Acne is a chronic skin disease that happens when your hair follicles become plugged with dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells and oil. Acne is is the most common skin condition in America. It mostly affects teenagers, but there are plenty of people who have it into their twenties and to a lesser extent thirties and fourties. Mild acne can be treated using over the counter topical medications, but severe forms of acne could require visiting a dermatologist or through the application of prescription medications. Scientists have discovered that people who consume a diet high in vitamins E and A and of zinc have a lower risk of severe acne. In this article, you will learn about the different forms of acne, how they happen and self-care tips to prevent it.
What is Acne?
Acne is a pleomorphic or pro-inflammatory disease which is one of the most prevalent diseases in dermatology today. Acne commences in the sebaceous hair follicle. The sebaceous gland produces oil or sebum which moves upwards along the hair follicle and displace itself on the surface of the skin. When skin is not in its best form, and there are either clumps or uneven areas with old dry skin the glands get plugged, the sebum/oil gets trapped with bacteria within the gland with the hair follicle.
Acne manifests mainly in adolescence, starting at puberty and ending around early adulthood. However, many adults continue to have persistent acne even past the age of 40 or 50.
Different Types of Acne
There are six common and distinct way acne can occur/appear on the face, arms, legs and back (they may appear on other areas of the body as well).
Whiteheads: Forms under the surface of the skin when oil, bacteria and dead skin cells become enclosed in skin pores. This is not a form of inflammatory acne.
Blackheads: Blackheads are a result of clogged hair follicles where a pimple has pushed up to the surface of the skin. The appearance of this acne is black, which is an outcome of oxidation to melanin (not dirt). Blackheads are not a form of inflammatory acne.
Papules: Appears as a small, solid pimple that is risen and inflamed on the skin’s surface. Tender when touched, does not produce pus but may come with a rash.
Pustules: Appear as small inflamed pimples on the skin’s surface. They are filled with yellow or white pus.
Nodules: Nodules appear as large, solid and painful pimple. Filled with blood and pus, they grow under the surface of the skin. Over time they can harden.
Cysts: What is a cyst? There are many different types of cysts. Cystic acne is a deep skin infection. Causes a red, painful pus-filled pimple to form. They can cause acne scarring.
Understanding Your Skin
Skin, along with oil glands and sweat, hair and nails are all part of the Integumentary system. Their main function is the protection of deeper tissue, as well as protecting the body from dehydration (water loss), foreign pathogens and aid it in retaining heat (maintaining proper body temperature). Skin is the largest organ in the body and the most exposed, therefore it is important to keep it healthy and aid its optimal function.
Skin is composed of two distinct types of tissue the outer layer being the epidermis and the underlying layer the dermis.
Epidermis: composed of several distinct layers of epithelial tissue. Most cells are keratinocytes, meaning they produce keratin, which makes the cells (thus the skin) hard, tough, and protective. This exposed outer layer of skin constantly produces new skin cells – shedding old ones and melanin – which provides the skin with its tint of colour.
Dermis: A strong and elastic layer of skin that aids in binding the body together. It consists of nerve endings (pain receptors), blood vessels, sweat and oil glands, elastic fibres and collagen.
How to get the healthiest looking skin
Skin needs to be nourished and protected to keep it looking supple, healthy and youthful. There are numerous things that one can do to aid in having healthy-looking skin.
- Drink lots of water, stay hydrated
- Protect your skin from the sun with supplementing or eating foods high in Vitamin E and C.
- Get enough sleep – don’t let yourself be sleep deprived
- Reduce stress – practice yoga, deep breathing
- Exercise – get your endorphins moving, work your sweat glands and aid your body in detoxing
- Dry brush your skin – every day!
- Use lukewarm to warm water when washing your face and stay away from harsh chemical facial cleansers.
How Do We Get Acne?
What causes acne? The most frequent types of acne that are produced on the face are those associated with gender and one’s stage of life. The first is associated with puberty and adolescence. The change in hormones levels during and after puberty affects approximately 80-85% of teenagers. In terms of gender, there are more common reasons why males and females get acne. Females tend to be affected by acne around their menstrual cycle and later on due to menopause. Males are more likely to be affected by cystic acne.
