'These Three Natural Products Helped Cure My Cystic Acne'

By Erika Westhoff as told to Maddy Zollo Rusbosin
Photo credit: Erika Westhoff

From Women's Health

I never used to think about skincare at all. I was very go with the flow, doing and eating whatever I wanted, so when cystic acne appeared when I turned 21, I was blindsided.

“I saw cystic acne as a personal attack by my skin.”

From there, I started trial and error with products-throwing every type of acid that I could find on my face. At one point, I was buying at least one new product a week. But there was no routine. I would just apply whatever rotation of products I decided was good for that day, and sometimes it took me an hour to use all the products that I had.

According to Dr. Sarah Villafranco, the founder of Osmia Organics (the natural skincare line that eventually cured my cystic acne), what I was doing wasn't unusual. “There’s this feeling among people with substantial acne that you can scrub it off,” she explains. “Over exfoliating complicates the situation. It compromises the skin’s ability to retain water, leading to more inflammation, and it allows the skin to be more vulnerable to bacteria from the outside.”

At the time, it never even crossed my mind to go see a dermatologist. Looking back, it’s crazy that I wouldn’t think to bring an expert in. I thought that the internet made me an expert. Other people thought they were experts too. Complete strangers would walk up to me on the street and start giving me advice. It was one of those things where I was already conscious about [my cystic acne] but the fact that other people were commenting on it so much, amplified my awareness. Those people thought they were helping, but it was a huge drawback to what I was already thinking about myself.

“Makeup could take anywhere from one to three hours.”

Going out was a very elaborate ritual that had to be planned for. There were no spontaneous outings-it’d have to be set in stone at least a day ahead of time so I could set aside time for makeup. It was definitely anxiety-inducing if someone said, Oh, want to go to the store? and I had already taken off my makeup for the day. Either I wouldn't go or I'd say we have to go to Walmart because it's 24 hours. It couldn’t be a store that was going to be closing anytime soon, because I needed plenty of time to put on my face.

I didn't do a basic makeup application either: I would do layers, baking, and contouring. I went zero or I went a hundred, there was no in between. My face wasn’t my face if it was bare. In retrospect, that was very dysmorphic thinking.

“I need to stop.”

In many aspects, emotionally and physically, I hit an all-time low. Along with my rotation of products, I began using higher percent of acid and daily exfoliation, which wasn’t a good combo for me. My skin was really, really red and angry (as evidenced in the photo below). Eventually, I had a breakdown, but that’s when I had a light bulb moment.

Photo credit: Erika Westhoff

I realized I needed to stop: I needed to slow down and breathe, and re-figure out what I was doing and where I wanted to be. After that, I went back to the basics: Rinsing with water and making sure I used sunscreen. I let my skin take a breather from everything I had done to it. Allowing my skin to rest made me a lot less red. I wasn't one giant red patch anymore.

Here's what my acne looked like after I went back to basic skincare:

Photo credit: Erika Westhoff

The transition from "I want clear skin" to "I want healthier skin."

After reevaluating my views of skincare and self-care, I moved to Colorado when I graduated college and got a job Osmia Organics. It just fit in so many ways-not just because of the products and what they were geared to do, but also because the way that the company approached skincare spoke to me: That [skincare] isn’t a miracle cure but something to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

My new boss, Dr. Villafranco, asked if I wanted to try Osmia’s products. There was a little bit of anxiety about trying products again. It was definitely scary. I used to view using products as a punishment for my acne and for not having clear skin. Luckily, I found using Osmia’s three simple products wasn't a punishment, but instead a release at the end of the day and a ritual at the beginning. It was really nice coming back to a routine that was about taking care of my skin instead of fighting it.

The first product I used was the Black Clay Facial Soap. It uses black clay and mud from the Dead Sea. According to Dr. Villafranco, the ingredients are very mineral rich. The mud also has a high salinity that has an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. The second was the Balance Facial Serum that has black cumin seed oil to soothe and settle the skin, and then I applied the Spotless Blemish Oil.

“It's just a gentler approach,” Dr. Villafranco explains of the regimen she put me on. “You have to take the personal attack piece out of acne because if you're constantly looking in a mirror and thinking my face is doing this to me, you're putting yourself in a state of unbelievable stress.”

It was a slow and steady process. A few months into using these three products, I began to notice that my clusters had gone from thick acne patches to a couple of spots. I kept a face diary to track my progress and took a picture once a week to see the progression over time. My goal shifted from clear skin to healthy skin. Clear skin doesn't allow for setbacks or evolutions whereas for healthier skin it's more like an ongoing goal. I don't know if I'll ever truly meet that goal but it's one that I'm constantly working towards.

Here's the state of my skin after five months:


Photo credit: Erika Westhoff

“My skin is no longer my entire life.”

Now, my skin is not a constant thought of mine, and I no longer avoid reflective surfaces. It's not the first thought that I have when I wake up in the morning, and it's not the last one I have when I go to sleep at night.

It doesn’t matter what products you're using on your skin if you’re eating bad, not exercising, and not managing your stress. My journey’s taught me the whole health approach to skin is more critical than any individual product.

At the end of the day, even when I have little spots, I still grin at myself in the mirror and think "Hey, you're perfectly beautiful." And that’s something that has been a long time in the making.

Photo credit: Nick Slater

This article is part of Women's Health 2019 Skincare Week. Want more skin tips, product recommendations, and all things anti-acne?

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