Guest Author: KARINA KARUNWI
Full-time Project Engineer and the founder of The Ere Collective
On the Shea butter and kale corner of the internet, gut health has been all the rave recently – and for good reason. Our gut is our digestive system and it does a lot of the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting in our bodies. In addition to breaking down our food, it supports hormonal balance, mental health (did you know that 95% of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ is produced in the small intestine? Fun fact!) and of course, skin health.
In 2018, I made the decision to get off the birth control pill which was prescribed to me years ago in order to manage a common hormonal imbalance disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a common endocrine disorder which affects how a woman’s ovaries function and is related to irregular hormonal levels in the body. Although 1 in 10 women have the condition, it is said that only 50% of those women are diagnosed. PCOS shows up very differently in many women. Some symptoms include irregular periods, prolonged periods, weight fluctuations, hair loss, hirsutism (excessive facial hair) and acne. If your curiosity is piqued, you can delve a bit deeper into how PCOS shows up in this article where 17 women share their experience living with and managing PCOS.
In my early days of managing PCOS I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. As there’s not much known about the disorder, this is common for many women. Soon after getting on the pill, my skin went haywire. Puberty had been relatively kind to my skin so this was a new and honestly, a rather disheartening experience. My skin breaking out uncontrollably really did affect my self-esteem. Over the course of 8 months, I did a 180 in the kitchen. In hindsight, what I didn’t realise was that my ‘clean’ eating was me eating for my gut health. Our skin, being our largest organ, simply reflects what goes on inside.
(pictures of my journey)
The pill works tremendously for some women with PCOS however, I made the choice to go off it as I didn’t feel like I knew my body while on it. I felt like a stranger in my skin; figuratively and literally. I wanted to learn my body without medication and let me tell you sis, I have learnt. A major part of these lessons have been centred around my gut health. I got tired of feeling unwell, low on energy and bloated all the time so I decided to make a change.
PCOS, gut and skin health can be overwhelming from afar. On my Instagram page, I’m very vocal about the day-to-day of managing the condition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Lagos. As I share, I receive messages asking variations of the same question. “Where do I start?” I started simple-I kept a food diary in my notes on my phone. This is key to learning what your body needs. At the end of each week, I would note down what my body reacted negatively to and would cut it out the following week. Over time, bloating was no longer my perpetual state of being and my skin began to GLOW. It was the kind of glow that I noticed before people began paying me compliments.
I was encouraged by how much better I felt so I decided to go back to the drawing board of my skincare routine. My routine is rather basic but even at that, I changed a few of my products. I like to keep things as simple and close to their natural form as possible. I figured that eating mostly plant-based had done wonders for my health from the inside, so it would do the same topically. I went back to an old time favourite-diluted Apple Cider Vinegar as a toner. I had the concoction to thank years ago for clearing up my dark marks so it’s one I know and trust. In making these small but effective changes, I have watched my skin find its balance.
I would be doing us all a disservice if I didn’t mention that with skin and PCOS, this is not the norm. Although cute holistic wellness practices have worked well for my skin with PCOS, I am the minority. Hyperpigmentation, cystic acne and patches of dark skin on the back of necks and other areas (acanthosis nigricans) are all very common in women with PCOS and are very stressful to deal with. The oral contraceptive pill is a common treatment which works well for many women. Other treatments include anti-androgen drugs which decrease testosterone levels, retinoids and in many cases, diet.
Skin care, whether medicated or more natural, requires a routine and consistency. The main goal is to be well from the inside out and to feel comfortable in our skin. Confidence comes from a genuine awareness of our bodies as our home. Figuring out what your home needs to thrive takes time, so be patient with it