Did this drink finally clear up my skin?
IMPORTANT: I have not been paid to talk about or share this. I am a journalist and this article is an honest account of my experience.
For the most part of three years, my face felt like it was on fire.
From September 2014 until July 2017, I moaned, whined and cried regularly about a dry, scaly and sore rash that persisted on my chin, either side of my nose and the area above my lip.
It looked a bit like goosebumps and although it wasn't even too noticeable to others, for me, it was physically painful, felt hot and as though it was burning to the point where it became difficult to concentrate on anything else.
As a TV presenter & journalist, I would apply thick foundation to cover the rash before filming.
I felt miserable when I touched my face, and the wonderfully gentle make-up artists at work were phenomenally patient with what had become a rather tricky routine to get me camera-ready.
This random and unexplained rash had quite literally appeared out of nowhere, sparking what would become years of detective work on my part, trying to decipher what had caused it and why it wouldn’t shift.
In the beginning, no theory was too farcical.
Was I having a reaction to some kind of chemical in my make-up? I switched foundations and powders immediately.
Was it something in the tap-water? I bought a filter jug.
Was it the flouride in my toothpaste? I threw it out and bought a natural one.
What about chemicals in my hairspray? Chucked it and got some organic ones (naively thinking organic must equal less allergenic, and also assuming this was an allergy).
Was I reacting to something I was eating? I eliminated all my favourite foods and began reintroducing them slowly over time to see if i could spot a change in the rash.
Was I allergic to my new boyfriend or something on him? He stopped using his skin products and began close-shaving his face to minimise any stubble irritation when we kissed.
The questions never ended while the rash continued to swing between states of stubborn and angry.
During those three years, it’s possible to say that I spent more time thinking about what was wrong with my skin than I thought about anything else.
I visited several doctors, including three top dermatologists and an allergy specialist for comprehensive skin tests. The consensus was that I had a case of perioral dermatitis.
The cure? There wasn’t one. I could take antibiotics to manage it (sometimes this cleared it up in patients permanently) and use some creams, but other than that - I was on my own.
I used a variety of medical creams - ranging from immunosuppressant to anti-inflammatory - plus, took courses of oral antibiotics and even steroids in the early stages. But the sore dermatitis always returned.
Meanwhile, that new boyfriend I mentioned earlier had become my fiancé and in the run up to our wedding, I was on yet another course of antibiotics to try and calm the perioral dermatitis before the big day.
I kept imagining how our wedding photos would forever show us on our special day with my face bearing a dry and flaky rash covered by layers of foundation that would surely start crumbling away as the day went on.
It was around this time that I heard about the benefits of a fermented drink called kefir.
It’s choc full of beneficial bacteria understood to help heal the gut and can be helpful if you’ve been on antibiotics like I had.
I hadn’t heard that kefir could be good for the skin at this point. I was just looking to help repair my gut from taking so many antibiotics.
After some research, I found a company in Wales, that produced goat's kefir and spotted that the website also carried testimonials from people saying their skin rashes had improved after drinking kefir daily.
According to the company’s founder, Shann Nix Jones, in her book The Good Skin Solution:
“Our skin is really just a map of our gut.
“Heal the gut, and eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea will diminish.
“It takes time but it will improve.”
Shann warned me that, with a case as chronic as mine, it could be at least nine weeks before I see any kind of improvement.
It was going to be a long game but I had nothing to lose.
I began an experiment to see if this sour drink could, as I understood it, boost the diversity of good bugs in my tum to crowd out the bad bugs that may have been the underlying cause of the stubborn rash on my face.
As advised, I drank it first thing every morning so that those clever little bugs could cling to my gut wall before I ate anything else.
At the start, I was still on antibiotics to rid my skin of its worst bumps in time for my wedding. Thankfully, the drugs temporarily suppressed the inflammation enough for me to stop thinking about my skin for that one day, and my make-up artist did a superb job.
After the wedding, I threw myself into my new kefir regime.
I was so committed, I even sourced a US brand of goats kefir while on honeymoon in Hawaii so I could keep up the protocol (special thanks to my husband for bearing with me while I got an Uber to the other side of Honolulu and back).
Here’s what happened next:
By week 11: the dermatitis had improved.
By week 14: it had totally disappeared.
At about 18 weeks: there was a relapse in inflammation. I also quit nutritional ketosis which meant I could drink more kefir each day, but I maintained a low-sugar lifestyle.
At six months (approx 24 weeks) skin felt better again.
**Skin stayed clear from then on**
It's now been 14 months since I began drinking the kefir and I can only say my skin has got better and better, with no trace of the old perioral dermatitis.
Needless to say, I continue to drink this stuff every day.
Skincare aside, Shann's latest book, The Kefir Solution, puts forward a case for the potential effect of kefir on mental health and digestive issues.
She explains that IBS, depression and anxiety are all connected.
"You may go to the doctor and be told that you have a lot of different problems: IBS and depression and eczema and allergies.
"You don’t. You have one issue: microbiome damage.
"Heal your gut, and these symptoms will all resolve together."
In this way, according to Shann, kefir is a ‘psychobiotic’ - a new term for a "combination of live organisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produce mental health benefits."
Hear Shann talk all about this fascinating subject in HealthHackers episode 14.
My very unscientific skin experiment may have been one of the best things I ever did. 👌 I still wonder if it was all a big coincidence. It seems unlikely though.
It’s worth mentioning that during the rash years and the recovery stages, I experimented with red-light therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, although not to the same degree of persistence as the kefir drinking.
I was also in nutritional ketosis (a very low carbohydrate and super high fat diet) for the most part, which some experts have suggested could contribute to a less diverse gut microbiome.
Could this gut damage have caused the rash on my face? I can never find out.
At the same time, it's said that kefir works best when you reduce sugars in your diet (you don’t need to be in ketosis though).
Thankfully, I find it easy to steer clear of added sugars as I haven't eaten cakes or sweets since 1998 - true story!
I’d love to see some major clinical studies carried out on fermented foods like kefir and learn more about their potential for skin healing.
I wish I had known about this drink a year before my wedding. But never mind, I'm happy I was able to enjoy our one-year anniversary without perioral dermatitis!
And, in case you were wondering, I have not been paid to talk about or share this. I am a journalist and this article is an honest account of my experience.
Have you had successes with probiotics for skin complaints? Tell me, I want to hear!