“So… I lost my drinking buddy?” Jessica said as she poured herself a lone glass of pinot noir.
“Yeah, it looks that way,” Ashley sighed resting her elbows on the kitchen island.
Jessica gazed into her glass like the secrets of the universe were in it, “I don’t get it. I’ve never seen any real evidence that alcohol has any direct effect on oily skin.”
“Well, it’s what Star said and right now I trust her,” Ashley said.
Jessica took a sip of wine and then lifted her finger off the glass, pointing at Ashley like a hard-nosed coach challenging a questioning player, “Well, while you’re doing research for the seaside skin guru, I’m going to do some of my own.”
“Oh yeah?” Ashley asked tapping the tips of her fingers together.
“Yep. And I’ll tell you what, if you’re not busy on Friday, we can reconvene and I’ll prove to you – over a glass of wine – that alcohol has no effect on your oily skin.”
“Can’t do it Friday, the family is getting together for my dad’s 65th at Filomena’s. What about Saturday?”
“Even better,” Jessica rasied her glass with a smile, “it will be a mimosa over brunch!”
A few days later as Ashley was getting ready for her dad’s dinner she started to whistle; she was happy about her skin. The progress she was seeing made sense and she had a feeling that her high hopes wouldn’t come crashing down like they’d done all-too-many times in the past.
It was a great little system she had going:
- Topical regimen of cleansing and applying facial oil in the morning, with cleansing and applying the green tea extract serum at night.
- A daily “good fats” meal that provided her with a solid base of raw materials along with the pre-meal beet powder, ACV, and ginger mixture that really helped her digestion.
And because of it, for the first time ever, she was ready to talk to her family about her skin in a positive way.
“Okay, everyone ready?” Ashley called out as she stepped out of her bedroom.
The kids came running out of their rooms and when Ashley got downstairs she saw Joe leaning against the front door. He held the Jeep’s keys up and gave them a little jingle. “Just waiting on you to get your nerves together” he said with a sideways smile as he opened the door.
Ashley nodded, she’d never been a big fan of social gatherings, but a lot of that had been the stress of too many people staring at her oily face.
Now things were different.
“Those nerves are old news, Joe,” she said with a wink as she brushed past her husband and stepped into the cool, dry air of the twilight.
Twenty minutes later they were walking through the door of Filomena’s and Ashley saw her sister, Laura, standing by the bar with a glass of white. Ashley went straight to her and after they did the quick sister hug, Laura asked how Star was treating her. Ashley told her about the detox, where she was at with her skin, her amazing adventures with new skincare, including the peppermint debacle, and of course, what a trip Star was.
“Yeah,” her sister laughed, “Star is something else and so is that peppermint oil. Dan is actually using it right now to try and improve his hair thickness for the wedding, or so he says.”
“Hey, I give him credit for trying, that stuff is wild,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, we’ll see what happens,”
Laura said waving at their father as he came around the bar, “if nothing else I’ll have the husband with the nicest smelling head!”
Ashley chuckled as Laura finished off her wine. And as the party rolled on, she discovered she could actually have a great time with zero alcohol.
Amazing pasta, luscious deserts and great company had a way of letting you lose yourself in the moment and Ashley realized she was having the best night she’d had in months – maybe even years.
And then she wiped her head.
Oil, lots of it.
‘What the hell!’ she screamed silently to herself.
Ashley rushed to the women’s room and the mirror confirmed the awful truth, her face was old school oily again. All her progress dust and bones. She returned to the party a shell of herself and struggled to make it through the rest of the night.
The next day she went searching for answers.
First the internet: “Does stress cause oily skin?” “Hormones and oily skin” “Anxiety and oily skin”
Bah. Nothing helpful.
Time to call Tommy.
“I don’t get it, things were going so well,” she told her brother, “And now… now,” Ashley felt herself choking up, “it’s like I’m all the way back to square one.”
“Relax, sis,” Tommy said like he was telling one of his clients to stop running to the scale every twenty minutes, “you’re not back to where you were. You just got zapped with the stress of the party, and honestly, your face didn’t even seem that oily to me.”
“Save it, Tommy,” Ashley said, “You could probably see your reflection in my forehead.” she gazed out the window at a bunch of leaves swirling in the wind, “I just don’t get why it went from so good to so bad almost instantly.”
“I’m telling you, Ash, your social anxiety got the best of you. Your body changes how it behaves under stress. Last night you probably found your threshold.”
