How I cleared my acne naturally: DUTCH hormone testing experience

If you’ve been following my acne story for a while, you’ll know I’ve tried absolutely everything to clear my skin. Antibiotics, topical treatments, accutane, spironolactone, various supplements (which were previously based on guesswork) – the lot.

Accutane worked for a couple of years, spironolactone worked while I was on it, and topical treatments like tretinoin have definitely played a role in keeping my acne manageable. But a few months back, after 10+ years of sore, spotty skin, I was desperate to try a different route – one that kept my skin clear for good.

I was on a mission to clear my acne naturally and signed up with a hormone specialist to get my nutrient levels, thyroid and hormones tested. This way, I could see what was actually going on inside and make diet and lifestyle changes based on the findings.

I was sceptical at first. I’ve tried so many different diet changes (dairy-free and sugar-free, for example) in the past and saw minimal improvement. I’d also tried countless supplements, so  wondered how could be any different.

But thankfully, it was – and I want to share a piece of that magic with you! Here’s exactly how I cleared my acne naturally, with the help of the DUTCH hormone test and a load of diet and lifestyle changes.

My skin after I cleared my acne naturally

How I cleared my acne naturally

First of all, if you’re looking for a blog that says ‘take this supplement, take that supplement and cut out these specific foods’, this isn’t it. Clearing your acne naturally means finding the imbalances, deficiencies and intolerances that are affecting your health personally – and that’s going to be different for absolutely everyone.

1. Finding a provider

The first thing I did was research various providers/services that could help me test my hormones.

There were (and still are) loads of hormone tests available you can literally just send your blood off and get the results. The problem? I didn’t know which hormones I should actually test, whether these tests were reliable and trustworthy, or what the results actually meant (and how I should respond to them) once I got them back.

I wanted to work with someone/a company who’d discuss my symptoms (acne, amongst others, like painful periods and bloating), recommend the tests they thought I needed, and make recommendations based on my results.

That’s what lead me to Happy Hormones For Life, a UK-based company owned by Nicki Williams, who is a nutritionist, hormone & menopause expert. They offered me a discovery call to chat through my symptoms, which they used to recommend a range of tests, which I’ll talk through in the next section.

By the way, I paid for this all myself – it wasn’t sponsored in any way. But if you do end up using their services, I’d really appreciate it if you could mention my name (Alice Lang) if they ask you how you find out about them. They’ll give me a very small amount of commission, which I plan to use towards further testing of my gut, so I can see (and write about) whether that’s beneficial for acne sufferers, too.

2. Testing my nutrient levels & thyroid

The first test I took was the ‘Comprehensive screening panel’, which provided information on my:

  • Full blood profile
  • Inflammation
  • Kidney function
  • Liver function
  • Proteins
  • Gout
  • HbA1c (blood sugar)
  • Full iron status
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B12 & D
  • Folate
  • Full cholesterol profile
  • Advanced thyroid profile including antibodies

This was done via blood draw, by a mobile phlebotomist who came to my house. The process was super quick, simple and almost painless aside from a tiny little prick. Even if you’re a little nervous about having bloods taken, I promise you’ll get through it.

I wouldn’t even have considered having all these things tested if I’d have just chosen some random tests off the internet. I’m so glad I did, though, as it highlighted some deficiencies and thyroid issues that I’d have never known about otherwise, which were playing a wider role in my hormonal imbalances.

3. Testing my hormones using DUTCH Cycle Mapping

Next up – and the most time-consuming, and arguably most important of the two tests – was the DUTCH Cycle Mapping Test. According to DUTCH, this hormonal test ‘tracks the progesterone and estrogen pattern throughout the menstrual cycle and provides the full picture of a woman’s cycle to answer important questions for patients with month-long symptoms’.

Sure, you can get cheaper hormone tests – or, if you’re lucky, you might be able to get a one-off blood hormone test from your GP – but for women with hormonal acne that ebbs and flows with their hormonal cycle, testing hormones on a single day isn’t always enough. After all, your results might come back ‘normal’ on the day you took the test  – but what about the other 28 days of the month?

For this test, I had to wee on a strip, first thing in the morning, for an entire month. On one day, towards the end, I had to wee on four different strips at different times of the day. It’s super easy  – the only thing I struggled with is actually remembering to do it once I woke up, as for best results, it needed to be the first wee of the day.

