80% of us will experience acne at some point in our life, but for some the psychological impact can be more severe than the condition itself. Acutane, synthetic hormones and antibiotics are not benign drugs and come with side effects and risks – there are alternative effective options.
The skin is constantly supplied with oil (from sebaceous glands) and water (from sweat glands). The sebaceous glands are controlled by hormones, and sweat glands by the nervous system. These secretions (oil and water) emulsify together with phospholipids to form the outer protective layer of the skin (the mantle), responsible for its protection and moisture.
Acne starts with excess oil production linked to hormonal activity (hence its prevalence during puberty). When there is an imbalance between water and oil secretion, such as excess sebum, skin follicles can get clogged instead of allowing the flow to reach the surface of the skin. Blackheads are blocked follicles as the sebum oxidises and appears black or forms a whitehead if it remains blocked. This is common juvenile acne. If the imbalance continues, it will lead to a papule (inflammatory acne) that could worsen to a local infection causing pustules. This leads to bacterial growth that will further irritate the skin and increase blemishes, resulting in acute acne. Picking and squeezing causes further inflammation and scarring. Scars form due to an overgrowth of collagen – leaving most people emotionally stressed with a negative self-image.
THE DIET AND ACNE LINK
For years, scientists have speculated if a link exists between diet and acne. A landmark overview of research carried out over 50 years found that eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) and drinking milk not only aggravated acne, but in some cases triggered it.
High GI foods cause a spike in hormone levels due to their fast rate of absorption into the blood stream. Milk is thought to affect acne because of the hormones it contains. Skimmed milk contains more hormones, worsening breakouts. Natural preventative measures to assist in hormonal control, include a low GI diet, the herb yerba mate, inositol, chromium, alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C, Co-Q10, citrus peel extract and spices like cinnamon and turmeric.
It has been found that vitamin E concentrations are low in women with acne. Vitamin E supports the function of vitamin A and selenium. In addition to the acne benefits of vitamin E supplementation, 400 iu of vitamin E taken for five days before menstruation decreases pain significantly.
Allantoin made from the roots and leaves of the comfrey plant, is an anti-inflammatory that helps to break down scar tissue, while encouraging normal cellular growth.
Vitamin A reduces sebum production and the build-up of keratin in the follicles.
A study published in Biomaterials found that the lauric acid found in coconut oil demonstrates the strongest bacterial activity against acne caused by bacteria.
Tea-tree-oil-containing products, as well as colloidal silver gel, have an antibacterial and antiseptic action, clearing blemishes and breakouts. Another option is to consult an aromatherapist who may suggest an astringent oil such as cypress, diluted in a carrier oil.
Now that we know about the hormone link, it makes sense to actively find ways to reduce stress. Chronic stress leads to the release of cortisol, promoting oxidation and increasing insulin resistance. This leads to elevated testosterone levels and decreased immune function.
Acne can be the result of side effects of some drugs (steroids, antidepressants, anti-epileptic drugs, and anti-tuberculosis drugs). ‘Some naturopathic doctors’, according to Dr Bernard Brom, ‘believe that acne is the result of a dysfunction in the digestive system. Dysbiosis (maldigestion), constipation, and bacterial flora imbalance, for example, could all cause abnormal and toxic by-products of fermentation. If these are absorbed into the body, then in some people they may cause acne.’
Clay has the power to draw out impurities from the skin and is ideal for acne. It has been used by man far longer than modern drugs, never requiring patents or experimentation on animals. In fact, animals ingest clay and cover their wounds with it. Clay acts as a ‘vacuum cleaner’ absorbing the oil/water combo, unclogging follicles. The condition may appear worse before it gets better, but clay is natural, safe and gentle, and won’t damage the skin.
Topical creams, oils and gels
Mineral and antioxidant supplementation (such as vitamin C, zinc and nicotinamide) in conjunction with natural acne products containing various plant extracts (i.e. neem, olive leaf, burdock, the Auyrvedic herb gum guggul, Aloe vera, dandelion root and green tea) have been shown to be very effective. In the Nicomide Improvement Study, the combination included 25 mg zinc, 750 mg nicotinamide, 2.5 mg copper and 500 mcg folic acid. After eight weeks, improvement was seen in 79% of participants. Zinc has an anti-inflammatory action and a regulating effect on testosterone.
Panthenol (or provitamn B5) has the ability to deeply penetrate skin, delivering essential moisture, while relieving itchiness, redness and pain. B5 significantly decreases sebum secretion and acne lesions.
Scrubs and steams
A gentle microdermabrasion scrub, used once or twice a week, will help remove the uppermost layer of dead skin cells, helping to smooth and diminish the look of scars and improve the skin’s ability to absorb treatment products. Steaming the face with aromatherapy oils (sweet basil oil, rose, thyme, lemon, tea tree and lavender) can have a gentle cleansing effect.
Low energy laser
Dr Brom shares his experience: ‘In some of the worst types of acne involving cysts and swelling that even deform the face I have seen spectacular results with low-energy lasers.’
Don’t over-cleanse your face. Acne is not related to hygiene. Scrubbing your face aggressively in an effort to cleanse your skin may cause drying of the skin and this will further disturb the balance. Excessive sweating and not washing hair bands or pillows can encourage bacterial growth. Drink a lot of water, get sufficient sleep, and support the immune system further with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Acne is a medical condition and if it is having a negative impact on your life, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. A dermatologist can determine the best option for you.