The Surprising Thing That Finally Stopped My Breakouts

Up until this past July, I was a supplement virgin. I avoided (and felt mystified by) their dedicated aisle in Whole Foods, assuming Equinox trainers were the only shoppers to venture into the area. While I do take women’s gummy vitamins, I never even considered keeping a jar of pills on my counter. Until, of course, I did. After months of feeling like my hair was too thin and weak, dealing with nails that broke regularly, and battling the acne that kept popping up along my jawline, I hit my breaking point. I've tried just about everything on the Sephora shelves except for one thing: supplements (in cute bottles, to boot). Could they help? It was worth trying — even if it meant taking more pills than my grandpa did at 85. That's how I ended up popping eight pills a day in pursuit of beauty. Now, the only other daily pill I'd been taking was my chewable birth control — a tablet so small that I sometimes lose it. And again, chewable. So yeah, you could say I'm not so great with big pills meant to be swallowed. Not only was actually getting them down a task, so was remembering to take them in the first place. My coworker attempted to get on the regimen with me, but dropped out after a few days, because she kept forgetting — even if she set an alarm. And if they're aren't taken every day, don't expect to see progress.
But let's get to the product. While the supplements are sold in Sephora, as with any new addition to your health routine, make sure to run this decision by your physician. Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, says if you're searching for a more natural remedy to help a basic beauty concern, then there’s no harm in considering the supplement route. (The ones I took are not FDA-approved, but I could pronounce every ingredient on the list and ran them by my derm just to be safe.) My issues are minimal enough that a minor adjustment to my daily routine is often enough to make a difference — my acne is mild and I don't suffer from intense scalp or hair damage — but if you're struggling with severe problems, don't expect this to be a magic solution by any means. Right off the bat, this new routine was not smooth sailing. As I said, I hate swallowing pills, so it was sayonara to the massive, smelly fish oil one. Then, I cut out the detox pill, which made me break out in hives from an allergic reaction. (I know it was that one, because I took it at a different time than the others.) By the second week, I was down to five bottles and eight pills (you take two of some): Red Carpet (vitamin E and black currant seed oil might strengthen hair and make skin glow), Killer Nails, Here Comes The Sun (which claims to boost skin brightness with vitamin D), Big Chill (which contains rhodiola for possible stress relief), and Moody Bird (which supposedly helps with PMS symptoms). Big Chill gave me the jitters — like I was jacked-up on caffeine — because I was taking it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. I was told by Athena Meshkin, education manager at Hum Nutrition, that this typically doesn't happen as a side effect, so I switched to taking it before bed, which made a world of a difference. Moody Bird made me feel calm and relaxed within 30 minutes of popping it — after a mentally grueling day, it noticeably put me at ease. In terms of mood, those two worked wonders for the eight weeks I took them. But what about my skin, hair, and nails? I wondered about the benefits and questioned how trustworthy my own eyes were a month-and-a-half into my new regimen. Did my nails really look longer? Did my hair really feel healthier? The only thing I felt convinced about was that my skin looked radiant and clear. So I tested what would happen if I stopped taking both Moody Bird and Big Chill, but continued to take the others for one long weekend. Come Monday morning, I had an inflamed, angry pimple sprouting on my chin — the sweet spot for all my breakouts. I hadn't had a single red spot in almost a month-and-a-half, but here it was, just three days off Moody Bird and Big Chill.
We know stress and hormones play a role in the way our skin looks, but this much? Dr. Zeichner broke it down: Increases in stress can lead to a peek in cortisol and "when you have increases in cortisol and related hormones, it can increase your hormone production and lead to breakouts." But are plant and root extracts actually a legitimate remedy? Dr. Zeichner explains that plant extracts can have pharmaceutical effects on the body. "A lot of the medications we prescribe have root indignations, so when drugs are developed, they use nature as a bouncing board,” he says. According to beauty chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, by digesting the ingredients present in these supplements — chaste berry (hippie Midol), dong quai (more PMS help), and rhodiola rosea root extract (might increase energy) — I wasn't doing anything too out-of-the-box. She says there is some research to suggest these ingredients may help. Although Wilson says some studies are "less than stellar," others are still legitimate enough to not write off as completely bogus. Now, I'm a little nervous to wean my body off these supplements. Realistically, there are changes I should make in my diet and work and home environments that would likely give me the same results the pills do, but I still eat macaroni and cheese when I'm drunk, I haven't done much to control my stress levels at work, and I probably won't ever purchase dong quai from a health store. Since spot treatments don't do much for my skin and I tend to get scars from both my period and non-period acne, I feel okay about taking eight pills a day for some relief. Could this have all been a big placebo effect? Possibly. I could've positively manifested my skin to look a bit more radiant (if you believe in that sort of thing). But Dr. Zeichner says it's not all that unusual. "If you’re taking something, a placebo effect is a very powerful effect. If you think about what stress can do — feeling relaxed because you’re taking a pill isn’t much different than doing yoga." On the flip side, perhaps the herbs do really live up to their promise. In which case, my new sense of optimism is just a damn good side effect.

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