I’m the opposite of a skeptic when it comes to out-there skincare theories. I fully embrace crystal-infused beauty products; I’ve publicly documented my attempt at meditating my way to clearer skin; I even make my own face oils under the full moon. I hear about something a little wacky, and I guess I just want to believe it could work… but most of time, I’m left to experiment on my own. That was not the case when I discovered that eating seeds can treat your hormonal acne. Seed syncing, a natural method for balancing hormones, seems to good to be true; but doctors, dermatologists, and natural beauty lovers all agree that achieving the clear, glowing skin of your dreams might just be as easy as opening up a bag of Davids.
“Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds to support hormone balance through your entire menstrual cycle,” Dr. Jolene Brighten, a functional medicine naturopathic medical doctor and the author of Beyond the Pill, tells The Zoe Report. The process, which is interchangeably referred to as seed syncing, involves incorporating four seeds — flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower — into your diet at different phases of your menstrual cycle. Each one is packed with vitamins and micronutrients that naturally balance out hormone fluctuations; and with perfectly balanced hormones, you can expect less cramping, a more regular cycle, and yes, fewer hormonal breakouts before and during your period.
Cycle-induced hormone fluctuations are the primary cause of hormonal acne in women. “The change of hormones during the menstrual cycle — like the steep drop of estrogen right before and during the period — allows testosterone and progesterone to predominate, which leads to excess sebum production and acne flares,” Dr. Neil Sadick of Sadick Dermatology tells The Zoe Report. Dr. Brighten adds that hormonal acne is common in women who are just coming off of birth control, like the pill or a hormonal IUD. “Due to what is called an androgen rebound, an increase in testosterone production after stopping birth control can cause acne,” she says.
Derms admit that tackling this type of acne is tough with topical products — which makes sense, since the issue stems from internal imbalances. “But in theory, by supplementing the body with exogenous phytohormones such as those found in seeds when the natural hormones are low, you can counteract the acne-triggering properties of testosterone and prevent acne flares,” Dr. Sadick says.
Here’s how to do it: During phase one of your cycle, also called the follicular phase (which lasts from the first day of your period up until ovulation — about day 14), you consume a tablespoon or two of fresh ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds. “This is a great way to create balanced estrogen, which is key during this phase,” Dr. Brighten says. “Flax seeds also contain lignans that can scavenge excess estrogen in the beginning of the cycle and prior to ovulation, which prevents the natural decline of estrogen to create skin havoc,” Dr. Sadick explains. On top of that, these seeds are high in Omega-3 oils, which are essential for plump, radiant skin.
Phase two, aka the luteal phase, follows (the timing of this can vary for each woman, but it generally starts at day 15 of your cycle — especially for those with irregular periods). At this point, you switch to eating raw sunflower and sesame seeds. “These seeds support progesterone levels, which is the key hormone during the luteal phase,” she says, with Dr. Sadick adding that sesame seeds contain phytoestrogens to help balance the natural fluctuation of hormones.
It sounds simple enough; but shoveling two tablespoons of raw seeds into your mouth everyday might not be the easiest habit to develop and stick to... which is where buzzy new brand Food Period comes in. The company produces seed-packed snacks called Moon Bites that correspond to the different days of the menstrual cycle, conveniently packaged in boxes labeled Phase 1 and Phase 2 and available via monthly subscription service — essentially making the concept of seed cycling as easy as grabbing a granola bar in the morning. “One of the big pieces of feedback we get from our customers is that an improvement with skin and hormonal acne is one of the first things they see,” Britt Martin, the co-founder of Food Period, tells The Zoe Report. “We didn’t expect it at all.”
That’s because Martin and her co-founder, Jenn Kim, both came to seed cycling for reasons that were more dire. “I actually had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer,” Martin tells us. “I was diagnosed when I was 25 and stopped getting my period — my doctor wanted to put my on the birth control pill, but I didn’t want to put more chemicals into my body.” On top of that, Martin had been dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) for the past six years. “I always had terrible periods, my skin wasn’t great, I had mood swings, was really irregular.” she says. When she started seed syncing, “it cleared all that away for me.”
Kim had a similar experience. “Her biggest symptom around her period was that it was super irregular,” Martin explains. When Kim began seed syncing, she noticed an unexpected and immediate side effect: “Her skin completely cleared up,” Martin tells us. “Honestly, the skin thing is the biggest part for her — she doesn’t have to wear makeup anymore, and it’s the boost of confidence.”
Now, the two have joined forces to bring the practice to the masses. “Seed syncing addresses the cause rather the symptom itself, which is what we really like about it — and also what makes it pretty universal,” Martin says. “However your hormone imbalances manifest, this has the ability to help you calm whatever systems you as an individual are experiencing because of that imbalance.” For some, that might mean clearer skin; for Martin, that means a pain-free, regular period — and a complete elimination of her PCOS symptoms. “I never had a normal period before in my whole life, so I honestly didn’t know this was possible — it’s been a game-changer for me,” she tells us. Many of Dr. Brighten’s patients have experienced the same.
Be warned, though: it's a long game. “You'll want to give yourself a full cycle to note any changes,” Dr. Brighten says. “But I encourage my patients to make it a lifelong practice.” Although she notes you don't have to be “dogmatic about it,” seed cycling only works as long as you put in the work. “It needs to be coupled with other hormone supportive practices to have a noticeable effect,” she tells us. In other words, you can’t just seed cycle while scarfing down pizza and pulling all-nighters and expect to see a change.
“It’s a simple tool to support your hormone health and leverage food to create better hormones,” Dr. Brighten says — and when “better hormones” translates to “better skin,” even the skeptics have to admit it’s worth a shot.