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COULD HERBS BE THE SECRET TO HEALING ACNE?


WORDS EMILIE LOUIZIDES - SPECIAL THANKS SACRED HERBAL TEA






In July of last year, I stopped taking hormonal contraception after being on it for nearly half my life. While my periods are more bearable than I thought they would be without the crutch of the pill, my skin has suffered. Two months after stopping the pill, my skin broke out like it used to when I was younger. The socially debilitating feelings of inadequacy I experienced at fifteen and through my early twenties came back with a vengeance and were shrouded in an additional layer of shame. I would look at my angry hormonal acne and the voices in my head would tell me to wait to go to sleep until my partner was already in bed with the light off. I would assume makeup clients wouldn’t think I was qualified to take care of their skin if mine looked the way it did. My usual five-minute makeup routine stretched to almost an hour and with each passing minute used to cover my spots, I would tell myself I’d be better off cancelling plans to avoid being seen.



Desperate for a solution, and not wanting to stray from the new, natural path I was on, I reached out to Rhiannon Obinyan, the founder of Sacred Herbal Tea. Rhiannon teaches her audience about herbs, their effects, and the best ways to use them on Instagram, through private Zoom consultations, and in-person foraging walks. She also runs an online shop brimming with information and her own herbal tea blends. Through Rhiannon’s expertise and guidance, I am learning that what transpires on the outside of my body indicates what I should to be putting into it. Since I’ve started using my own tea blends, specifically customized and created by Rhiannon, my skin has cleared up considerably, a mental fog that I never quite realized was there has lifted, and for the first time in my adult life, I’m in touch with my body’s natural cycles.



I now swear by Rhiannon’s tea blends, I join her on foraging walks, and I keep up with her wisdom on Sacred Herbal Tea. Her insight is too good not to share so we sat down for a conversation complete with life-changing information.





EL: I would love to start with you introducing yourself and telling me about your practices and platform.

RO: My name is Rhiannon Obinyan, I’m twenty-five, and I’m a black woman from London. My platform is called Sacred Herbal Tea and I built it to help inspire young people, women, people of colour, and to teach them that herbalism is easy to learn if you break it down and it’s something that we can all apply. In the Western world, we grow up far removed from nature and the healing ability of herbs. My aim is to help widen people’s perspectives, especially when we think of medicine, we just reach for the nearest pharmaceutical remedy or pill to help with our ailment, but a lot of these medicines are derived from plants which is what people don’t know. I want to put out easily accessible information about herbs and the scientific side behind [them] but also the alchemy as well; I talk a lot about phytochemicals and minerals and nutrients and plants but then I also talk about the more alchemical side of things like the doctrine of signatures or plant energetics. I just want to inspire people. Another thing that I’m really passionate about is foraging; I’ve done my first foraging walk and that’s something I want to delve more into – helping people to identify medicinal or edible plants in the wild or at least in their own backyard. Knowing what plants are edible or poisonous can be that line between life and death in certain situations so I think it’s powerful knowledge to have. It’s not something that we’re taught in school, so I just want to make that information accessible.





EL: Can you talk a bit about your website and what you provide?

RO: On my website I have created different blends; a sleep blend that’s going to help relax our nervous system – some of the herbs have a slight sedative effect and it’s called Take Your A$$ to Bed Tea. Then I have The Foundation Tea which consists of herbs that can help to cleanse the kidneys, the liver and our blood and help with that detox process of the liver. I have another blend called Immunity Elixir which consists of immunomodulating and immunostimulant herbs [which] can help to increase the activity of our immune system, to stimulate our immune response, and to also make sure everything is consistently at a good level in our immune system. Then I have a women’s range and I have a blend called Sacred Wombman which is for women in the stage of our lives where we’re having our menstrual cycle; it consists of herbs that can help regulate our hormones, help with PMS symptoms, help with inflammation, help with our fertility. Another blend called Sacred Wise Wombman is for women in their menopause to help them ease their symptoms like night sweats, and hormonal imbalances. And then I have another blend, Sacred Yoni Steam, that is for women to steam their vagina; it’s something that’s been done by women for thousands of years but it’s resurfacing as this cool, new thing. You add the herbs to hot water and then you sit over them and let them nourish your vaginal canal. And then I have one other blend called Mellow Lungs – it’s different from the others – and it’s a smoking blend, it consists of herbs that burn just as well as tobacco. I don’t promote smoking to anyone, no smoking is good for you because smoke itself is harmful to the lungs, but this blend isn’t addictive, and it’s aimed to help people eventually stop smoking – it’s for people who are addicted to tobacco.