Below are a few common reasons acne’s appearance on the skin. Very rarely is it just a single reason, as most of these causative factors work together to bring stress and imbalance to the body which over time will lead to inflammation and possibly acne manifesting on the skin.
Having a properly balanced digestive system is key to having overall good health. Any small unbalance will manifest itself elsewhere on the body – the skin being a very prominent place.
SIBO, intestinal permeability and constipation are very prevalent issues with individuals with acne. SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) can eventually become so invasive in the small intestine that the bacteria, which is competing for nutrients with the body, will eventually result in nutritional imbalances. If the body does not take up enough zinc the presence of acne on the skin becomes more prevalent as does its persistence. Moreover, if the skin is not being properly supported with nutrients that it requires building collagen and keratin it will grow less healthy and as a result, be more prone to outbursts of acne and other forms of skin inflammation.
Constipation is another way that toxins build up in the body. Constipation can be defined differently by different people, however to have a more concrete understanding let us go with the Rome III Diagnostic criteria of constipation which entails; 25% or more bowel movements are either (or a combination) stained, lumpy or hard stools, leaving the feeling of an incomplete removal of feces, manual removal or less than 3 bowel movements a week. Your bowel movement should be painless and should reflect the number of times you consume food in a day. Constipation can lead to a build-up of toxins in the body which can over time lead to increases of inflammation. Constipation can be a result of poor diet (particularly one that lacks fibre and water), SIBO and even candida and parasites.
Hormonal acne affects almost all of us in one way or another. During puberty and into adolescence as well as with menstruation hormones in the body will fluctuate. With puberty, it will take time for the hormones to balance out until growth and development are completed. With menstruation, if a clean healthy diet and lifestyle are kept hormones should fluctuate and rebalance naturally. If this is not the case, PMS symptoms can be very prevalent, hormonal acne can become very inflamed and if hormones are not able to naturally rebalance themselves it may lead to a stop in ovulation.
Androgens are sex hormones (androstenedione – an androgenic steroid that is slightly weaker than testosterone) that are produced by both males and females in varying amounts. Though women do require androgens they become very sensitive to their fluctuations within the body. Higher levels of androgen circulation in the body resulting from the ovaries producing too much testosterone (which can also lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS) will eventually lead to the appearance of hormonal acne on the skin. When levels are normal the sebaceous glands of the skin remain small when levels increase so do the glands and thus allowing for a greater chance of dead skin and bacteria to fall in with the follicle.
Stress Can Exacerbate Severe Acne
Skin can be influenced by one’s emotional status – whether one is depressed, worried or anxious over time negative emotions can be seen on the skin. Stress, for example, plays a role in the severity of acne. It has been shown that acne can worsen in its severity when an individual is under great stress. It is important to experience these emotions, however, it is also important to bring the mind back into balance and focus whether through meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
Stress can also play a role in altering the microflora of the digestive tract. Stress, over time, can lead to intestinal wall permeability which can induce systemic and localized inflammation of the skin.
Diet Can Reduce Risk Of Severe Acne
Positively changing your diet can be one of the best acne treatments. The medical system has said its opinion on the effect diet has on acne over the past few hundred years. Often in later decades, its opinion has been greatly influenced by the Agribusiness and Corporations alike to sway in their favour. However, more evidence is being shown that (though this is also depended on the individual, their heredity and the quality of food they are eating – heavily processed foods are of the lowest quality) glycemic load/index, milk and milk products, the Standard American Diet, refined fats and sugars all to a degree affect the body negatively and increase the prevalence and severity of acne on the skin.
When chocolate and nuts are put up as a culprit for acne surfacing, the quality of the ingredients in the chocolate product needs to be questioned. Did they contain additives, preservatives, colouring agents, and refined fat and sugar? If one was to eat chocolate made from pure cacao beans, sweetened naturally with vanilla bean and a bit of organic raw cane sugar would the effect be the same? If the individual ate nuts that were not rancid – opened nuts in exposed air and hot environments will result in their oils going rancid, would they have the same results with acne. Furthermore, is the individual allergic. Going back to digestive wellness, it is important to be aware of which foods are allergens for an individual or are intolerances. Either case can contribute to the appearance of inflammation on the skin.
