One of my older teenage male patients complained of his acne and asked his mom to take him to the dermatologist. He wanted to go on EpiDuo for acne. I am all for treating acne but in this young man’s case his acne was mild and Accutane/Isotretinoin requires repeated blood tests to check liver function. The medicine can have very serious complications. Well, two issues became apparent. The vanity of teens and the need to write about natural acne treatments.
Try these 16 reasonable and natural ways to save your skin and self-esteem from acne.
WHAT IS ACNE?
Sebaceous glands reside in the dermis, the mid-level of your skin, and produce a fatty waxy oil called sebum. There are on average 5,000,000 of these glands covering your whole body, except for the palms of your hands and bottoms of your feet. One gland exists for each hair follicle if you wish to see it that way. The sebum produced by the sebaceous gland inside the mid level of the skin travels up the follicle and out of your pores to lubricate and waterproof your hair and skin. Also, dead skin cells exit the body by traveling up the follicle with the assistance of the sebum and make their way out of a pore. Sometimes these canals get jammed up by excessive sebum (thanks, hormones! and other inflammatory agents!) The body then seals off the area and bacteria like P. acnes begin to feed on the sebum and spew out inflammatory by-products. Voila! That’s when a pimple grows. Bacteria can spill over to nearby areas and acne spreads.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON CULPRITS OF ACNE?
The essence of acne is inflammation rearing its ugly head. To manage acne we need to look at common causes of inflammation.
Dairy: Non-organic milk and dairy products contain growth hormones like IGF-1 and inflammatory substances that clog your pores and cause acne. Milk and dairy cause an insulin spike in humans that cause the liver to produce even more IGF-1, leading to even more acne. Dairy also causes excess sebum which inhibits dead skin cells from exiting the pores causing further clogging. Cow milk is good for cows and good for acne.
HACK IT: Expand your culinary limits! Try nutritional yeast sprinkled onto foods instead of Parmesan. With its rich nutty cheesy savory flavor it is a dairy substitute that could easily be in the starting lineup. Explore and experiment with it. Also, try tofu with your crackers next time, or smoked tofu like a provolone on sandwiches. If you cannot give up dairy and cheese look to goat milk based products- much easier on the digestive system.
Sugar: Beware or be damned. Sugar contributes to and causes acne in two ways. Sugar in the soda we drink (who are we kidding, sugar is in everything) creates a spike in your GH-1 production and bioavailability. In short, sugar causes excess sebum and skin cells to multiply setting off a chain reaction to acne. At the same time, sugar was observed in studies to increase C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which is regarded as one of the best measures of inflammation. Finally, sugar causes Candida to grow beyond the normal range. On the face excessive Candida growth causes inflammation, and excessive Candida growth can cause havoc in the gut which indirectly contributes to acne.
HACK IT: Opt for honey, coconut-based sweetener, or stevia-based sweeteners. If you touch the Splenda, or high fructose corn syrup, I’ll have to remove you from our Newsletter and Facebook Page.
Wheat and gluten: You probably already know that gluten is a protein found in wheat, that if you are gluten intolerant the body does not recognize gluten as food, and this causes the body to treat gluten as a foreign body like a bad bacteria or virus. Basically, your immune system fires up causing inflammation which indirectly affects acne.
HACK IT: Quinoa is a great alternative grain. Look for an ALDI grocery store for a growing selection of affordable gluten-free products.
Omega-6 fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are needed for many functions related to growth and repair in the body. Our bodies can’t produce them, we must get them from food (or supplements). Omega-6s mostly come from plant oils like corn oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil and the standard American diet (SAD) provides plenty of omega-6s. So when the ratio of these becomes unbalanced and heavy on the omega-6 side, which is easy for Americans, then we get inflammatory immune system responses, thus causing acne to flare up.
HACK IT: As this is about ratio and not about whole values you can look at increasing your omega-3 intake. We recommend a potent liquid fish oil, or potent soft gels if you prefer not drink your omega-3s. It’s that simple.
Alcohol: It is part of our work hard culture and here is how it affects our acne. Alcohol causes a spike in insulin, if you are drinking it with a sweet mixer then you can account for a greater spike. Alcohol also affects our hormones and can reduce our quality of sleep. If we are drinking to take the edge off, then we are also probably dealing with some stress which further aggravates acne. Finally, alcohol can lead to dehydration which inhibits our ability to flush toxins from our body.
HACK IT: Drink in moderation. Stick to red wine or clean spirits, if needed.
