Getting into natural health was one of the best things I did for my skin. Over time I learned how I eat and live my life affects my skin. This is also true for many others, I’ve long since lost count on the number of positive comments and emails I get from people.
But there’s a dark side to natural health and healing. It encourages people to adopt many fallacious and, frankly speaking, dangerous beliefs. One of these is the idea that having acne means there’s something wrong with you. That you need to cleanse or fix your acne away.
In this post I want to show that it’s natural for humans to have acne. It’s been with us for thousands and thousands of years. While in some cases it is a sign of internal problems, in other cases it’s indeed a natural consequence of being a human – something no one needs to be ashamed of.
Egyptian Pharaohs, Greek philosophers and other acne sufferers
The natural health proponents often claim acne is a modern disease, and point the finger to many modern-day sins. The usual culprits include scary chemicals, technology (e.g. microwave oven), and modern-day unnatural diet. While I believe acne is commoner now, pimples have always plagued humans.
Medical texts both from ancient Greeks and Egyptians mention acne and various ways to get over it. The tomb of Tutankhamun, the Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled from 1332 BC to 1323 BC, contained known acne remedies, suggesting he had acne. Other tombs have evidence for scar treatments.
Writings of both Hippocrates and Aristotle shows they were familiar with acne, and that the disease was well-known and recognized:
The ancient Greek physicians certainly recognized acne which they knew as tovoot, a condition which Aristotle  describes in sufficient detail for there to be little doubt of the identification. Hippocrates  also uses the term, but does not state what he means by it, although his wording suggests that it was a well-known and recognized disease. That tovoot were associated with puberty is implied in the meaning of this word in the singular, roveos, which means “the first growth of the beard”
R. N. R. Grant. The History of Acne. Proc R Soc Med. Aug 1951; 44(8): 647–652.
Note that the spelling of the Greek terms in the above quote is certainly wrong. In the paper they were spelled with the Greek alphabets and what you see is the result of copy-paste.
As long as there has been acne there have also been weird theories of what causes it and how to cure it. The Greek poet Theocritus at 3rd century B.C claimed that telling lies causes pimples on the nose. In the 4th century AD the court physician of Theodosius advised patients to wipe their face with cloth while watching a falling star – and the pimples would fall from the body. Of course, ancient Roman physicians also treated acne with sulfur, something we still do today.
In the Elizabethan era (1558–1603 AD) acne was linked to witch craft, and people treated pimples with a type of mercury makeup. In 1931 Bruno Bosch, a Swiss doctor, examined 4000 girls and boys in Zurich and concluded acne was so common it could be regarded as physiological manifestation of puberty.
The point I’m making is that acne is anything but modern. It may be commoner today, and our ‘modern sins’ may indeed contribute to it, but it has existed far longer than any of the sins that allegedly cause it. Acne may indeed be a very natural thing for humans.
The Great Natural Health Lie
Perhaps the biggest lie the natural health community promotes is the myth of the perfect body. Well.. it’s not exactly lie as many of them seem to believe it, but ‘lie’ makes for a much more dramatic writing than ‘fallacy’.
This is the idea that the human body is perfect and health problems, like acne, are signs that something is wrong. That you are doing something to disrupt the natural balance and harmony of the body. The implication being that you are somehow toxic, unclean or broken.
In order to get clear you have to find and eliminate these disruptions and bring your body ‘back to balance’. Here’s a sampling of some alleged imbalances that cause acne and a science-based perspective on them:
- Hormonal imbalance, acne is usually blamed on the unproven idea of estrogen dominance. Science: Studies show women with acne have somewhat elevated androgen levels, but they are still within normal ranges. None of the scientific papers on hormones and acne mention anything about estrogen imbalances.
- Liver toxicity or stagnation. Science: Liver toxicity and stagnation are made-up diseases and the liver doesn’t need boosting or support. Tens of thousands of people take Accutane every year, and the liver function of each patient is monitored. Despite all the testing, nobody has ever shown acne patients have abnormal liver function.
