Acne...it affects a majority of teenagers and many adults well into middle age. It is dreaded and despaired over by many who suffer from this common skin condition. Clearing acne begins by understanding what acne really is and what triggers it. Then we will consider how it can be controlled by lifestyle choices, skin care choices and wise use of make-up.
Who suffers from it?
Teenagers struggle with acne, but so do many adults. Acne breakouts can result from fluctuating hormone levels at various stages of life, such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Outwardly, acne can reveal internal signs, such as poor elimination or buildup of toxins, a lack of exercise or high stress levels. Both men and women contend with acne, and as good health and beauty are intertwined, the causes of acne can reveal the solutions to managing and reducing skin breakouts.
What is it?
Acne occurs when the oil glands produce excess sebum, the skin's own oil, which accumulates with dead skin cells to form a plug which results in a clogged skin pore. Bacteria trapped inside the pore feed of the sebum mixture, multiplying and producing agents which irritate the walls of the pore. As the immune system works to attack the bacteria, pus is formed leading to an inflamed pimple, blackhead or whitehead. Picking or squeezing a pimple can cause the pore to rupture, releasing the bacteria into the surrounding area, and can cause more pimples, cysts or scars. For many, certain areas of the skin have overactive sebaceous, or oil glands which produce excess sebum. These areas are typically the forehead, nose, cheeks and/or chin. Comedones, or blackheads, are not caused by dirt, but rather by sebum which has clogged a pore, oxidized and discoloured by melanin.
What triggers it?
Often a spotty complexion denotes a diet high in sugar or saturated fats found in fried foods, refined or processed foods. Conversely, a diet low in fat may lack essential fatty acids, and can also affect the appearance of the skin. Breakouts can reveal toxin buildup, resulting from constipation, kidney or lymphatic problems. Other triggers include a polluted, dry environment, and seasonal climate changes. Genetics also determines whether a person will be predisposed to acne breakouts. In general, acne is caused by a combination of four main factors:
- Skin Care
- Emotional State
We cannot change our genetics, but we can change the other three factors to help reduce the likelihood of acne breakouts.
How can acne be controlled?
Skin needs to be cleansed, fed and nurtured. Externally, the skin benefits from a simple regimen:
- Cleansing with a mild, slightly acidic and all natural soap. Other kinds of soaps can cause redness, soreness, irritation or tightness because of the harsh chemicals, colorants detergents and fragrances they are made with. Avoid any products which contain ingredients which may irritate or dry out the skin. Most often culpable ingredients are petroleum derived, synthetic or animal based.
- Tone with an alcohol-free, all natural toner, since alcohol is drying to the skin and will cause the oil glands to produce more sebum. Toner also helps reduce the bacterial population on the skin, decreasing the number of bacteria which will migrate into the pores.
- Moisturize with a petroleum free cream. Petroleum is comedogenic and can clog pores unnecessarily. Creams which contain natural waxes such as beeswax do not have a comedogenic effect on the pores. At night, massage a facial oil into the skin as this helps increase circulation to the surface of the skin and suppresses the oil glands from producing excess oil.
- Once per week, use a gentle exfoliant to remove dead skin cells which accumulate at the surface of the pores and lead to blackheads. A mud mask used once every couple of weeks also helps draw out sebum in the pores as the clays present in the mask are highly absorbent.
Internally, the skin is fed and cleansed by a diet rich in fresh fruits, whole grains and vegetables. These foods provide more water, nutrients and fibre into the diet and can make a remarkable difference in the appearance of the skin. Relaxation, adequate sleep, exercise and stress reduction also play an important role in keeping the skin clear and healthy as they assist the body to repair and detoxify itself.
Seasonal or climate changes, such as winter and humid summers in addition to dry, polluted environments also contribute to acne breakouts by drying out or irritating the skin. As the skin is exposed to dry temperatures moisture is lost through the skin, triggering the oil glands to produce more sebum. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized is essential to preventing the pores from becoming clogged with excess sebum. In humid conditions, the skin loses moisture through sweat and evaporation, triggering the same process which can lead to breakouts. Moisturizing and regular cleansing in dry, humid or polluted conditions can reduce the onset of acne.
Makeup can also trigger breakouts. If they contain comedogenic ingredients, such as those derived from petroleum, they may contribute to acne despite a clean and healthy skin regimen or lifestyle. Choose all natural makeup which is in harmony with the rest of your skin care regimen and less likely to contribute to breakouts.
Acne treatments which contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide worsen acne, as these are skin irritants and very drying. Tea tree essential oil is a natural alternative, and works by sterilizing the infected area upon contact without damaging the surrounding skin cells. It can also prevent microbial growth in that area for hours. Other treatments for acne include hydrocortisone which thins the skin over time, or antibiotics which can contribute to microbial resistance in the long term. Hormone treatments work by decreasing testosterone levels in the body, since this is the hormone responsible for sebum production. There are natural alternatives to aid in controlling acne, such as tea tree, lemon and juniper berry essential oils. These are effective and much safer to use for treating acne.
Acne can be a source of frustration for many. Much can be done, however to minimize the occurrence of breakouts thereby reducing the impact of acne on our lives. Making healthy adjustments to our diet, lifestyle and skin care product choices can lead to clearer, more radiant and healthy skin, free at last from acne.
- Erikson, K, (2002). Drop Dead Gorgeous
- Marsden, K, (1993). Super Skin
- Purvis, D, (1989). The Business of Beauty