Stress: Picture someone feeling tired, anxious and stressed out. How is their complexion? Science tells us that stress doesn’t necessarily create acne, but it does make an existing case worse. Stress throws us into an inflammatory response that causes walls of pores to break therefore enabling the spread of acne-causing bacteria. Stress throws the adrenal gland into overdrive. Androgens (male hormones) increase. Higher levels of androgens lead to more acne, and this is especially true for women because they produce a larger percentage of their androgens in the adrenal gland.
HACK IT: It starts with an appreciative and positive mindset. Surround yourself with other positive and appreciative people. Take time to yourself so that you are in prime health and wellness. Finally, breathe, be in the moment, let feelings wash over you and let them go.
Exercise: This may sound contrarian but exercise can be quite good for your skin. Exercise increases circulation and promotes sweat which helps the body rids itself of toxins and pushes impurities out of pores. We can also mediate our stress levels in a healthy manner through exercise. Exercise also helps us produce endorphins which create a sense of happiness, calm, and well-being. This may have an anti-inflammatory effect which is really what we should all be after.
HACK IT: Leave the lycra at home in favor of natural materials to prevent body acne. Leave the makeup off to permit your body to sweat cleanly. Gently wash your face with cool water after exercise.
Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with gentle soap. Avoid touching your face, or anyone else’s for that matter. Wash your face twice a day. Washing it more will dry out your skin and promote sebum production. You can use water based face moisturizer. Tea tree oil and aloe are good products for the face. Tea tree oil has antiseptic qualities, and aloe has a soothing moisturizing effect. Avoid toners with alcohol. Wash right after exercising to prevent heat and moisture buildup, which become bacterial breeding grounds. And wash your pillow, and pillow cases frequently.
If you have had acne then you have probably tried one or all of the following; medicating it, meditating it out, hoping it goes away, praying it goes away, harsh soaps, gentle soaps, alcohol, oils, clays, masks, changing your diet, and maybe some voodoo. What really works?
Here are some natural approaches to attenuate acne and cultivate a healthy glowing radiant skin.
Exfoliation: Do it the right way and with the right frequency. Exfoliation helps the body with the natural process of desquamation, showing our older skin cells to the door. As we age our body does this less efficiently. Exfoliation can give your skin a youthful glow, but if done too stringently it can leave you red blotchy and more susceptible to infection. Ever think about using natural baking soda? Use about a tablespoon and gently rub in circles. You can make a paste with sea salt lavender essential oil, or another of your favorite essential oils. Finely ground oatmeal is ideal for sensitive skin. You can buy or make your own Kefir for use as a face wash. Kefir is loaded with good bacteria and pH balancing properties. Honey can be used alone or with any of the other treatments mentioned. Honey is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It reduces inflammation and hydrates. Gentle is key, we aren’t sanding a reclaimed wooden desk.
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar: Tried and true apple cider vinegar is a powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent.
Dabbing blemishes with a cotton swab twice a day will keep bacteria in check and soothe skin. Also, taking 1 tablespoon with purified water can work internally to alkalize and detox the body. This will help to ease inflammatory processes.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil): This oil is a traditional topical antiseptic, antifungal remedy, and it is an extremely effective acne treatment. This remedy is particularly good for those with oily skin. You can add it to your favorite moisturizer, too.
Colloidal Silver: A suspension of submicroscopic metallic silver particles in a colloidal base. Colloidal silver can be used topically for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. We recommend talking with a healthcare professional before ingesting colloidal silver because it can have adverse events.
Bentonite Clay: This is a favorite holistic acne/skin treatment of many natural moms and health/beauty practitioners. Perhaps a gift of Pele the Hawaiian Fire Goddess and Goddess of volcanoes and lightning. Bentonite clay is derived from volcanic ash and produces an electrical charge when hydrated. It is a healing clay used across many ancient cultures. Bentonite Clay pulls excess hydrogen from the skin and allows oxygen to take its place. The clay absorbs toxins and releases healthy minerals for the body to use. Bentonite can be used topically and internally. Baths, masks, washes, and powders are all possible with Bentonite Clay.
Omega-3s: Studies have shown that using fish oil supplements for the intake of omega-3s heal acne faster. The positive effects of omega-3s are difficult to overstate. This is one of the supplements we recommend for everyone along with, Vitamin D3, and a quality probiotic.
Zinc: Zinc plays an important role in cell division and regrowth. Few foods are rich and zinc, therefore, many of us are zinc deficient. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory effects which can also help with acne. Take a zinc taste test to learn if you are deficient.
Probiotic: The contrarian approach to the typical dermatologist that prescribes an antibiotic. By maintaining a healthy gut with good bacteria you will better absorb nutrients from food and reduce immune system inflammatory responses. This is a force multiplier for great health and wellness.