EL: What made you want to start educating yourself about herbalism?

RO: I’ve always been interested in the human body and how it works. I did my bachelor’s degree in forensic science. We studied a lot of biochemistry, pathology and learned about the body. So, I already had that interest in how we can heal our bodies. When I was growing up my mum had a lot of issues with her back, some of the disks in her spine had slipped. She was on medication for the pain because it was so bad, and she’d be given one medication and then she’d have to take another medication to counteract it. It was just a whole load of pills, and they were making her sick. I started to see the bad side of pharmaceutical medicine. When you grow up you think, these medicines are great, but you don’t realize that the pharmaceutical industry – that’s exactly what it is – an industry. This is quite controversial, but I don’t think that they want people to be well, I think they want people to be sick because otherwise they don’t have a business. So, I started to come away from the pharmaceutical side and started to do more research on herbalists. The first herbalist that really interested me is Doctor Sebi – he’s well known for the alkaline diet. Alkaline foods naturally occur in the body and have an alkalizing effect on the body. He also has a list of herbs that he talks about a lot with their healing properties. So, then I got more into other herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar who’s quite well known. There’s another herbalist called Sajah Popham and he goes into alchemy which is where I got my alchemical knowledge from. I was just really inspired. I think the thing with herbalism is that you never stop learning. You could speak to a one-hundred-year-old woman who’s a herbalist and there are still going to be things that she’s going to learn.





EL: You’ve spoken before about how herbs don’t necessarily fix us but rather balance us. Can you talk about this a bit?

RO: I think the basis of health and healing is sometimes misunderstood. By this I mean the body has the innate ability to heal itself. The body is an amazing, intelligent mechanism. For example, when we go to sleep or when we’re fasting – when we’re abstaining from food or anything that isn’t water or tea – the body starts to detox and heal itself. You have all these fads, even in the health industry; have this detox juice! Have this detox capsule! Those things help but your body does detoxing all on its own. We have to create the right environment for our body to do what it’s meant to do. When we get sick, the reason we get a build-up of mucus is because the body is using [it] to fight the illness inside of us. Herbs bring the body back into balance so that it can function at its optimal level. Pharmaceutical medicines, they want us to be reliant on them. The medicinal effects of herbs will bring your body into a state of health eventually if you’re using them the right way and doing everything else [healthily] and then you won’t need them anymore.


Another thing I talk about a lot is herbal energetics, which is quite an old practice. In modern herbalism we look at the phytochemical constituents like the terpenes and all these molecules and how they interact with the body. But before we had these microscopes and amazing scientific equipment, people had to look at herbs with a more alchemical set of eyes so herbal energetics look at a herb’s temperature, moisture and tone and the effect that that has on the body. For example, ginger is known as a warming herb so when we take it, it stimulates blood flow. Mint has a cooling effect on the body. That’s essentially what herbs do. We put a counteractive herb into the body to bring it back to balance. We can take herbs according to how our body is feeling, or seasonally. During the winter I tend to take nettle seeds because they help with when you’re feeling tired, or your energy or mood are low – associated with a lack of sun. I wouldn’t take them in the summer because I’m getting the energy that I need from the sun. It’s about adjusting to your body’s needs and changing it up.





EL: Can you provide an explanation of our endocrine system; what it is, what it does, and why it’s so vital to keep it in balance?