Diets high in refined sugar, fat and processed carbohydrates will result in a body that is in a perpetual state of inflammation, with high levels of free radical damage and oxidation. Although acne may not appear on the face it can become present elsewhere on the body, away from sight and deeply embedded into the skin.
If you are experiencing severe acne, start keeping track of what you are eating, when you consume it and how you feel before during and after each meal (mentally and physically). Over time you will begin to see a connection.
REMEMBER there is no one reason for acne and every individual is different and should be treated as such. It’s important to look at all aspects of an individual’s life – diet, emotional and mental history, lifestyle, heredity, etc.
Natural & Homemade Cures for Acne
To combat acne a combination of different treatments is needed to provide long-term results for the individual. Conventional therapies can be used, such as antibiotic use, oral isotretinoin (Accutane), benzoyl peroxide, however, most of these treatments come with side effects, some of them quite severe. It is a good idea to try to start with a natural approach, give it a few months and as a last resort look towards conventional therapies. The natural approach can be the best acne treatment.
Beneficial Nutrients to Consume
Low levels of both Vitamin A and zinc in the body can aid in the prevalence of acne on the skin. Both these nutrients are beneficial in fighting off infections in the body, such as the infections of inflammatory acne. Many other supplements can be taken orally however it is good to know the systemic reason/root cause of acne before their consumption. The supplements listed below are overall beneficial for any root cause of acne.
Vitamin A– Retinol form (unless pregnant – in which case no more than 5000 IU) a maintenance level of 5000-10000 IU until a difference is seen, do not take for a prolonged time.
Beta-carotene, the plant source of vitamin A can be found in yellow, orange and dark green vegetables. Retinol, the animal source of vitamin A can be found in fish liver oil, egg yolks and milk products.
Before supplementing with Vitamin A (outside of a multi-vitamin) it is good to gently cleanse the liver and supplement with probiotics. Beta-carotene the plant food source of vitamin a is converted to retinol within the liver and small intestine, if they are not working optimally this will not occur, so it is important to have them working effectively to ensure that all food sources of vitamin A are being properly utilized – thus properly aiding the body.
Zinc Citrate– zinc is a great acne treatment, a dosage between 50-60 mg daily can make a big difference. Start with zinc before trying Vitamin A. Often this is the main nutrient that is depleted in the body as it is the number one deficiency in food. It is also depleted from the body as a result of taking the birth control pill and through excessive alcohol consumption.
Zinc can be found naturally in most animal good, oysters and fish, red meat and liver as well as poultry. Although best absorbed through animal source it is also found in whole grains, legumes, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, ginger root and mustard seed.
Probiotics– Inflamed acne such as large deep pustules are often the result of an infection. They swell, seem ginormous and are very uncomfortable. Antibiotics can be prescribed to aid in their elimination but they may not help (for myself this was the case and along with not removing the acne I got a yeast infection). A high dose of probiotics, between 150-100 billion will aid in reducing the acne. Having a healthy gut environment aid in having a healthy body. Probiotics will aid in feeding healthy bacteria, aid in the uptake of nutrients and with time combat both candida and parasites. If the acne is not to sever even a daily dose of 10-50 billion will work wonders. Make sure to take with food, preferably a high fibre meal or snack.
Vitamin E – This nutrient is essential for the uptake, utilization and regulation of vitamin A. Aids in the inhibition of lipid peroxide formation as well as boosting the body’s immune system.
Vitamin E can be found in animal sources – though they are poor – including butter, egg yolk and liver. Elsewhere it is found in vegetables, seeds and nuts and their oils as well as wheat germ.
Tea tree oil – Tea tree oil for acne is great for spot treatment as it has wondrous antiseptic properties – making it a great skin disinfectant. Bacteria can be a great acne causer so it is a good idea to make sure that the face gets a good, yet gentle cleaning every once and a while. Having tea tree oil included in your cleanser or lotion is a great way to get that done and is a wonderful acne treatment.
