Have you tried virtually everything to clear your skin but still suffer from acne? Or maybe you’re just starting to get breakouts and don’t know where to turn for a solution? Either way, one thing is for sure: acne sucks.
Most of us have at one time or another felt the devastating blow of looking in the mirror and seeing that glaringly obvious pimple or cluster of red bumps but when acne becomes severe or goes on for long period of time, it can self-esteem depressing, shattering to self-esteem and cause significant anxiety.
Most of us with acne have already tried every topical treatment under the sun, with less-than-thrilling results. This is because although acne seems like an external problem it is actually an internal problem, most of the time. Occasionally, acne may be caused simply by using comedogenic (pore-blocking) skin care products or due to occupation (certain chemicals blocking the pores of the skin) so look out for these, but most cases of acne are due to hormonal imbalance.
HOW ACNE IS FORMED
Acne is formed when excess male-type hormones (known as androgens) stimulate increased oil production and skin cell turnover in pores. These dead cells have a tendency to stick together and get stuck in pores, mixing with the oil to form a hard plug, known as a blackhead. When blocked pores get inflamed or infected you get the red bumps and whiteheads, known as acne.
Excess androgens can be caused by:
- Poor blood sugar balance – this causes an increase in insulin, which stimulates androgen production from the ovaries in women. Research is still investigating how insulin causes acne in men, but there is a definite link.
- Stress – stimulates androgen production from our adrenal glands
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Nutrient deficiencies – these can impact your ability to detoxify used hormones, and your ability make hormones that compete with androgens, thus reducing their effect
- Poor detoxification – your liver is responsible for detoxifying hormones and sending them to the gut for excretion. If it’s underperforming we get hormonal imbalance.
- Gut problems – when your gut doesn’t work properly you re-absorb used hormones instead of excreting them, creating imbalance. Poor gut health can also impact nutrient absorption.
- Genetic susceptibility – some people don’t have high levels of androgens on blood tests and it is thought that they have a susceptibility to normal levels of androgen. I still find that the same treatments work for these people!
TREATING ACNE FROM THE INSIDE OUT
You might have tried some medical options like long-term antibiotics, the contraceptive pill or more aggressive medications prescribed by dermatologists. These don’t always get results or if they do your acne may return as soon as you stop them. They also each come with their own set of side effects:
- Antibiotics can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, thrush and used long-term can have devastating effects on your good gut bacteria, that can take some time to rehabilitate.
- Likewise, the contraceptive pill can impact your gut bacteria causing thrush and bacterial imbalance. The pill also depletes a range of nutrients that are vital for hormone balance so often acne returns with a vengeance after ceasing the pill as our hormones are even more out of balance than before.
- Other commonly prescribed acne drugs may cause severe side effects such as depression, ulcerative colitis, bone loss and even liver damage. If you read the warnings accompanying the prescription you will have a more accurate overview of possible side effects. Some are even contraindicated if pregnant or planning a pregnancy so it is really important before these are considered to have an in-depth discussion with the doctor who is prescribing them to assess whether the risk is really worth it.
The mainstay of acne treatment is changing your diet. A healthy diet ensures we have a healthy gut, good liver detoxification, plenty of nutrients, and most importantly, good blood sugar regulation – this is key to keeping acne away for good.
- Include plenty of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and lean meats
- Include protein with every meal and snack
- Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates including natural sugars such as honey, white breads, pastas, pastries, cakes, cookies etc. Limit your fruit intake to two pieces per day and avoid alcohol as much as possible – alcohol wreaks havoc on blood sugar and your liver.
- Limit or exclude dairy. Ideally exclude dairy completely until your skin has cleared, however, some people do ok with small amounts of goat’s, sheep and buffalo cheese, and natural yoghurt.
- Fish oil
This is great for calming inflamed pimples but also works at the pore level to decrease blocked pores and the formation of acne. It is also incorporated into cell membranes, helping our skin to stay supple, soft, hydrated and healthy. Note that the quality of fish oil supplements varies widely so look for one that contains well below the permissible level of mercury and is guaranteed to be fresh, not rancid.
Often fish oil alone is not enough. A combination of zinc and fish oil is much more powerful. Zinc is a mineral that has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. Research has shown it to reduce oil production and stop skin cells sticking together and blocking pores.
- Vitamin B5
This vitamin significantly reduced acne in a clinical trial after 12-weeks of use. It appears to exert an antibacterial effect and decrease the proliferation of skin cells in pores.
This medicinal mushroom exhibits strong anti-androgen action
Research supports this herbal medicine as being a suitable alternative to antibiotics for nodulocystic acne
- Licorice and peony
This herbal combination has been in use for thousands of years. Research shows that it reduces the impact of androgens in women by inhibiting their production and blocking their actions.
- Vitex agnus-castus
This herb reduces the impact of androgens by increasing progesterone (an androgen-blocking hormone) and decreasing prolactin. If you have PCOS or irregular periods this herb may NOT be the best choice for you – see your naturopath.
How long will it take?
So it is possible to say goodbye to the heartache of seeing yet another breakout and clear up your skin for good but it won’t happen overnight, so stick with it. The most important step is to clean up your diet to ensure you are limiting androgen production and detoxifying hormones well.
Where possible, it’s best to see your naturopath for access to high-quality, effective supplements, and for guidance on which natural medicines will work best for your individual situation. When chosen carefully and used in the right dose, supplements and herbs help you get results much quicker than diet alone and in just a few short months you could be glowing with pride and healthy skin.
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