- Stagnant digestion and toxic colon. Science: Another case of pure fiction. In some cases acne may be linked to gut problems, but this has nothing to do with toxic colon and you cannot get rid of these problems with cleansing.
- Systemic Candida infection. Candida is real, and so are systemic Candida infections. However, systemic Candida infections only occur in people with severely compromised immune system (if you are not currently lying in a hospital bed, this doesn’t include you). There’s no evidence that any undiagnosed Candida epidemics exist. Candida infections in the gut and skin may contribute to acne, but, again, these are not something you need or can cleanse away.
- Food sensitivities. Chiropractors and naturopaths often claim acne is caused by eating foods you are sensitive to. Science: It’s possible that food sensitivities affect acne, but the real problem is none of the tests the alternative practitioners use can diagnose them. One test they commonly use is the muscle test or applied kinesiology. The muscle test is an example of the ideomotor effect, the same ‘mystical force’ that powers dowsing and Ouija boards. See the video below for how these tricks fail when they are tested properly. The blood tests the practitioners use (such as Elisa and ALGAT) measure IgG antibodies, but IgG denotes exposure to food and cannot be used to diagnose allergies or sensitivities. Bottomline: none of these tests can reliably diagnose food allergies or sensitivities.
Video: The ideomotor effect is convincing (it has fooled me before), but it’s nothing more than an elaborate self-deception and vanishes when tested properly. Here’s what happens when dowsers are put to test.
I’m sure you can see why this idea is so dangerous. Yes, it encourages people to eat and take better care of themselves. But it also encourages them to see deviations from idealized perfect health as flaws, something to be ashamed of.
Even worse, symptoms of life – occasional fatigue, headaches, trouble getting up in the morning, feeling run down and stressed – are seen as signs of adrenal fatigue, Candida infections, multiple chemical sensitivity, electro sensitivity, wind turbine syndrome, or countless other made up diseases. I’ve seen countless cases of people spending thousands of dollars and several years hunting for elusive causes of their acne – with little to show for.
Seeing acne as an unnatural flaw also causes a lot of stress and anxiety for some people. It’s not uncommon for people stick to restricting and socially isolating diets because they believe they have to purify their body. In extreme cases this leads to eating disorders and food phobias.
Seeing yourself as flawed also adds unnecessary emotional stress. Acne is burden enough without believing you are somehow irreparably toxic.
So let me just go on record saying that just because you have acne doesn’t mean you are broken or need fixing.
Are you doomed to live with acne?
Now that we’ve, hopefully, established that having acne is normal for humans, let’s talk about getting over it. Despite being normal for humans, I still believe most people can make a huge difference to their acne by following science-based diet and lifestyle advice.
The best scientific evidence to date shows that acne is caused by a mixture of (see here for a more detailed explanation):
Acne can’t be cured because the tendency to get acne is largely genetic. This means that if your acne doesn’t fade with teen years, the best you can do is manage it.
Diet, lifestyle and smart supplementation can affect hormones and inflammation behind acne. This doesn’t automatically mean you have to eat healthier. People with gut problems may need to avoid foods most people consider healthy – while eating processed junk causes no problems. The intervention needs to be designed to address the causes behind your acne.
In absence of any physical abnormalities, like excessive growth of androgen-producing tissues, I believe that moderate/severe acne can be reduced to mild acne; level where you only have a few small pimples or just breakout occasionally.
Is it possible to completely get rid of mild acne? Perhaps it is for some people, but if I had to bet money I’d say that for most people with mild or occasional acne, it’s far easier to learn to live with it.
As we talked earlier, acne has plagued humans for thousands of years. While it has been described as a teenage problem, I’m sure adult acne has existed equally long. Having acne seems very natural for humans.
Don’t try to fix emotional problems with a knife and fork
Please take a moment to think about the deeper reasons you want to get over acne. This is more for people with mild or occasional acne. I understand that moderate or severe acne can have a very real impact on your life, but it’s hard to believe that mild acne itself would hold you back in life. And I mean acne itself – not what you think about it. After all, many successful models and movie stars have acne.
