ever used was concealer.* Going bare-faced was humbling, but I was willing to suck it up, since the only people who ever saw me anymore were my coworkers/roommates and the random strangers who came into my store who I would never see again anyway. Deodorant was the hardest. I tend to be a sweat-er–in fact, I had started using the clinical strength stuff while I was living in NY. But since moving to Florida, I had already given up the antiperspirant, what with all the rumors about the aluminum mimicking estrogen and causing breast cancer. So giving up deodorant altogether was the next logical step. Fortunately two things made the transition easier: 1) Bonzai Aphrodite (the no ‘poo gal) had a recipe for an all-natural preparation using baking soda and coconut oil, and 2) when I became a vegan, I stopped sweating.**

But despite all of my best efforts, the acne didn’t clear up. And the red rash around my mouth (my “goatee”) got worse. I continued my feverish Google searching until I stumbled upon a possible diagnosis for the rash: perioral dermatitis.  And while a Google Image Search returned some cases much worse than my own, there were a few pictures that looked eerily similar.  And, upon further research, I figured out the culprit: toothpaste.

If you use any commercially popular toothpaste, you’re introducing all sorts of chemicals into and around your mouth, including two called Sodium Laurel Sulfate and Ammonium Laurel Sulfate. Their only purpose in the toothpaste (and in shampoos and soaps) is to help produce the familiar lather that makes you feel like you’re getting clean.*** These sulfates are finally being recognized as huge irritants–which is why so many shampoo brands are quick to advertise their “sulfate free” formulas these days.

Turns out that SLS is a major cause of perioral dermatitis. And so I suffered for years because I was too busy investing in Colgate and Crest, when all I needed to do was read the ingredient list. (There’s also some speculation that fluoride might also be a contributor to PD, so I did some research to find a brand of toothpaste that contained none of the potential irritants.) I went out to Whole Foods and bought a tube of Jason Powersmile (SLS and fluoride free!). The PD cleared up almost immediately.

Too bad it didn’t help with the rest of my face.

– K.

*And cheap eyeliner. The kind that smudges like crazy and never completely comes off even after using makeup remover. In fact, Lysander used to joke that he’d never seen me without eyeliner, even after we had lived together for two months. Why didn’t I buy anything less crappy? Because for an investment of $1.99, I didn’t really care if anyone ever saw me 100% without makeup. I’m cheap, what can I say? (This stuff is really crap, but it’s the only eyeliner I had bought since high school…)

**Except for during Bikram sessions, of course. It’s pretty much impossible not to sweat while balancing on one leg for 90 minutes in excessive heat.

***In Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, the author discusses how lather is more of a marketing ploy than a cleaning tool.  When you brush your teeth, you feel the sensory cue of lather which implies the reward of clean teeth. You develop of a routine around the cue/reward, and thus keep buying toothpaste because you implicitly feel cleaner. For more on SLS and habit, check out this blog post.

2 thoughts on “Acne and ED, Part II: The Never Ending Detox

  1. I am really glad you are writing about this. Although I am still veg, going vegan actually made my skin worse too, and I felt like a failure given all this information you also read! So many promises of perfect skin and ‘clean’ insides (and outsides!). For me it was going low FODMAP that finally worked, but it was painful and embarassing. Particularly because ever ‘specialist’ I saw tended to blame it on my diet (though the wrong aspect of my diet), and so it became a never ending quest for the perfect vegan diet. Turns out it was actually that going vegan meant I was eating way more beans, grains, fruits, and certain vegetables that fall into the high FODMAP category. Doh.

    • I’m glad that I’m not alone in this…I was SO beyond frustrated, and I honestly thought I was incompetent or something. I’m so glad that you found your answer by eliminating FODMAPS. As I’ll be writing about soon, I found a similar protocol to work for me–I went with a Paleo/autoimmune diet, and actually found out about some food allergies that I didn’t know I had. I learned a ton about the benefits of n=1 nutrition: instead of just worrying about following the diet of the week (or worse taking tons of meds for the rest of my life), I just listened to my body and tweaked as necessary…

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