Most people think of acne as a teenage problem, this is not so. Many adults suffer from acne well into their 50’s and some of them never even had it as a teenager! While it can be frustrating and hurt your self esteem there is plenty that can be done to get to the root of the issue! Keep reading to learn why acne happens, and what you can do about it.
Physiology of Acne
The physiology of acne is quite similar in most people who experience the condition, what differs is what causes the skin to go haywire. Acne occurs when the pilosebaceous gland get inflamed. When this gland is inflamed it produces and secretes more sebum. When more sebum is being produced it is easy for the pore to become blocked. Excess sebum production excites the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes. We all have low levels of these bacteria on our skin, but seeing as they feed off of sebum, if sebum production is low then the bacteria are kept in check. However, if sebum levels become higher the bacteria are essentially at an all you can eat buffet….and they invite their friends! The bacteria cause the body to mount and immune response. This is what is happening when you have acne that gets red, sore and pus filled. Conventional acne treatments aim to target the bacteria and kill them off. This can help reduce the amount of acne you are getting but it is not getting to the bottom of the issue.
Why Does Acne Happen
So what is causing the excess sebum production in the first place? The short answer, lots of different things! The liver is the hormone processing factory in the body. If the liver is not functioning optimally hormone levels can get out of balance. Androgens, the male hormones, increase the thickness and quantity of sebum, leading to an increase in acne. This is why acne is a common symptom of PCOS, where women have elevated androgens. The stress hormone cortisol is also well known to increase sebum production. Think back to times when you were very stressed (exams, your wedding day) chances are your skin wasn’t looking its best. Foods that are high in sugar help to feed the Propionibacterium acne, increasing the amount of acne. A lesser known cause of acne is dehydration. When we are dehydrated the sebum gets more sticky in quality and gets trapped in the pores, triggering an inflammatory response.
How to Make it Better
The only way to improve acne for good is to get to the root cause of the symptoms. Treatment will differ greatly if your acne triggered by a food sensitivity versus a hormone imbalance. If you have been suffering from acne for some time and it just doesn’t seem to be getting better consider booking an appointment with your naturopathic doctor. A naturopathic doctor will help you figure out what is causing your acne and then design a treatment plan for you that gets to the bottom of the problem. Skin improvements can take time so it important to be patient and really give your treatment plan time to fully work, typically 3 months. Here is a list of some natural therapies that can help to reduce your acne
1) Reduce your stress! Getting your cortisol under control is one of the best ways to reduce acne. Ways to reduce cortisol include: abdominal breathing, meditation, yoga, regular moderate physical exercise, and going to bed at a decent time (before 11 pm). Cortisol is a double edged sword as when it is increased it can increase your androgens, especially in women
2) Increase your elimination: Make sure you are eating plenty of fiber (25 g/day). The liver is also an organ of elimination and helps to process hormones properly. Foods that are good for keeping the liver in tip top shape are: cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale), beets, dandelion and milk thistle tea, apples (with the skin) and B vitamins.
3) Keep hydrated: being dehydrated slows elimination and it also can cause a thickening of the sebum, making it more likely to get caught in the pores. Aim for 2 L of water and/or herbal tea per day. Keeping hydrated also makes the skin look better in general, giving it more of a glow and plumping up wrinkles
4) Eliminate Sensitive Foods: Common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, soy and corn. If your body is sensitive to a food, when you eat it, it causes an inflammatory response, which can be manifest in the pilosebaceous glands of some people. Try eliminating these common allergens for 3 weeks and see if you notice a change in your skin. Alternatively, if you do not feel that you can eliminate these foods, you can see your naturopathic doctor for IgG food sensitivity testing.
5) Hormones: hormonal imbalance of both female and male hormones can wreck havoc on the skin. Many women will know that fluctuations in their hormones throughout the course of their menstrual cycle can trigger acne. This is a common problem, but is in no way NORMAL. Working on getting the liver functioning optimally can help with hormone regulation, however it may not be enough for everyone, There are many herbs that help modulate hormones, and salivary hormone testing is available, where hormone levels are measured every 3 days over the course of the month, to help pin point which hormones are causing the problem. Learn more about the basics of hormones and how they work?
6) Products: many people with acne tend to use products that are drying in an attempt to remove excess sebum. This can have the opposite effect. If you are using products that dry the skin out too much, then the body makes even more sebum to compensate. Benzyl peroxide can often cause this problem. Try to stick to products that contain natural astringents (reduce oil without being too drying) like witch hazel and tea tree oil. Aloe vera and rose water can also help to rebalance the sebum levels on the skin. Use a mild, castile soap based facial cleanser. People with acne are also typically afraid of putting oil on their skin. Oils that are of an astringent nature and are good for people with acne include macadamia and grapeseed oil. Staying away from synthetic products is important, as they can cause inflammation in the skin.
Eco Chic Movement’s Oily Skin Moisturizer is specially formulated for acne prone skin
I hope you found this description of why acne happens and the tips for how to reduce it helpful. As always post any questions or comments in the comment section and I will be sure to get back to you!
Dr Alexis practices in Kanata . To schedule your appointment, click here
Naturopathic Medicine is covered by most extended health insurance benefits.