For the vast majority of people the reason for getting over acne boils down to emotional pain. Perhaps you believe that acne somehow makes you ugly or unworthy, and if you just could get over acne you could feel good about yourself.
While I don’t doubt the emotional pain you feel, I do believe that it has less to do with acne and more with what you believe about yourself. Acne, like all other imperfections, are something we can point the finger at and lay the blame on. It’s easier to say I’m ugly because I have acne, than to admit I feel ugly and just don’t like myself. In the first case you have something external to blame, while the latter, god forbid, forces you to look inside.
But if you blame acne for the emotional pain, then how do you think you are going to solve it? By doing your best to get rid of acne.
Let me just tell you right now that this is a very bad idea. I’ve lost count of the emails where the distress and emotional pain seems to bleed off the screen. More often than not these people already follow very restrictive diets, but they believe they have to do more, to cut out more bad foods. Because they believe there’s something inside of them that needs to be fixed and purified. In a very real sense these people have been cursed.
Aside from that, I believe they are also looking for answers in the wrong place. They are trying to fix emotional problems with a knife and work. And it never works.
A far better option is to look inside, and try to figure out why you make such a big deal out of mild acne. What do you believe about yourself that causes so much pain?
Solving that riddle both helps you to feel better about yourself and is good for your skin. Stress is a known factor in acne and constantly stressing over your skin more than likely perpetuates it.
I’m not a psychologists but I can point you towards books and methods that have helped me. The best of which is a remarkably simple and effective technique known as rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). REBT is a cognitive behavior therapy developed by Dr. Albert Ellis.
This post is getting quite long already, so rather than explain REBT in detail and how to use it, I’m just going to point you towards books that have helped me a lot:
- How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything by Dr. Albert Ellis
- How to Accept Yourself (Overcoming Common Problems) by Dr. Windy Dryden
Both cover much of the same ground and teach you how to use REBT on your own. How to Accept Yourself is deals more with self-esteem and acceptance, while the other book covers a broader range of negative emotions.
I like REBT because despite being remarkably simple to use as a self-help technique, it’s also very effective and scientifically validated. This is not one of those self-help approaches that makes you feel positive for a few days but causes no real change.
Conclusion: To have acne is human
I hope that by now we have established that acne is a natural part of human life. The earliest records of it go back several thousand years, and it has probably been with us as long as we’ve been humans. It’s certainly much older that many of the modern sins blamed for it.
Diet and lifestyle do affect acne, and with rational and scientifically guided changes it’s usually possible to drastically reduce moderate/severe acne. But no amount of healthy eating and living gets rid of the genetic tendency towards acne.
Getting rid of mild/occasional acne may or may not be possible, but I feel it’s much easier just to learn to live with it. A person stressing over the occasional pimple probably needs to work more on self-esteem and emotional issues than acne. Because even when acne is gone, those problems will find another outlet; perhaps less than ideal weight or imperfectly shaped nose.
You are never going to be happy and content until you learn to accept yourself, pimples and all. In other words, as a human.
Epilogue – reader story
A reader and a frequent commenter, Adel, asked me to write a post about “why it’s ok to have acne”. What you just read is the result. He struggled and overcame with many of the issues I talked in this post. So I asked him to write his story to give this post some personal touch. Here’s what he had to say.
Hi! My name is, Adel. But most people call me Alex.
And I’m 18, almost 19 years old now. Living in Copenhagen in Denmark. Which is located near Finland where Seppo is from. 😉
I’ll try and not make this a lengthy post so I’ll just go right to the stuff.
I think the first time I got acne was when I was about 11, I clearly remember I got this big pimple on the side of my nose, when it finally disappeared I think there went about 2 solid years before I started getting acne regularly.
It was nothing special really, I got that occasional pimple but my skin was… More or less clear you could say? Anyways. Fast forwarding to my late 16’s and my 17-18’s and that’s where things got interesting.