“I just don’t remember it being this severe a reaction before,” Ashley said, “it’s like a weird spell turned my face into an oil slick.”
Tommy sighed, “Look, before, you probably started out oily and you didn’t notice when things got more oily. Your skin's getting better now, so you notice it more when it freaks out. I'm positive last night was just a situation where your body got pushed a little harder than it could handle, and creeped back into that dreaded state of exhaustion I told you about.”
Ashley knew her brother was trying to build her back up, but he was also speaking the truth, “I know, and I do have longer periods of being normal now.”
“Right. So we need to focus on what happens to your body right before you get exhausted; during the adaptive state.”
“The adaptive state,” Ashley repeated.
“Yes, it’s how your body manages stress.”
By this point Ashley felt like sandbags were hanging from her shoulders, “I think I’ve hit my max for new info right now, Tommy.”
“Relax, it’s not that complicated,” her brother said, “as we figured out, you hit a state of exhaustion last night and your skin went into oil overdrive. So, here’s a question, is your skin oily right now?”
“No,” Ashley said.
“Exactly,” Tommy said, “you’re not in an exhausted state. But I’m willing to bet that your skin isn’t 100% the way it should be either, right?”
Ashley touched her nose, “No.”
“Right, that’s because it’s in a state between normal and exhausted, the adaptive state. Now, it might not seem like your body is doing anything special at the moment, but while it's in this state, it’s actually working very hard to keep your skin normal. The problem is that it’s a constant tug of war. Your body wants balance, but stress keeps pulling you out of balance and towards exhaustion. When stress wins, your skin gets all oily again.”
“And that’s what happened last night?” Ashley asked.
“No doubt. If you go into a situation where your skin freaks out more than the situation calls for, it means you're in stress overload.”
“So this is going to happen every time I’m stressed?”
“Until your body handles stress in a more normal way, yeah, I think so.”
Ashley walked away from the window and sat down on her bed with a sigh. “So what can I do about it?”
“Well, upping the basics help, more exercise, more sleep. But there's something else too that I just need to do a little more research on first…”
Later that afternoon, Ashley met Jessica for their brunch and recapped her oily skin attack at the party.
Jessica leaned forward and lifted the glass of sparkling liquid - her treasured mimosa, “So remember how I told you that DHT is what triggers a lot of the oil on your face? Well, there are also internal triggers too.”
“You mean there are triggers that can control oily skin from the inside?” Ashley asked.
“Exactly,” she said taking a sip of the drink, “the main culprit are 2 hormones called..." Jessica took her iPhone off the table and tapped the screen. "Insulin and IGF-1. High levels of insulin will massively increase your sebum production,” she read.
“Insulin? Is that sugar related?”
Ashley asked glancing at the basket of frosted cakes at the side of the table.
“Carbs actually,” Jessica said, “And I’ll bet anything you ate a lot of them last night.”
“Yeah, Filomena’s is hardcore Italian; I probably consumed enough carbs to run a couple of marathons,” Ashley said.
“So there you go,” Jessica said as she took a victory sip of Mimosa, “and it says on the site I’m looking at that the best way to control sebum causing hormones is to cut down on carbs while getting in some good exercise.”
“I've heard that before.”
“I'm sure, but the RATIO of exercise to carb intake is the important part, so you’ve got to lock that down for it to be effective.”
Ashley nodded, “Sounds like something to talk about with my brother.”
She then took out her phone and made her next entry:
As Ashley drove home she called her brother again.
“The exercise/carb thing” Tommy said, “is vital for controlling insulin sensitivity. Insulin is one of those tricky things where if you don’t have enough, you’ll die, and if you have too much, you’ll die - just in a different way. So to keep this from happening, you need balance, and exercise is vital for achieving that.”
Ashley slowed at a stoplight, “And you’re sure drinking a glass of wine doesn’t count as exercise?”
“Not for anyone on this planet. But exercise is ultimately more enjoyable and far more rewarding than alcohol – it’s also vital for releasing stress.” Tommy said in full blown trainer mode.
The light turned green and she started moving again, “What's releasing stress actually mean?”
“Wow, you’re so lucky you got me, sis. Okay when your body is under stress, it releases certain hormones. Now, it’s important to understand that your body can’t really tell the difference between what's causing stress, so it responds to any perceived threat with what’s called the Fight Or Flight Response, an internal survival mechanism that’s been with us since we were being chased around by dinosaurs. Now, when that response kicks in, stress hormones are released, and that’s when we need to do something to properly deal with them.”