RO: The endocrine system is a series of glands found throughout the body. We have the pituitary gland in the brain, we have the thyroid in our throat, we have the adrenal glands, we have the gonads or the sex glands, so the ovaries and the testes. It’s similar to the nervous system in the way that it sends messages all throughout the body, so the glands are spread throughout the body.


The endocrine system is responsible for creating, releasing, metabolizing and reabsorbing hormones. Hormones are molecules that have effects on cells in the body. They give cells instructions. For example, we have hormones that tell our body when it’s time to go to sleep or when it’s time to wake up and they also control our metabolism and regulate our sleep cycle and puberty. Every single cell in the body is under the influence of hormones. We’re all hormonal, constantly. The endocrine system is really important. If it’s not in balance, that can cause so many issues.


EL: From your understanding, how do our hormones affect our skin? Why can hormonal imbalances cause breakouts?

RO: Acne is caused by overactive oil glands in the skin and a build-up of that oil and dead skin cells and bacteria and that leads to inflammation of our pores which is what leads to acne or spots or cysts because our body is trying to push that out. It’s another way of our body doing what it’s meant to do, it’s getting rid of toxins. Acne is annoying but at least our body is getting rid of stuff, you know?


There are many different causes of acne, but hormones are a big factor and there are different ways our hormones can affect our skin. For example, as women, just before we get our periods our progesterone and oestrogen levels go down and that can cause the oil production in our skin to increase, which results in spots. Stress is also another thing. If our cortisol levels rise that increases the oil production in our skin.


But most of the time when we talk about hormonal imbalances and acne, we’re often referring to androgens. Androgens are a group of hormones, they’re the male sex hormones, testosterone is the most common one. So, these don’t include oestrogen or progesterone and they’re obviously in higher contents in men generally but women, we do have them too, just at a lower level. We do need those hormones as well in the same way that men have oestrogen in their bodies. The issue comes when we have a higher number of androgens in the body. Often, we see teenagers getting acne and that is often caused by a spike in the androgen levels because their bodies have just started to release these hormones. When we have adult acne, which is very common, there are different types of ways our androgens can manifest acne in our skin. The first is, we have elevated levels, so our body is producing too many androgens to process. Our body can’t metabolize them fast enough, so it causes too much oil in the skin, so too much sebum.


Another way is – you can have a completely normal, balanced amount of androgens but when the body is trying to metabolize and get rid of them, it pushes them down a pathway that’s making the androgens more potent. So, that obviously causes more oil production in the skin, and it has more of a dramatic effect on the skin.


The last way, the liver is crucial in metabolizing hormones, so getting rid of excess hormones. The liver is the body’s filtration system.



EL: You love the liver, don’t you?

RO: I love the liver! It’s so important and so underrated. If the liver’s not functioning properly, you’re kind of screwed. Any toxins that you have in the body will just be reabsorbed and will cause acne. A lot of the ways we see liver issues are through the skin so, rosacea, eczema, they’re highly linked to a sluggish liver, and the same with acne. When the liver can’t function the way it needs to, it uses the skin as the second liver and starts to push toxins out through the skin and that’s when you see acne. There are many different ways our hormones can affect our skin but that’s kind of in a nutshell.





EL: I think we live our lives taking our bodies for granted. When you’re walking along, you forget that that’s your brain telling your body to do that action.

RO: We really take our health for granted until we get sick or maybe someone in our family gets sick. We become so obsessed with – and I’m guilty of it too – how we look, aesthetic, and ‘oh, why don’t I have this body shape?’ Your body does so much for you every single day to keep you alive. There are cells in our body that could become cancerous, but our body is fighting them off, so we need to be grateful for everything our bodies do for us. When you start to learn these things, things start to click.



EL: Absolutely. The way you explained how when our androgens aren’t functioning properly and the skin begins to act as our second liver, that’s such a good reality check for people who are struggling specifically with acne because – like you said, caring so much about how we look – it’s so common for us to look in the mirror and hate how we look and all we’re focusing on is what’s on the surface because that’s all we can see. We don’t take a moment to even ask ourselves, what’s going on internally that’s causing this? The way you said the skin takes over as a second organ, that’s the best way to speak to ourselves a bit more gently because that’s our skin saying, ‘I’m trying to help what’s inside, and this is your sign to treat it internally.’