I also had to make sure each strip was clearly labelled with the time, date and day of my cycle, so it was slightly faffy on busy work day mornings, but well worth the effort. After the samples were complete, I just had to fill in a form and send them back to the labs.

Using DUTCH hormone test for hormonal acne

4. Getting my results

The last part of the process was simply getting my results back. This was the point I felt so relieved that I worked with a practioner, rather than just ordering a random test off the internet. I would’ve had no idea what all the graphs and charts and numbers meant, and how to respond to them, if I hadn’t had my nutritonist to guide me through them.

It feels slightly pointless telling you my results, as mine are guaranteed to be different to yours. But, just in case anyone is interested, here’s a super quick summary:

Nutrient levels/thyroid irregularities

  • Higher than optimal blood glucose: My levels weren’t worryingly high, but they weren’t optimal for my age, so this needed work, especially as research blood sugar irregularities can impact acne.
  • Low vitamin D: I almost expected this, as I live up North in the UK and work indoors. Vitamin D contributes to hormonal health, so to clear up my skin for good, this needed addressing.
  • Thyroid autoimmunity: Overall, my thyroid levels were normal. However, there was a prescent of thyroid antibodies, which can increase the risk of thyroid autoimmune diseases in the future.

DUTCH test/hormonal irregularities

Low total oestrogen

Essentially, my oestrogen levels were (and maybe still are, but we’re working on fixing it) low throughout my cycle.

I was SO shocked by this. For years and especially because a Vietnamese doctor (when I lived there) told me he was certain I had PCOS I thought I had high androgens/testestorne. I had no idea that estrogen was actually the issue, and never really considered that it could be. After all, the majority of things I’ve read have always pointed towards testosterone being the problem in most women with hormonal acne.

The lesson here? Everybody is so different and it’s pointless trying to pinpoint the cause of your hormonal acne yourself. I never would’ve known estrogen was my issue if I hadn’t taken these tests; so I’d probably still be trying supplements and medications that target androgens instead of estrogen.

(As soon as I heard about this, I was like, ah – so that’s why my mental health has been up and down like a literal rollercoaster these past few years).

High E3

Ok, so excuse me if I’m really bad at explaining this one, because I’m no health professional. But essentially, the body makes three main estrogens: E1, E2 and E3.

Estriol (E1) is the main estrogen present in the body after menopause. Estradiol (E2) is the strongest estrogen and is present in the body before menopause. Estriol (E3) is the weakest estrogen and is present in the body primarily during pregnancy.

So despite having low estrogen overall, my E3 levels specifically, were higher than they should be as a non-pregnant adult female. This can be linked with PMS, tender breasts, painful and/or heavy periods, anxiety, water retention, bloating, sleep issues, mood issues and skin issues. And I was experiencing many, if not most, of those issues.

I would go into more detail about the cause of this if I could, but honestly, it’s far too complicated for my non-medically-qualified brain to even attempt.

Low cortisol upon waking

Overall, my adrenal (which includes cortisol) were well balanced. However, my cortisol levels were low upon waking, while cortisone is high mid-morning. According to my nutritionist, this indicated there was some adrenal dysregulation.

The diet & lifestyle changes I had to make

Based on the results above, my nutritionist recommended a huge range of diet and lifestyle changes. We implemented these gradually, so it wasn’t too overhwleming, and I found most of it fairly manageable.

Remember that these recommendations are personal to me and my results. The changes you’ll need to implement to clear up your skin will be totally different to mine, so don’t waste your time or money on following my protocol.

Using a range of supplements

I now take:

  • Vitamin D: I use 2x sprays daily of the BetterYou D1000 Daily Oil Spray and will continue doing so indefinitely, especially in the winter. 
  • Magnesium glycinate: Magnesium can have a positive impact on both stress and sleep, which is useful to me both due to the night sweats I was experiencing, and the cortisone issue. I use the Focus Supplements Magnesium. You can get cheaper forms of magnesium, but glycinate is much, much better absorbed.
  • DIM: I was already taking DIM for my acne, and continue to do so, as it benefits estrogen metabolism, which is clearly an issue for me. My DIM of choice is the Focus Supplements DIM.
  • Cysteine Complex: This support oestrogen detox, which again, is helping to combat my high E3 issue.
  • Vegan omega 3: I was already taking this for general health, however, I’ve increased my dose to support inflammation and hormone production.
  • Multivitamin: Again, I was already taking this to support my general health. I use OmVits, as they use the most bioavailable forms of each nutrient, but are fairly priced.

