This past month, I took the trip of a lifetime to the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle to immerse myself in the wisdom of two indigenous tribes who call this beautiful place home.
The Sapara and Achuar are just two of the hundreds of indigenous tribes living in the Amazon jungle today. Their life revolves around living off the land and sharing respectful earth-based ceremonies in their community. They live and believe that their life is dependent on the health of the jungle, because it is.
As a holistic esthetician, I was interested to see how the indigenous people were experiencing or not experiencing acne. In my research, I have unearthed two scientific studies on the indigeous people of Papua New Guinea and Paraguay in which not a single acne pimple was found on any tribe member including teenagers, women, and pregnant women1. This kind of skin clarity is astounding considering our modern normality of the condition.
The first tribe I visited were the Sapara people in south eastern Ecuador. Down to about 500 tribe members, this community lives only a 25 minute plane ride from the nearest town. There are no roads in, so the only way out is by plane or a very long walk.
As we met with the community, I noticed that many people had beautiful skin, but there was also surprisingly some acne present as well – particularly on the young girls. I was shocked. The diet in their community is very simple consisting of yucca, plantains, fresh fruits, fish, some imported rice, and occasional hunted animals. Acne is an issue of high androgen hormone levels and dietarily, I didn’t see how they could be getting that from their local foods.
I asked our guide if the young girls ever went into town, and surprisingly, the answer was yes! Ecuador is a very resource conscious society and they make use of everything they have. So if a plane comes out to the jungle, they take people or cargo back with them. This is how the girls are able to travel into town (I later found out they have access to Facebook too!).
Our Sapara guide (who had a few little pimples himself) mentioned that his grandparents never had acne. They had a simple diet and lived off the land. But once the petroleum companies came, the diet changed. And when the young girls go into town, they eat things like yogurt, ice cream, and other treats (Ecuador is heavy on dairy and all of it is cow’s milk).
The second tribe I visited was deeper in the jungle. The Achuar live an hour plane ride from the nearest modern town. As such, the majority of their tribe members do not have access to the outside world and its modern, processed food. They have a few imports in their diet, such as rice, beans, and some sugar.
I saw no signs of acne in the Achuar community. This was an interesting confirmation and contrast to what I saw with the Sapara community who were more impacted and connected to the modern world.
What this experience showed me is that it is not simply our genetics that determine our skin condition, but the environment we live in that is the main factor. We must have both genetic sensitivity and environmental exposure in order to experience acne. We don’t live in the jungle like the Sapara and Achuar do. But when we actively choose to eat only whole foods from the earth, acne resolves itself and will not be present.
What can we learn from these indigenous people?
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Many foods in packages and from animal milks are altered and unnatural for human consumption. Stick completely to a whole foods diet to reduce inflammation.
- Keep it simple. The tribes we visited had simple, everyday foods and did not complicate their meals. Their diet consisted primarily of fresh fruits, yucca, plantains, broccoli , eggs, and some fish/meat. Keeping it simple makes it easier to see what’s causing your body and skin issues.
- Avoid all products containing cow’s milk. This common food item contains over 60+ natural hormones and has numerous studies linking it to acne.
- Minimize added sugar consumption to under 35g per day, but eat as much whole fruit as you want. Whole fruit was widely consumed by both communities without issue. Added sugar products however are altered, spike blood sugar, and testosterone levels, creating health issues and acne.
I hope my experiences with the Sapara and Achuar and been encouraging to you. That your acne can be cleared regardless of genetics or time. That by purifying our lives and our diets, we too can have beautiful skin like the native peoples who still live purely off the land.
In love, health, and community,
Elise May, CN + LE, is a holistic esthetician, acne nutritionist, and founder of Skin Nutritious. Since 2009, she has helped over 1,300 clients overcome acne with a unique blend of coaching, treatments, and holistic skincare.
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