Acne is the most common skin disorder in the modern world. While acne typically begins during puberty, it is not limited to adolescents and may impact any age group. Though not physically dangerous, acne can take a huge psychological toll. Some sufferers become so self-conscious and embarrassed that their professional and personal lives become severely impacted.
Most people think that acne is merely an aesthetic problem. You try topical acne creams that contain benzoyl peroxide, retinoid acid, salicylic acid, glycol acid, or antibiotics, all of which may help the symptoms a little. In more severe cases, you see a dermatologist, who may prescribe oral antibiotics (which long-term use can cause antibiotic resistance, intestinal permeability, and yeast overgrowth), birth control pills (which are synthetic hormones that raise your risks of blood clots and cancer, and may lead to weight gain, mood changes, and yeast overgrowth), or Isotretinoin (which can cause liver damage and severe birth defects in a developing fetus).
If you truly want healthy skin, it is important to know that you cannot just treat the symptoms. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and an organ of elimination (through sweating), which is why problems on the surface are often a sign of underlying issues. The condition of the skin is a reflection of the body’s overall health. Good skin comes from the inside out, not the outside in! Therefore, treating acne requires a systemic approach that involves your whole body.
Systemic Root Causes of Acne
Acne is a skin condition that usually involves inflammation, excessive sebum (oil) production, pore blockage, and bad bacterial presence/infection. It is unlikely that acne is triggered by a single definitive cause but instead a combination of factors. The following explains the various systemic root causes of acne. See if any applies to you.
Acne is caused by inflammation. Any meal or snack that is high in sugar (both refined and natural) and carbohydrates (both refined and whole grains) generates a quick blood glucose spike. To adjust for this rapid rise, your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream. Repeated surges in insulin promotes inflammation and the production of the male hormone testosterone that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, setting the stage for acne.
If you have acne, it is advisable to eat foods that do not spike your blood sugar and insulin. By simply replacing your sugar and grain carbohydrates with protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, you will likely notice improvement in your complexion.
Milk and dairy consumption is also closely linked to acne. Milk contains components related to testosterone, which may trigger acne.
Certain fats (like omega-6) in the diet promote inflammation while others (like omega-3) dampen it. Processed foods, fast foods, commercially fried foods, and restaurant foods generally use vegetable oils such as those derived from canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower that are relatively high in omega-6, which adds to the inflammation load in your body.
Most people are getting too much inflammatory omega-6 fats from their diet and not enough omega-3 fats. For this reason, it is crucial to increase your consumption of clean, quality fats from low-mercury fish (such as wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, and herrings) and pasture-raised animals (such as grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range chicken, and wild game) that are high in omega-3. (The meat from corn-fed cows can have up to 50 times more omega-6 than omega-3.) Omega-3 has the effect of reducing inflammation and regulating testosterone levels in women. Alternatively, consider taking a high quality omega-3 supplement.
A typical American diet of processed foods and fast foods contains very little fresh vegetables and fruits and is deficient in nutrients and antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E. Antioxidants have natural anti-inflammatory properties. By eating foods that are high in antioxidants, you help to modulate the inflammatory responses in the body.
Certain foods like turmeric, ginger, green tea, nuts, berries, and dark green leafy vegetables have very high antioxidant levels.
Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados are also high in antioxidants.
Food Sensitivities and Leaky Gut
You may not realize it, but foods you eat every day can be slowly causing health and skin problems. Delayed food sensitivities are among the most common causes of acne. Many people are unaware that they have a sensitivity towards common foods like gluten (protein in wheat, rye, and barley), dairy, eggs, corn, and soy.
These sensitive foods not only cause widespread inflammation that shows up on your skin, they also mess up your balance of gut flora (good vs. bad bacteria). Taking probiotic supplements (friendly gut bacteria) is extremely beneficial in restoring the gut flora and improving skin conditions.
Food sensitivities also result in a leaky gut (intestinal permeability). Therefore, you need to stop eating the sensitive foods. Try an elimination diet by cutting out the culprit foods (like the ones mentioned above) for a month and see how you feel. If any of your health symptoms improves, you probably have a sensitivity towards the foods.
What’s more, many people whose gut is unhealthy develop chronic, low-grade gut infections from parasites, bacteria, and yeast. These infections can be treated with antibiotics or prescription meds which is the fastest option, but there are also anti-microbial botanicals that are just as effective (and without the side effects of drugs) and can be used to address your gut infections.
Acne that has a hormonal component often flares up at predictable times due to the cyclical nature of hormones during certain phases of the menstrual cycle. For many women, the week before the menstrual cycle is the time when symptoms peak. Be aware that certain dietary factors may further aggravate the imbalances in your entire hormonal system.
When you keep eating your sensitive foods, your body responds to the constant irritation by upping its production of the stress hormone cortisol, which has an effect on the levels of your sex hormones.
Too much caffeine, which is a stimulant, can wreak havoc on your hormonal system.
A diet with a high ratio of omega-6:3 fatty acids results in the production of hormones that increase inflammation.
Eating too much sugar and carbohydrates results in higher insulin and testosterone levels.
Chemicals like flame retardants (from sleeping pillows made of polyurethane foam, vehicle seats, and sofas), parabens and phthalates (from shampoos and make-ups), and other plastic-related chemicals are major hormone disruptors. Avoid them as much as you practically can. Be aware that many over-the-counter acne creams are also loaded with parabens and phthalates.
Some people are perpetually dehydrated. Water is required by your body to facilitate cell growth and regeneration, elimination of wastes, and sloughing away of the dead skin cells. Hydration improves skin tone. Drink enough clean, filtered water every day so that your urine is a pale yellow color. If your urine is bright yellow, you are likely not drinking enough water, unless you are taking B vitamins, which will turn urine bright yellow.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise is a potent anti-inflammatory; it turns on the genes that suppress inflammation.
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity.
When you exercise and sweat, your body has the opportunity to flush out toxins through your skin’s pores. Saunas are also helpful in flushing out unwanted debris and contaminants out of your pores.
Stress and Sleep
Stress causes acne flare-ups. Stress does this by increasing inflammation, raising cortisol, and depleting zinc, magnesium, and selenium, all of which help to control acne. Hence, it is important that you find ways to reduce your stress or change your attitude and responses, and engage in activities that are relaxing for you, such as taking a bubble bath, walking in the park, practicing yoga or meditation.
Sleep is another necessity for good health. After a period of sleep deprivation, it is common to have more oily skin and breakouts. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, increases the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers used by immune cells to communicate with one another), and affects the regulation of insulin. Make sure you get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night as this is the time the body, including your skin, heals and rebuilds.
Natural Suggestions for Acne
Apart from the systemic strategies mentioned above, there are some natural topical options that may help to supplement the systemic efforts.
Wash your face more often. This will help remove the excess oil on your skin.
Rub a drop of oregano oil on a breakout. Oregano oil is anti-bacterial and will speed up the healing and prevent unsightly scarring. Wash your hands afterwards.
Smear a thin layer of Manuka honey on your skin. This New Zealand honey variety has particularly strong anti-bacterial properties.
Use the steam room in the gym or lean over a pot of hot water to open pores for a good cleansing.
Minimize bacteria exposure by keeping hands and hair away from the face. Clean your phones regularly. Use fresh pillowcases.
Carol Chuang is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Metabolic Typing Advisor. She has a Masters degree in Nutrition and is the founder of CC Health Counseling, LLC. Her passion in life is to stay healthy and to help others become healthy. To learn more about Metabolic Typing, her nutrition counseling practice, and how to get a complimentary phone consultation, please go to http://cchealthcounseling.com