Going 100% gluten-free

Popping a few pills (supplements, obv) everyday is easy, but going 100% gluten-free?! Not so much. I’m already vegan for ethical reasons, so going gluten-free was (and still is) a little tough until you find your feet with it.

Why gluten-free, you ask? I had the same question, especially as I didn’t have too many digestive concerns. For one, my thyroid results showed that antibodies were present, which significantly increases my chances of a thyroid autoimmune disease in the future. Following a gluten-free diet has been shown, via extensive research, to reduce thyroid antibodies.

Secondly, gluten is a known disruptor of hormones, estrogen included. Therefore, my nutritionist feels that gluten could be playing a role in my overall hormonal imbalance.

So, while it’s a faff, I’m so willing to do it because it’ll benefit my long-term health, as well as my acne. When I’m at home, it’s easy. I didn’t eat much bread anyway and I’ve found a gluten-free pasta I enjoy, amongst other things.

It’s when I’m at other people’s houses, or out for dinner, that it becomes trickier. I have slipped up quite often, but overall, I must’ve reduced my gluten consumption by 80%.

Balancing my blood sugar

Encouraging steadier blood sugar, without peaks and troughs, is all about what you eat and how you eat it and encompasses so many different things. But put simply, here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Avoiding naked carbs: Eating a big bowl of chips or pasta, without any protein, fat or fibre alongside it, for example, is a sure fire way to spike your blood sugar levels – so wherever possible, I avoid that now
  • Eating more protein & fat: Eating more protein (as a vegan, for me, that’s foods like tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes) and fat (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil etc) alongside carbs, helps to slow down digestion and reduce blood sugar spikes.
  • Choosing fibrous carbs over processed carbs: Fibrous carbs like chickpeas, beans, lentils, quinoa and sweet potato contain more fibre than simple carbs like pasta and white rice. This means they take longer to digest and have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels.
DIM supplements in the UK

My results (and what my skin looks like now)

I actually can’t believe how well this has worked. Like, I’m literally shock. I’ve had acne for over 10 years and I never, ever, would’ve believed anyone who said I could clear it up without another round of harsh medications like acne, or without going on the pill.

My skin is clear, like really clear, other than a few spots when I’m on my period. My ovulation acne has gone, which is absolutely insane, as this was my real problem point of the month. I had already had positive results with DIM alone, but since going gluten-free and making the other changes, my skin is even clearer.

Here’s what my skin has looked like before I made any lifestyle changes, and here’s what it looks like now, other than the very, very, rare spot (rarer than it’s ever been before). After over a decade of acne, my skin is by no means perfect (hiiiiii, scars), but I’m super happy with it regardless.

Before and after DUTCH hormone testing for acne

I know that many people raise their eyebrows at natural/lifestyle-based treatments/protocols. But unless you’ve tried and failed with all the harsh, conventional, NHS acne treatments and experienced how hard it is to get the system to take women’s health/hormonal health seriously, they really wouldn’t understand.

How to clear YOUR acne naturally

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking ‘great, you’ve cleared your acne naturally, but how do I go about clearing my own?’. Well, my first recommendation would be to seek help from a hormone specialist (like Happy Hormones For Life, if you’re in the UK) who can listen to your concerns, guide you on which tests could benefit you the most, and talk you through your results and what they actually mean.

But – and it’s a big but – I totally understand that this isn’t an affordable route for many people. If that’s the case, there are a few lifestyle and dietary changes that I’d recommend trying that are likely to benefit you regardless of the specific cause of your acne.

(I’ve since written a huge guide on how to clear YOUR acne naturally).

1. Try an elimination diet

Whether it’s Instagram, blogs or magazines, you’ve probably heard of numerous people cutting out dairy or gluten and miraculously clearing up their persistent acne. And it’s true – these foods, for some, can definitely be a trigger. For me, dairy definitely worsened (but wasn’t the sole cause) my acne, while cutting out gluten was the final step I needed to see clear skin.

But that won’t be the case for everyone – so there’s no need to cut out food groups for the sake of it. The answer? Try an elimination diet. This means cutting out one – and only one – type of food at a time, for a prolonged period of time. This will allow you to pinpoint which food types are actually having an impact on your skin, so you don’t have to cut out everything unneccesarily.

For example, you might start with gluten. Try your best to cut it out of your diet for at least a month – but really, the longer the better – and see how it impacts your skin. If your skin doesn’t improve, that’s one possible trigger crossed out. Do the same with dairy and any other foods you suspect might be having an impact. For some, sugar can be a trigger, so trying a low-sugar diet for a couple of months could be another good strategy.