RO: Exactly. When we look at acne, we think acne is the issue, but acne is a symptom of something that’s deeper, usually. Sometimes you wiped your face with a dirty towel or slept on a dirty pillowcase; that can cause acne but 99% of the time, it’s because something is wrong inside. Your body is telling you something is wrong, and you have to listen. It’s now that we need to start looking at our lifestyle and responding to the way our bodies react to things.



EL: It’s kind of like how – related to our skin – people say to start with preventative anti-aging skincare early. Treat your skin preventatively from the inside too!

RO: Prevention is better than cure.



EL: Yes! Love that. So, I initially came to you with very specific hormone balancing goals. Can you take our readers through the specifics of what you did for me?

RO: I just want to say that I’m not a doctor, I don’t have any training to be a doctor, I’m completely self-taught, but I can advise people on what to do. After our consultation and speaking to you, I found out that you had recently come off hormonal contraception and I knew that straight away that was the issue because the same thing happened to me. I was on the Depo shot and I came off it – for so many reasons. It’s really unnatural. The pill shuts your ovaries down, it puts them to sleep. Without hormonal contraception, when we go through puberty and the menstrual phase of our lives, what happens is, the brain and the ovaries talk to each other. The brain says, ‘release this hormone then and less of this hormone then.’ When we take hormonal contraception, that conversation is no longer happening. Years after, when we say, okay, I’m stopping [the pill] now, our body is like, ‘what the hell do I do?’ And it goes into overdrive. When our hormone levels try to return back to normal, this can lead to androgen rebound, which means the oil glands in your skin start to produce more sebum which produces acne, so we have an elevated level of androgens here.



EL: And it can take some time for that to happen, can’t it?

RO: Exactly, and I’m sure it would eventually level out, but I had hormonal acne for a whole year, and it really affected my confidence.



EL: And it can also take time for the hormones to make their way out of your body. I went off the pill in July and I didn’t have any resurgence of acne until September. Is it safe to say that by then my body’s natural hormones were coming back?

RO: The hormones are still inside your body. It takes a while for your body to get back to its natural state and I guess it’s different for everyone; how long you’ve been on [birth control], what form you’ve been taking. With the androgens, they go into overdrive, it’s a free for all. Your body doesn’t know what it’s doing, it’s just throwing hormones [around] out of nowhere. If you’ve been on it since you were as young as twelve or thirteen, you haven’t even given your body a chance. So now, you’re a grown woman, you come off it and your body doesn’t know what the hell is happening.



EL: It’s like you’re sending your endocrine system out into the world blind.

RO: Exactly! It’s just feeling for things and tripping up everywhere. So, I knew that was probably the issue with you, but I still wanted to give you an overall herbal treatment. We focused on three main areas. The first was adding herbs that would help with your nervous system. So, your stress hormones, stress levels, and cortisol. If we’re stressed out, that’s going to cause our sebum production to go up and potentially cause acne, so I added herbs like chamomile and lavender that were going to help relax your nervous system, so you weren’t releasing too much cortisol. I then added herbs that were going to help the liver function at its optimal capacity and help to metabolize those extra hormones and get them out of the body through the urine so I focused on herbs like dandelion root and yellow dock root and then lastly, we looked at herbs that were going to focus on your ovaries, maybe to bring your androgen levels down and your oestrogen levels up and we did it based on your cycle so we looked at the different phases of your cycle.





EL: If another client with acne came to you, are there other treatment methods you would recommend that might be dependent on how much they share with you?

RO: If I am going to be making custom blends for someone, I want them to give me as much detail as they can about their lifestyle. Maybe they’re having acne and maybe they also have some facial hair; that’s possibly PCOS. We would treat that differently because PCOS [can be] quite heavily linked to insulin resistance; insulin is another hormone our body produces to regulate our blood sugar. If our body can’t break down that blood sugar and we’ve got insulin resistance, that can cause acne so it’s really about tailoring the plan. It’s very unique based on the person.