I was about to start in College and I decided that I wanted to have clear skin so I went on acne.org’s website and purchased the regimen. While I was reading all the positives reviews I was sure that this was the regimen that was going to make things work for me!
But not quite..
I remember when I got the products, when I first started using it, nothing really happened. In fact the first 2 weeks nothing happened at all. After a while my skin started to dry out and all the pimples I hah did the same. Everything was cool but my skin was really dry.
It didn’t help much that it increased my skin’s sensitivity to the sun; hanging out in the park in the King’s Garden is a tradition in Denmark during the 1st week of College and drinking beer (of course) at the same time. I never needed to use sunscreen because my skin is slightly tan already so I already had some protection against the sun. It’s more my mum who get sun burned rather easily but I get tan pretty easy compared to her.
So yeah, I got sun burned, and my skin was rather delicate against the UV rays (which everyone who has hung around Seppo’s website knows that it’s pretty bad for acne skin.. Or skin in general)
My skin got drier too. In fact, some guy from my class asked me what’s up with my skin like.. why it was so dry? I’m not kidding, I was scaling but it wasn’t that normal kind of scale, my skin was really peeling off. I mean, they weren’t small scales but it was like peeling an orange.. That kind of peeling.
My skin was itching as crazy as well, I think I tried to overuse the moisturizer because of my skin was so itchy.
Oh well.. My skin was clear though.. Until my skin got dry then I got scales. :S
Until it happened.
To be completely honest, my memory from this point is rather hazy. I don’t remember every detail very well but I remember when I woke up and went to the bath room mirror I noticed that I had acne – and quite a lot of it – on my jaw line. Like.. I don’t remember exactly, but I think the total pimple count was about 10 around there. They were inflamed too.
After that, it kinda went downhill, my skin was getting inflamed spots all over and even though it only took about 1 month to clear them all out I was left out with some serious inflamed markings. Heck I think the inflammation did something to my skin barrier because I kept breaking out during the course of some months after that, and I don’t know if it’s because I never noticed it before but I don’t think I broke out that much before all this happened? Oh well…
I was desperate
I was desperate so I searched around how to clear acne and I found Tracy’s website thelovevitamin. I downloaded her E-book and started to read out what caused acne etc.. I realized that I did so much wrong with my body and I started to blame and guilt myself unnecessarily much because of the stuff I ate when I was growing up… Although I know now better that it’s not your fault that you get acne but I think Seppo will cover that in the post as well.
After that time passed by, I started doing the cavemen regimen (really gross) I never ate processed foods and when I did I would freak out all the time and pretty much isolate me from the others in my class. Nevertheless, I went from being socially outward to an introvert.
Fast forwarding until summer
I tried the candida diet during the first 2 weeks of summer, after a while. I still broke out but still I felt miserable. I also lost 8 kilograms which is.. Quite a lot for someone who is tall and skinny… 😛
I went on a one euro trip with my dad afterwards and I was still doing the Cavemen regimen and I was traveling to countries like Italy and Switzerland which are… QUITE sunny during the summer period. So yeah, looking back at it now my skin was quite unprotected against oxidative and inflammation stress. I was also reading Seppo’s book Clear for Life at the moment. It was quite a hassle to read because I was kinda getting overwhelmed by all the information that I had to process and learn about but at the same time I didn’t want to take a break so I kept on going.
Then I noticed that my skin was behaving quite.. ‘normal’ as in I didn’t break out as much as I thought I would even though I was eating some processed foods during the trip.
When I arrived home and started to eat ‘healthy’ again, I broke out even though I was happy to be back home. I concluded from those data that I were quite stressed and it’s no wonder really; college, trying to figure out why your skin won’t behave and thinking what to do after college + loads of assignments, homework, and presentations equals stress at one point and I think that has something to do with my breakouts.
