My Secret to Stopping Cystic Acne Has Nothing to Do with Creams or Serums

Sometimes you're betrayed by the things you love.
Publish date:
April 19, 2016
nutrition, acne, dairy, cystic acne, diet, Elimination Diets

I have what I like to call, not so lovingly, a crater nose. It's all thanks to seriously terrible cystic acne that flared up in my teens and followed me well into my twenties.

This past fall, I went through a really terrible elimination diet with my doctor, trying to figure out why everything I ate seemed to hurt my stomach, but I ended up sorting out something else I had issues with: my cystic acne. I discovered the solution to the years of painful, enormous bumps nothing seemed to get rid of.

First off, let's talk about elimination diets and how much they suck. They suck. A lot. It's a pretty miserable experience cutting out virtually everything and eating the most bland meals for weeks on end. But you know what? It's a necessary evil when all other options have been exhausted.

I went all out. I bought cold-pressed olive oil and a $20 jar of ghee. My meals were boring, but the bloat went away and I could introduce things (slowly) back into my diet. It went like this: if something didn't cause any sort of reaction, I was golden. If something did, I had to go back to the basics and try again a week or so later.

Elimination diets are slow, but pretty helpful when you know something is throwing you out of whack but aren't sure exactly what. I mean, for the longest time I really thought it might be gluten. I was so dead-set on getting a straight answer, I went to a consultation to get a tube stuck down my throat to get a stomach sample. The thought of being put under for this really freaked me out, and I backed out of the appointment. What can I say? Anesthesia freaks me out.

I continued on my boring little journey until I tried eating cheese and immediately had a reaction. When I eat cheese, sour cream, or toss some cream in my coffee, I cough. Immediately. I also get weird stomach pains like something is trying to claw its way out of my gut — like glass is just hanging out down there, rattling around in my insides. My stomach bloats up about two dress sizes and feels like my insides are trying to burst out through my rib cage. Just an incredibly painful, insanely dramatic reaction.

I also noticed my skin broke out in about two days, and in the painful, unforgiving way I'd grown accustomed to. This had to be it.

In the months since, I've tried eating dairy once (read: I had a huge pizza craving) to the same, disappointing results. Almost immediately, a bout of cystic acne crept up into my life. But it also left a little faster, which I'm going to attribute to the fact that I don't continue to eat dairy. I'm not feeding whatever it is in my body that likes to turn delicious bites of brie into painful, scarring sores under my skin. It's gross, but true!

As much as it pains me to avoid cheese boards, pizza and cream in my coffee. I have found some alternatives. Silk makes an awesome almond-milk coffee creamer I buy in their vanilla flavor. Tofutti sour cream is a perfect replacement for the real thing, and stores like my favorite Yam Chops and Hogtown Vegan are popping up all over my city, offering things like vegan mac and cheese and Caesar salads.

Do I miss dairy? Of course. It was a rough Christmas/holiday season not being able to dig into the fancy cheese spreads presented to me, but in the time since, I've noticed a huge change in my skin. I still have breakouts, but the amount of cystic acne I'm dealing with is basically null.

I really can't express how much ditching dairy has affected my skin, and in a way I was never expecting. As much as I love cheese, I love not having painful cysts under my skin one after the next significantly more.

  • Do you have cystic acne?
  • Have you ever tried cutting out dairy?
  • Is there a food you love but have a bad reaction to?