One of the major flaws of the alternative medicine and natural health philosophies is the denial or belittling of genetics. These philosophies claim that a disease is a result of an imbalance in the body, and once that imbalance is corrected, the body can heal itself naturally.
The problem with this approach is that it leads people to a desperate search for this supposed “imbalance”. I used to feel that there was something wrong with me because I had acne, and as a result, I ended up wasting almost ten years of my life hunting down this elusive imbalance. Needless to say, that wasn’t good for my self-esteem or mental health.
The hard reality is that genetics do play a role in many diseases, and acne is one of them. The influence of genetics on susceptibility to acne has been the subject of numerous studies.
- A massive study of 458 pairs of identical twins and 1099 pairs of fraternal twins found that genes explained 81% of the difference in acne prevalence. Only 19% was explained by non-shared environmental factors (such as diet and stress.)
- Two separate studies found that having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with acne increases your risk of getting it by four times. (source, source)
- One study looked at the influence of genes on sebum production. This study had 20 pairs each of identical and fraternal twins. Identical twins had almost identical sebum excretion rates but different rates of acne severity. Fraternal twins had different rates of both sebum production and acne severity. The researchers concluded that sebum production, but not acne severity, is under genetic control (a conclusion I disagree with somewhat).
All the studies on genetics and heredity show that family history is an important risk factor in acne.
What ‘acne genes’ do?
So what do these acne genes do, then? How do they make you more susceptible to acne? That’s a question researchers are currently trying to answer. Published studies have identified differences in the expression of several genes between acne patients and people with clear skin. Many of these differences involve genes regulating inflammation (source). It’s well-known that acne patients have a much stronger immune response to P. Acnes bacteria than people with clear skin, and it’s likely due to genetics.
Researchers have also noted differences in genes involving androgen metabolism in the skin. Perhaps these can explain why acne patients have larger sebaceous glands (the glands in the skin that produce sebum), or why acne-prone skin appears to be more sensitive to androgen hormones. (source)
Don’t lose hope
My point with this is not to say there’s no hope for you. On the contrary, countless studies show improvements in acne despite genetics. For example, one study showed that while genetic factors made people more likely to get acne, sticking to a clean Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of acne by nearly 70%.
Similarly Dr. Cordain showed that acne is mainly a Western disease. It’s either absent or rare in many traditional cultures but becomes more prevalent as people from those cultures move to Western countries. Clearly, diet and other lifestyle factors play a big part in acne.
My goal with this talk about genetics is to help you to better understand your situation. Having acne doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. On the contrary, most acne patients are perfectly healthy. We just got a bit unlucky in the genetic lottery.
By using the diet, lifestyle, and skin care instructions outlined in this course, you can keep the condition under control and live your life with minimal interference from acne.
Facing and accepting this reality was hugely liberating for me. I hope it’s the same with you.