Holy basil – The oil from this herb is quite beneficial as an antibacterial treatment for acne. It also aids in reducing inflammation and soothing the skin.
Red sandalwood and sandalwood – Both these herbs have been shown to reduce topical inflammation on the skin. They are also both antimicrobial, antiseptic and beneficial as skin softeners. They aid in reducing itchiness and removing skin blemishes (acne scarring).
Dry brushing – Brushing away dry dead skin is a great way to ensure that your pores do not get clogged and that your skin can breathe.
Sunshine – although some may say that the sun may not be the best for your skin if you cover up your acne and make sure to supplement with both Vitamin A and E and use a clean, plant-based and organic sunscreen (one that will allow your body to still make vitamin D) letting your skin get exposure to sun and producing the very potent antioxidant vitamin D will aid in reducing your acne and inflammatory symptoms. Make sure to exfoliate afterward and moisturize (with natural aloe vera or Nature’s Aid).
Acupuncture – This oriental rejuvenating facial treatment has been shown to reduce and/or eliminate the appearance of acne on the skin. Acne is said to be the result of too much heat and fluid retained in the Greater Yin Channel of the Hand/Lung. Acupuncture aids in reversing this issue.
A Healthy Diet Can Reduce Acne
Having clean eating habits is essential. Limiting or (best) eliminating refined sugars, refined fats and refined carbohydrates, as well as all allergens and inflammatory foods (nightshades, dairy products, wheat products), will help in alleviating stress from the body and allowing it to heal.
Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. Type to use local and organic as much as possible. However, don’t feel bad to treat yourself and enjoy something you like once in a while (stressing over food will only make you feel worse and stress is not good for the skin) just make sure to pay attention to any changes you may experience during such times. You make figure out what foods are possibly triggering your acne.
Acne and Makeup – A Complex Relationship
At least 80% of cosmetic products on the market today contain ingredients that are both harmful to the skin and environment. These chemicals have been noted to be potentially carcinogenic, responsible for issues with reproductive health as well as resulting in asthma and inflammatory reaction on the skin and within the body.
Some aestheticians believe that there is no use in applying an acne treatment on the face is during the day harmful and chemical-filled cosmetics are in use. Cosmetic induced acne is most prevalent on the cheeks and chin – this can be associated with the toxicity effect on the skin directly or an effect internally in the body that is being displayed topically on the skin.
Rules to follow
- You must set any liquid products that you use with powder – especially if one has acne
- What is important with acne is to not use oil-based foundations, water is best as you do not want to clog your pores – however technically speaking if you put makeup on your face you are clogging up your pore – oil-based would make this much worse.
- Don’t do anything that will make you sweat with makeup on, this means going to the gym or any physical activity that will cause your body to sweat. This will clog the pores even more and make one break out more profusely with acne.
- If one has acne-prone skin and chooses to wear makeup it is important to remember to always remove the makeup as soon as you get home and follow it up with your regular cleaning procedures. This could include; cleanse, tone, moisturize, serum, spot treatment.
- Clay masks are also good to do, however not more than twice a week.
Oil or Water Based moisturizers on the Skin?
The views on this are very divided. I for one use oil-based moisturizers and cleansers – however, they are 100% plant-based and organic, no fillers. Water-based moisturizers and products for that matter do not absorb into the skin naturally, they need to contain a synthetic chemical compound that will move the essential nutrient added to the product into the skin. Skin is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. If Vitamin E or C is added to a moisturizer to benefit the skin it will provide very little benefit if any at all as the nutrients will stay on top of the skin instead of being absorbed in (Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin some of it may be absorbed with aid from the sebum on the skin if it has not been washed away).
The decision is up to you. There are many great oil-based alternatives which I have listed above that can be tried alongside healthy and positive lifestyle and dietary changes to aid in reducing the presence and prevalence of acne on the skin.
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Amanda Filipowicz is a certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) with a bachelor in environmental studies (BES) from York University. She also has certification in clinical detoxification, prenatal and postnatal care as well as nutrition for mental health. She has been working as a nutritionist since 2013 and is a lifelong proponent of eating healthy.