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Jen’s Story: Conquering Cystic Acne

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Characterized by pus-filled pimples that form deep beneath the skin, cystic acne is one of the trickiest dermatological conditions. While breakouts may be physically painful, the emotional pain of cystic acne is even more agonizing. 

Jen Neville experienced chronic acne as a teenager and throughout college. By her early 20s, she had tried every treatment on the market. Jen was a ferocious fighter, but her heart sank when she began seeing new pimples the size of marbles. Nothing seemed to work.

“The acne was like a signal that something wasn’t right,” says Jen. “Something was off balance. I felt I was failing to understand my body and what was happening.”

Cystic acne is challenging to treat, explains skin specialist and founder of Superhero Skin+Care DeJarra Sims, ND, because there are typically multiple reasons why the acne has developed. “The skin is a window to what’s happening in the body. All bodily systems must be considered when treating acne, especially cystic acne. Conventional medicine often focuses on just one potential cause.”

Although she wanted to be rid of her acne, Jen wore it loud and proud. “I never covered the spots with makeup, foundation, or concealers,” she says. “We are culturally and socially conditioned to be ashamed or embarrassed about acne, but I object to that! I always wanted my personality and spirit to outshine the red spots.”

Exhausting the Conventional Route

Jen was on a mission to find answers. She turned to what she thought was her only resource, conventional medicine. 

For three years, Jen took Bactrim, a prescription acne treatment that contains the antibiotics sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. Bactrim’s common side effects include nausea, appetite loss, dizziness, tinnitus, fatigue, insomnia, and photosensitivity. Despite her diligence in adhering to the prescribed regimen, Jen’s acne persisted.

She met with a highly recommended dermatologist who prescribed minocycline, another antibiotic. “My visit with her took about five minutes total,” recalls Jen. Minocycline’s side effects range from hyperpigmentation and tooth discoloration to gastrointestinal distress. She took the pills for three months and applied a retinoid cream to fade existing blemishes.

“There is no question that many conventional medications and topicals do work,” says Dr. Sims. “But that’s [equivalent to] putting a Band-Aid on the problem. It doesn’t address the many underlying root causes of acne. Patients taking prescription medications often find themselves in a vicious cycle lasting years.” 

When the 90-day course of minocycline had ended, Jen’s acne returned. “I knew the dermatologist’s solution would be continuing minocycline or—worse—trying Accutane,” she says. “I wasn’t interested in either because I knew both methods only treated the symptoms, not the root cause.”

Jen didn’t want to mask her acne with potentially harmful drugs and creams. Her search for solutions led to an aesthetician who sold her an expensive but ineffective topical product. Jen assessed her diet, cutting back on sugar and dairy. She tried supplements and ointments while maintaining a daily exfoliating routine. Acne continued to take over her life.

Finding Hope with Holly

For more than 20 years, Holly Lucille, ND, RN, has taken a unique approach to health and healing. “I don’t use protocols per se; I call them wake-up calls,” she explains. “Sometimes, our bodies give us little cues to get our attention. It’s my job to connect the dots and make sense of them.”

Dr. Lucille put her personalized strategy into practice with Jen. “My first visit was in 2022,” remembers Jen. “Dr. Lucille generously read through all my labs to [understand] my case. I was immediately re-energized and motivated by her stamina and vibrant approach.”

Jen’s treatment plan incorporated a high-grade probiotic, vitamin A, vitamin C, an anti-androgenic product, and a liquid homeopathic formula. Dr. Lucille counseled Jen on diet and lifestyle factors, encouraging her to “also have fun!” That was refreshing, as Jen’s experience with acne to this point was anything but fun, and no one had suggested it could be.

“The naturopathic approach contemplates all systems in the body and tackles each one individually,” notes Dr. Sims. “Through sophisticated testing that looks at hormones, the microbiome, liver function, food sensitivities, environmental factors, and more, there is a comprehensive picture of what needs to happen to heal the patient’s acne.” Dr. Sims’ patients commonly reach remission in four to six months.

Jen’s results were remarkable. “I noticed an improvement in two weeks,” she says.

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The Power of Nutrigenomics

While most of Jen’s acne had disappeared, the small pimples around her mouth persisted.

Dr. Lucille remembered Jen’s blood type and ordered a nutrition genome test to determine if genetics had influenced her condition. The results provided more insight into Jen’s battle with acne than she could have imagined.

“The cause of the acne around my mouth was not an excess of something,” Jen notes. “It was an absence of something.” That something was omega-3. Jen’s Norwegian blood and heritage were clues to the deficiency she had likely experienced all her life. Norway is, after all, a fish-centric region.

“Being landlocked in the Midwest, I rarely ate fish,” says Jen. Her paternal grandmother, father, and brother had experienced severe acne well into their 30s. The genetic component was falling into place. 

With the nutrigenomics analysis, Jen had a personalized, DNA-based list of foods she should and shouldn’t eat.

Clear Understanding, Clear Skin 

After more than ten years, Jen found a health ally equally determined to conquer her cystic acne.

“Conventional treatment was like a quick sprint that came with risks and side effects,” Jen says. “Treatment with Dr. Lucille was like a marathon that required a commitment but resulted in success. I would absolutely recommend naturopathic medicine.”


This article was produced jointly by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the Institute for Natural Medicine as part of the Campaign for Natural Medicine, a public awareness effort to broaden understanding of naturopathic medicine and support access to naturopathic doctors.

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform health care in the United States by increasing public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine, with its person-centered principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness overwhelming healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain optimal lifelong health. INM strives to fulfil this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research on this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

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