“Like exercise,” Ashley said.
“Exactly. So even if it’s just mental anguish you’re going through, just body is still operating on caveman-time and pumping out hormones like it’s prepping you to RUN away from something that wants to have you for lunch.”
“But that actually sounds like a good thing,” Ashley said swinging a left past her kids favorite Dairy Queen.
“In its proper context it is,” Tommy said, “the problem is that when all these stress hormones are released, and you don’t do anything PHYSICAL about them, they’re going to build up and start doing damage to the body. That’s why you’ve got to get up and exercise to utilize them.”
“Okay, I get that, but it still doesn’t explain why I get oily when stressed.”
“And that’s where the wonderful research I’ve been doing for you comes in; it all relates to you HPA axis.”
A black Mustang cut into Ashley’s lane, “you know, Tommy, my head really is pretty full now and I’ve got people out here who think it’s the Daytona 500 – not sure if I can handle more info right now.”
“You’re funny, Ash, but I spent some time on this so hear me out.”
The mustang swerved back to its original lane, “All right, go ahead,” Ashley said.
“HPA stands for hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals. And these three things work together to control the amount of hormones your body releases when triggered, most specifically, the hormones that cause oily skin – testosterone and DHT.”
“Okay, scientific words and I’m going to be home dealing with the kids in about 45 seconds, could you possibly put this in a Cliff Notes version?” Ashley asked as she turned into her subdivision.
“Yes. The HPA axis is the brain that controls the release of hormones that cause oily skin. Most supplements and skincare try control what happens AFTER the hormones like testosterone and DHT are released, but if the hormones aren't released in abundance, than controlling them becomes 100 times easier.”
“To support the HPA axis, you'll need adaptogenic herbs; these things are like MAGIC for helping to normalize stress responses. The beauty of these herbs is that they’ll actually prolong the time it takes for you to reach exhaustion, or oily skin as you know it.”
“Ooh, I see - I like these herbs already.”
“Now there’s several different kinds, so you’ll have to find the ones that work for you. But once you’ve got them down, they’ll give you some serious help with the types of stressful situations that cause your skin to freak out.”
“That’s awesome, Tommy. Thanks, bro!” Ashley said swinging up the jeep up her driveway and putting it in park. I’ll let you know what I find…”
Ashley hung up and made another entry:
Oily Skin Detox Rule #9: Reset Hormones and Manage Stress Through Exercise, More Sleep and Adaptogenic Herbs.
A couple days later Ashley was back at Star’s. They’d walked down the trail to the beach while Ashley told her about her latest research.
“Good work, Ashley,” Star said,
“You’re really starting to understand your body better.”
“Thanks, Star,” Ashley said – it was great to finally get her approval –
“One thing though, my friend Jessica still says there’s no connection with oily skin and alcohol.”
Star gazed up at the house, golden sunbeams reflected off the two big floor-to-ceiling windows making them look like a giant pair of glowing eyes. “You know, before internet existed…”
Oh boy, the queen of new age is about to go anti-tech on me, Ashley thought.
“…people learned about their body by doing something that the diagnosis dependent crowd of today barely ever does, they trusted the sensation of FEELING.”
Ashley focused on the sound of the tide’s gentle splashing as she got ready to hear some nonsense like that she needed to spend an hour dancing on the beach at midnight or that it was essential she have a conversation with the ocean’s spirit wind.
Star turned to Ashley, “You need to learn what it’s like to be present in your body, to be centered. Forget the research for a moment and listen to me, because it’s the most important thing you’re going to hear me say about this; anything, including alcohol, that pulls you away from being centered and balanced is making it harder for you to reach your ultimate goal.”
“So you want me to do what, exactly?”
Ashley rubbed her neck, here it comes…
“So I need you to sit quietly every morning…”
And stare at the damn sun.
“and open your meditation app.”
Ashley stopped rubbing, “Meditation APP?”
“Yeah, “Headspace” is a great app for beginners learning to meditate.”
Ashley folded her arms and looked up at the endless blue sky
“Headspace,” she chuckled, “I’ll check it out tonight.”
Star gave her a wink and started to make her way back to the trail.
Ashley then pulled out her phone; she’d gotten a text from her sister…
“Ash, my husband just told me something REALLY interesting about oily hair that I think you’ll want to hear…”
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