Natural Treatment of Acne
Nearly everyone would have experienced acne at some point in their lives – with more than 85% of Australians experiencing some form of acne between the ages of 13-25 years. The typical spots, known as pimples and black heads, can be mild and infrequent or severe and prolonged, bringing both physical and emotional pain and discomfort. Acne vulgaris is the most common form of acne, but there are other types such as acne rosacea which is more common in adult women.
The teenage years are, of course, when we are most prone to this skin affliction and nothing brings dread into the heart of the average teenager more than a bad case of acne. Puberty heralds an activation of reproductive hormones and this increases the likelihood of acne.
Causes of Acne
Acne is caused by androgens (such as testosterone) stimulating the sebaceous glands in the skin of the face, neck and upper body. This stimulation causes an increase in the size of the glands and also an overproduction of sebum. Too much sebum can cause a blockage which results in the small fluid filled spots known as pimples. Bacteria and white blood cells get trapped in the pimples and multiply quickly causing swelling, redness and discomfort. Blackheads are also caused by too much sebum but the dark appearance is due to the presence of the pigment melanin.
Stress is also a common trigger for acne and while this has always been common knowledge to acne sufferers, only recently have studies been done to prove the impact of stress on acne. Exam stress was found in one study to definitely exacerbate acne in students. Stress is thought to worsen acne due to increased hormones produced by the adrenal glands and also by slowing down healing. Self esteem issues are common in most teenagers, but particularly those with acne. Studies have shown that teenagers with acne experience low self esteem, social isolation and are more prone to depression and anxiety. So it is essential that treatment for acne is holistic and takes into account the psychological elements as well as the physical.
The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to treat acne. Firstly, let’s look at the conventional medical treatments and some of the problems with them. Standard medical treatment normally involves long term antibiotics which are aimed at decreasing the infection in the skin. The problem with antibiotics is the destruction of healthy bacteria in other areas of the body, such as the gut. This seems counterintuitive when a healthy gut and bowel function are essential in clearing body wastes including excess hormones as well as supporting optimal immune function. Retinoids (such as roaccutane) are another medical treatment derived from synthetic vitamin A which are used in bad cases of acne. These are powerful drugs with many serious side effects and I believe they are best avoided. There are also topical types of retinoid creams that are less harmful that the oral dose. Other treatments such as the contraceptive pill can be used in women to help balance the hormones that cause acne – however from a holistic perspective this is not really treating the underlying cause. Natural approaches always aim to determine and treat what is contributing to the complaint.
Natural Treatment of Acne
Natural approaches to acne tend to focus on hormone balance, a nutrient dense & low sugar diet, healthy bowel function and stress management. Nutrients that are essential for healthy skin include vitamin A, E and C and the mineral zinc. When these nutrients are deficient, the skin is more likely to be unhealthy and will also scar more readily. Scarring in cystic acne always improves when the right nutrients are supplied.
A healthy diet is absolutely essential in treating acne, but not always easy for the average teenager to adhere to. Sugar is a major culprit in acne as it causes a surge in insulin which in turn stimulates an increased production of androgens which go on to trigger acne flare-ups. So avoidance of sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white flour products like breads, cereals and biscuits will indirectly decrease acne. A good intake of fibre from vegetables, nuts & seeds will ensure excess hormones are removed through the bowel, decreasing the stimulus on acne. Probiotic supplements and fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir can also be useful as they help to promote good gut health, detoxification and robust immunity.
Herbal medicine provides many options for acne with hormone balancing herbs, liver and bowel herbs, immune and general ‘skin cleansing’ herbs. Once again, when you have a whole health assessment, we can detect what the underlying trigger for the acne is and then an individual herbal formula can be designed for each case and often gives great results.
Stress management is essential in acne treatments and should include yoga, meditation, massage, exercise and a balance should be sort between work, study and rest. If stress is a big trigger, herbs and flower essences can also help.
Natural Topical Treatments
It is normally best to not squeeze pimples and avoid touching your skin too much as your hands carry bacteria, which can make pimples worse. While, most of the problems with acne come from the inside out as detailed above, there are also some good natural remedies that you can apply to blemishes and pimples to promote healing and reduce inflammation on the surface. Apple cider
vinegar diluted 50:50 with water makes an effective treatment for spots as does lavender oil, teatree oil or raw honey applied to individual pimples. Be sure to find a good natural cleanser, use a microfibre cloth, carry out gentle exfoliation regularly and using a light lotion based moisturiser is normally necessary. Stripping too much oil from the skin can create rebound overproduction of sebum which may aggravate skin further. Rosehip or argan oil are very good for promoting healing after a lesion has healed and can reduce scarring.
Patience is also necessary as all treatments for acne, whether they be natural or drug based, can take at least six weeks to have any noticeable impact, as the skin takes some time to respond.