EL: With acne, something we see on the surface and typically only deal with externally, why is it so important to turn inward and treat with herbs?

RO: The hormones really affect the cause of acne but also, the gut is so important and what we’re eating is ten times more important than what we put on our skin. A lot of our skin problems start in the gut. Is the person eating foods that are causing inflammation, do they have intolerances, are they eating foods that are causing insulin resistance? It’s looking at that and another thing is dairy; most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant and milk itself has over sixty different hormones in it, and those hormones haven’t even been added. Milk is a super growth formula for cows, it’s not for humans. We’re putting all of these hormones that are going to grow a baby cow into a big cow [into our own bodies] and there are going to be issues. Another thing is antibiotics and if you’ve taken a course that’s destroyed your gut flora and now you’ve got an overgrowth of yeast for example, that comes out in the skin as well.


So, you can have topical creams that help to bring a spot down once it’s there but that’s the only thing topicals do, they treat [the problem] once it’s there but we want to make sure it’s not even there in the first place. That’s why we need to look at what’s going on inside.





EL: What would a custom herbal blend geared toward treating hormonal acne also help to benefit? When we went on our foraging walk, you pointed out about a dozen different herbs and each one was so good for so many different things. I can only imagine that a blend of herbs has to do more than just help with our skin.

RO: We rarely have herbs that will only help with one or two things. Herbs have a holistic effect on the body. For example, if a herb is good for the liver, the liver is functioning better which will create so many benefits for the body; it’s going to clear up our skin, we’re going to feel more energized, less sluggish. If you look at chamomile or even yellow dock root, they are known as bitter herbs, so they’ll really help with digestion. We have herbs like nettles, literally a superfood! They have one of the highest mineral profiles in the plant world, they’re super high in calcium, they’re great for our bones and our teeth, they have silica so they’re great for our hair. We have raspberry leaf which helps to tone and tighten the uterus and it’s good for fertility. There’s a whole host of herbs that are only going to have a positive effect on the body if used in the right way.



EL: You’ve spoken about how herbs are one part of a whole healing mechanism and that we need to create the right environment for them to work. What are the other parts of that whole?

RO: It’s not just about the herbs. In your blend we looked at a whole host of different functionalities and systems within the body. What we’re eating is going to be a big part of that. Do you have dairy or caffeine in your diet? Caffeine is going to increase our cortisol levels. Herbs are just one part of the whole system of healing. You can’t just take herbs and eat shit all day and be stressed out and not sleep. It’s not going to work. You need to make sure you’re eating the right foods, getting enough sleep, taking your herbs, trying to get sunlight whenever you can, keeping your stress levels down to a minimum. It’s a whole thing that you need to commit to, it’s holistic. Healing should be looked at holistically, you can’t just look at it through one avenue.





EL: I’d love to hear about how you live your life in a cruelty-free way.

RO: I think being in touch with nature has really helped me. I’m not perfect, there are still things I could improve and it’s a work in progress. As you move closer to more natural alternatives, you ultimately become more cruelty-free. I don’t buy creams or anything from shops, I make them myself with organic and fair-trade shea butter. I make my own oil infusions and I make my own hair conditioners. As a result, I’ve become more cruelty-free. I’m plant based as well and there’s many different reasons why; for health, for the planet, and for animals. I don’t see the need to eat animals. Even if I want to go out and indulge, I know I can get a nice vegan burger. I don’t need to eat meat, it’s unnecessary. Ultimately, these things have reduced my carbon footprint. I’m quite passionate about preserving our planet as well. When you spend more time in nature you automatically become more connected to nature. When we go out foraging, I let people know, respect the earth. It’s our mother. We have our birth mothers, but the earth is our other mother, it’s our home, we have to respect it. So, when you go out foraging, make sure you leave enough for the other animals that are out there because they need it too.



EL: So inspiring. And finally, what is your favourite F- word?

RO: Foraging! Foraging is my F Word. Foraging fun!

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