Where I am now
Fast-forwarding a few months I started taking antioxidant supplements and I started to use antioxidant skin care creams. And I was annoyed to find out that my skin started to look better and better after applying some creams especially after I went through 6-8 months of living an ‘alternative’ lifestyle that I didn’t enjoy doing.
Especially since I think I could have helped my skin much earlier after that inflammatory assault it got the summer before my euro trip.
I still got acne. True it wasn’t as bad but I still got acne, which was annoying me and I remember I e-mailed Seppo what I was doing wrong. I even sent Tracy a mail a while back asking her if it was ‘normal’ to get acne once in a while. And she said that it was totally fine and normal. It’s especially normal for women to get acne during their time of the month.
Seppo told me to work on my emotions so I purchased 2 books [Seppo’s note: These are the 2 books I mentioned above] that were designed to help someone with their psychological issues, and as I was reading through the book I tried to apply the techniques although I definitely had to rinse and repeat but it worked nevertheless.
And then it happened
Some time during the winter period, probably a week or 2 before the holiday break, a girl from my class was absent from my class. She had some breakup with her boyfriend and obviously wasn’t in the mood to attend some classes. When she arrived in School I noticed (but I didn’t focus on it afterwards) that she got some acne on her right cheek.
And it made me think that.. If a person who is not acne-prone can get acne, then.. is it truly realistic for acne-prone people to hope that they’ll NEVER get a pimple? It’s not really that realistic when you think it like that.
But here’s the thing, there’s this boy from my class (who I’m not going to mention for personal reasons but I’ll talk a bit about him). He has acne, I might as well say that. But… Even so, I have a crush on him. In fact I find him incredibly hot. He’s confident, he’s an athlete and he is also well-liked by his classmates. And I wouldn’t rate his acne as mild or severe. It’s more or less in between. Like his face can be slight inflamed with small red marks etc etc… And my acne is definitely milder and calmer than his.. But to be honest, I don’t care if he has acne because of the way he is. (Personality-wise)
And from there I realized that, there is no reason to struggle for no reason when there’s no need to. When I went on break my skin started to clear out and I made the connection that stress has a far bigger role in my skin. When I started in school again my skin broke out but I managed to keep clear again… Yeah stress and my skin don’t go too much hand in hand.
Where am I now and my conclusion
Yeah sorry.. this post probably just got longer and I want to apologize for that but Seppo wanted to hear the story.
Right now where I am, my skin is doing pretty okay. I’m testing an acne lotion from Clearogen to reduce my skin’s sebum reduction and it’s working more or less, my skin is not that oily anymore but I’m breaking out slightly because my skin is getting on the dry side and Seppo already made a post about this. And because I’m kinda scratching a lot on my skin but it’s fine, I ordered a moisturizer from the same company that I normally use to send me a moisturizer with more moisture.
My conclusion is that yes, clear skin does look prettier without blemishes and such. I’m not going to lie, it does. It’s rare to see models with blemishes [Seppo’s note: because they are all hidden beneath makeup].
But at the same time, people can be pretty with acne too. Maybe not with modelish skin, but.. then they really have to have another quality that makes up for the loss that the skin does.
On another note, my skin, even though I suffered from a massive number of pimples, I never had anything major as cystic acne. So of course, for someone having mild to nearly non-existent acne is pretty easy to say that it’s normal for someone to live with acne. But for someone to have their faces fully covered with cystic acne and such… Yes there is a difference and on a note I can see why you want to get rid of acne or at least reduce it.
It may not be possible to get rid of acne for good, but I do believe that you can reduce the severity of your skin with antioxidants and creams and a healthy lifestyle.
Also, if the redness and the acne really is annoying you, and you feel like you aren’t going anywhere. You can always opt for make-up, Seppo made a post about it, if you want to know more about it. And even though you may think that it’s not fair that you have to use makeup while others don’t have to, well… Life isn’t fair and on the bright side. A lot of celebrities use makeup. Even the male actors! You can opt for a minimum amount of makeup to cover up the spots. You don’t have to cake yourself. 🙂
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