The balance in my love-hate relationship with alternative and natural medicine starts to tip towards hate. Mostly because of the endless stream of nonsense and noise the proponents generate and the harm it causes to innocent people.
This email I recently got is a good example of the dangers of doing your own research and lacking skeptical skills while doing it.
I have acne along my forehead i have managed to get rid of acne along my cheeks and chin just have scars remaining. What do you recommend for the forehead from my own research i have come across that area to be linked with gut and intestinal issues. I am taking a ton of supplements doing stress relieve with EFT technique have switched over to raw food diets consisting of vegetables and not much fruit green apples and grape fruit and i am using aloe/green tea extract 100% natural on my face. Is there anything else you can recommend?????
I think this is a fairly typical tale of a confused person lost in the alternative and natural health jungle. And not too different from where I was a few years back.
While there’s nothing inherently dangerous about the situation this guy is in (at least in most cases), I can also predict he would waste years of his time and god knows how much money with hit and miss efforts to get rid of acne. If he’s really unlucky, he might even develop an eating disorder in the process.
All because he listened to the all-pervasive natural health nonsense and lacked the critical thinking and skepticism skills to separate facts from fiction. And I can’t fault him for that, it happens to most people – me included.
In a case like this it’s really hard for me to know even where to begin. I wish I had one of those flashy things from Men in Black movies that would reset the brain to the ‘pre-natural health’ state.
Short of that, here are some problems I spotted. Other than this brief email, I have no other contact with him. So I’m taking the liberty of making some assumptions. They may not all apply to him, but they are fairly common among people sucked into the natural health world.
Raw food diet
This is based on the mistaken assumption that cooking somehow destroys the vitality of foods; making it ‘dead’, whereas raw foods are brimming with vitality, energy and enzymes.
It’s certainly a good idea to eat raw fruits and vegetables, but it’s hard to see the rationale for limiting yourself exclusively to raw foods. Cooking does destroy some nutrients, but it also improves bioavailability of other nutrients. Cooking also makes many vegetables much easier to digest, and eating those same things raw might cause gut problems. Not to mention potential issues with FODMAPs when you eat so many raw fruits and vegetables.
Limiting yourself to raw foods restricts your diet so much you are very likely to develop nutritional deficiencies. It also doesn’t make social life any easier. All this for… what… dietary dogma based on faulty logic and not supported by any credible evidence. See also this raw food article.
Chinese face mapping
When he said his forehead acne problems are linked to gut and digestive issues, I assumed he was talking about Chinese face mapping. It’s the idea that different parts of your face are somehow connected to different organs, and that problems in specific areas of the face reflect problems in specific organs. This forehead-gut connection often comes up.
The problem is that traditional Chinese medicine is based on pre-scientific ideas, and scientific testing has shown those ideas not to be true. Acupuncture has been thoroughly researched and good quality, unbiased research shows it’s no better than placebo. There’s no credible evidence that meridians exists, neither is there any evidence for links between areas of the face and different organs. More acupuncture posts here.
It’s very much possible his forehead acne is linked to gut problems, but this ‘hit’ is pure coincidence. I’m also not aware that forehead acne would be any different from acne around the mouth. Where you get acne depends largely on the distribution of oil glands on your face, and possibly also on whether you treat different parts of your face differently.
Emotional freedom technique
Emotional freedom technique or EFT is meridian theory twisted to support nonsensical psychotherapy. The idea is that emotional problems are a result of ‘energy’ (whatever that means) getting ‘blocked’ in the meridians. Tapping to the meridian end points in specific sequences while mentally repeating the problem somehow clears these blockages and resolves the emotional problems.
I used to believe into this thing. And if you look carefully, you can still detect bumps in my forehead as a result of furious tapping.
The problem of course is that if there are no meridians then there’s no way this thing can work. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry wrote a good article about EFT and similar energy psychology techniques.
This is not to say that doing EFT wouldn’t help. I often found that tapping did offer temporary help with the issue I was working on. I felt less anxiety and stress after a tapping session. The results never lasted though. There’s some research to indicate that simply paying attention to a negative emotion resolves it to some degree. I wrote about this in an earlier post. This view is consistent with the little scientific research we have on EFT, also see here.
Taking tons of supplements
As a general rule dietary supplements are useless, and there’s some evidence they might even cause harm. That said, there’s some evidence that vitamin B3, zinc and antioxidants might be helpful in acne.
I’m assuming that the reason you take many supplements is due to concerns over soil depletion or the idea that you can somehow boost your immune system (or other parts of the body) with them. Even if it were possible to ‘boost’ the immune system (thankfully it’s not), as a person suffering from acne you wouldn’t even want to do it. There’s evidence to suggest that the immune system is already overactive in acne patients. Boosting it would make things worse. All the talk about boosting, enhancing and supporting is just weasel-talk to sell you stuff that doesn’t work.
100% natural skin care fallacy
The cosmetics and skin care industry has their own ‘alternative branch’, one that promotes the idea that chemicals are harmful and that 100% natural products are better for you.
I’m the first person to agree that some chemicals can be bad for your skin and that you should be conscious of what you put on your skin. But this kind of black and white thinking is rarely helpful. Lot of 100% natural skin care ingredients can irritate the skin, especially fragrances (that are often 100% natural essential oils).
The problem with this chemical-free nonsense is that everything in nature is a chemical. Without chemicals there would be no matter and no life. Of course what they mean is free from synthetic chemicals. The problem is that your skin doesn’t care whether a chemical is synthetic or ‘natural’. A lot of synthetic chemicals are safe and non-irritating, and a lot of natural chemicals are very irritating. It’s also likely that synthetic chemicals have gone through far more safety testing than ‘natural’ chemicals, especially since many of these ‘evil’ chemicals have been crafted to be non-irritating and non-comedogenic.
Anyway, this isn’t really my area of expertise, so I recommend you check out some other sources for this:
- Chemical-free nonsense at LA Times
- 10 Things the Toxic Makeup Patrol should Learn at the Chemists Corner
- Beauty Bullshit: Chemical-Free Cosmetics at the Brightest Bulb in the Box
So what can we learn from this? I think the main lesson is to always be skeptical.
I understand that you are in a difficult situation. If you are reading this website, you’ve probably been to dermatologists more times than you care to admit. And they are likely to dismiss any claims regarding diet or offer any alternative advice.
So your only choice is to take your concerns to the internets and see what you find. I totally get it, and I’m not by any means advocating doing nothing. Just be skeptical as you read stuff online (even here). Anyone can post stuff online, and the stuff that gets posted usually isn’t verified in anyway.
Medical information can be hard to understand. Without sufficient background knowledge many of the natural and alternative health claims seem to make sense. And because they seemingly make sense and are fairly easy to understand, they can be very convincing. But if there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s that biology is extremely complicated. Simple answers, though they seemingly make sense, are 99.99% of the times wrong.
Do your best to get both sides of the story. One way is to add ‘skeptic’ after any search term in Google. That often helps. Though there are a lot of skeptics that never believe any alternative claims and try to debunk everything. But these people are pseudo-skeptics, and they’ve made skepticism just another dogma to follow. Good skeptical arguments are dispassionate, cite evidence for their claims, and remain open to further evidence.
Where to go from here?
It’s kinda hard for me to recommend where to go from here. Most of what he wrote about, I wouldn’t recommend doing. Perhaps a good place to start is this article: Help I have no clue where to start. It outlines a way to get started on this science-based natural acne treatment path. I would also recommend less restrictive diets. By all means eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, but do add some animal foods into your diet.
Other than that, if you have some specific questions, maybe I can help you with those.