Whatever you do though, make sure you’re only making one significant change at a time. This way, you’ll actually be able to figure out what helped and what didn’t.

2. Improve your gut health

Gut health has become a bit of a health industry buzzword of late, but for good reason. Your gut literally impacts everything – your immunity, your digestion and, yes, your skin. Plus, if you’ve been on endless rounds of antibiotics and accutane for your acne (like I have), they could have had a negative impact on your gut health.

Some simple things you can do to improve your gut health (and, hopefully, your skin) include:

  • Eating more whole foods: Try to eat more fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and grains (plus fish and good quality meat, if you eat those foods), whilst relying less on processed foods (basically, most stuff that comes in a packet, that has an endless list of ingredients).
  • Eating a wider diversity of plants: One of the biggest ever gut health studies concluded that people who eat a wider variety of plants had more good gut bacteria than those who ate fewer. So, this means eating lots of different types and colours of fruits, veg, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes – the more, the better!
  • Trying fermented foods: Kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, some pickles, sauerkraut – fermented foods are great for your gut, so if you can, try to eat them a couple of times per week. I know they can be expensive, so why not try making your own sauerkraut? It’s affordable and, once you’ve done it once, super duper easy.

3. Try good quality supplements

Supplements are a tricky one, because without testing, it’s hard to know what you actually need. But there are a few supplements that are likely to benefit the majority of people, and might (but not always – so proceed with caution if your budget is tight) improve your skin in the process.

  • Vitamin D: A huge proportion of adults in the UK are low on vitamin D – thanks to our crappy weather. Vitamin D plays a role in hormonal health, so this is a good one for the vast majority of acne sufferers to test out. I use the BetterYou Vitamin D spray – it’s affordable and well-absorbed, too.
  • Magnesium: Stress and sleep quality can have a huge impact on your overall health and your skin. Magnesium is great for both, so for most people, I’d say it’s worth a try. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my sleep, which no doubt is helping to keep my hormones in check. I use Magnesium Glycinate from Focus Supplements (not all forms of magnesium are as well-absorbed as glycinate, so be careful about the form you take).
  • Omega 3: If you don’t eat oily fish often, you might not be getting enough omega 3. Omega 3s play a wide range of important roles in the body, including promoting healthy hormone function, specifically with your reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. I use a vegan omega 3 supplement from Omvits.
  • Multivitamin: At the very least, I’d recommend trying a good quality multivitamin for a few months to see if you notice and positive impacts on your general health and acne. I use the multivitamin from Omvits, as it contains the most bioavailable form of each vitamin. Quality does matter when it comes to supplements, especially vitamins – some contain such poor-quality forms of each nutrient that you barely absorb anything.
Tips to clear your acne naturally

So, that’s all from me on the subject of how to clear your acne naturally. I hope it helped you in some way.

I’m someone who thought I’d never, ever have clear skin. I honestly thought that acne, feeling insecure in my bare skin, and wanting to cancel on events because I felt shit about myself was something I’d have to deal with forever.

But nope. You CAN have clear skin and you will have clear skin. It sometimes takes a while to find a solution (in my case, years), but there is a solution. And in the meantime, I hope you know you’re an actual fucking superhuman superstar for dealing with a condition that society deems as ugly (incorrect btw), yet getting out there and doing your thang anyway.

One thing that having acne for so long taught me is that… that shit really doesn’t matter. You are you, with the same strengths, qualities, skills and talents, whether you’ve got clear skin or breakouts, dark circles or bright eyes, scars or no scars.

So don’t let that shit hold you back, no matter what stage of your journey you’re at!

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2 responses to “How I cleared my acne naturally: DUTCH hormone testing experience”

  1. Maddy says:

    Alice–thanks for this article. After reading about your experience, I cut out gluten as an experiment and my cystic acne improved sooo much! Also have implemented many of the suggested lifestyle changes. I did this while working with a naturopath and getting tests done to confirm that these would be helpful. You’re the best!

    • Alice says:

      Hey Maddy! Thanks so much for commenting, it’s SO nice to hear this.

      I’m really glad cutting out/reducing gluten worked for you 🙂 It was a great move for me too, and surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it.

      I hope you continue to see improvements in your skin, but know you’re a m a z i n g with acne or no acne. Sending lots of love! xxx

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