Acne is commonly known for plaguing us in our teen years. However, for some men and women, acne can occur in your 20’s and 30’s. It can be associated with a poor diet, stress, post-pill or hormonal – whatever the cause Naturopathy can help reduce the outbreaks and clear the skin.
Acne – an external sign from an internal imbalance.
What Causes Acne?
Several factors can be responsible for acne, including bacteria, excess oil, stress, poor diet, and over-activity of androgens. Acne vulgaris is an inflammatory disease of the skin that affects those areas which contain the largest sebaceous glands, including the nose, forehead, cheeks, chin, back, and trunk.
Generally self-limiting, acne is noted by comedones (blackheads) and inflammatory lesions such as papules, pustules and in more severe cases, cysts and nodules.
Lesions are generally more severe and prevalent in males, but more persistent in females. Acne may appear in neonates and infants, but mostly occurs during adolescence (an estimated 85% of those between 15-24 years of age are affected to some degree), but in most acne typically resolves by age 30.
Risk factors for acne.
Major risk factors that can contribute to the incidence of acne include;
High insulin levels, associated with insulin resistance, are implicated in the development of acne, through the stimulation of epithelial cell proliferation and increased androgens, leading to an increase in sebum production.
A diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates
Fluctuating hormones associated with adolescence, menstruation (acne tends to flare 2 to 7 days pre-menstruation), or pregnancy.
Excess androgen hormones
Low zinc levels in makes and females with acne
Certain medications – corticosteroids, anabolic (androgenic) steroids, oral contraceptives, and lithium.
Topical cosmetic or hair products containing vegetable or animal fats may further block skin.
Environmental irritants such as industrial cutting oils, tar, wood preservatives, sealing compounds, and other pollutants
Friction and sweating – for example, from headbands, backpacks, bicycle helmets, or tight collars, can initiate or aggravate inflammatory acne lesions.
What does acne look like?
Open comedones (“blackheads”). Blackheads are dark in appearance and resemble (but do not represent) dirt, and do not generally cause local inflammation.
Closed comedones (“whiteheads”) that appear as 1 to 2 mm white papules and contain material that is not easily expressed
Inflamed papules, pustules, or nodules
Large cysts and nodules, which form in a small number of acne sufferers and may drain and leave scars
Scarring may have several manifestations depending on both the skin type and the type and extent of acne. Scarring may manifest as small pits or “ice-pick” scars on the face and/or body; small or large depressed scars; or hypertrophic (thickening) scarring.
Diet and Lifestyle
The relationship between diet and acne, for many, remains controversial. However, recently published findings support a link between diet and acne. It suggests a high Glycaemic Load diet (a typical western diet) can lead to an elevation of insulin.
Elevated insulin is known to lead to skin cell proliferation and increased sebum production, both risk factors for acne. These findings explain the modern phenomenon of the high prevalence of adolescent and hormonally stimulated, acne, due to the interaction of insulin with sex hormones such as androgens.
Treatment – an integrated approach
Naturopath treatment takes into account diet, stress, hormones, infections and any external factors (sweating, friction, make up, etc) that can contribute to acne.
Intervention trials using a low GL diet have shown significant improvements in adolescent acne incidence and severity.
A diet high in soluble fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids from nuts and fish, increased water is generally recommended, along with reductions in sugar, white flour, refined and processed oils, sources of trans fatty acids and dairy products.
Herbal medicine is incredibly powerful; with strong anti-inflammatory and sebum balancing effects, herbs can also balance and reduce the androgen hormones
Nutrition can help support healthy skin, improve healing and reduce any inflammation.
Lifestyle factors such as stress minimalist and coping techniques as well as exercise can reduce acne.