It’s time to dip into the mailbag again. A reader sent me a fantastic question that I believe many people struggle with.
Hi! I just discover your site and it seems to have lot of valuable information on acne. I’m 34 years old, had acne since a teenager but it got worse since the last 2 years (face and body). My problem is that there’s so much information on the subject (here on this site but also all over the internet), I have no clue where to start.
I hear you man! In fact I’m in the process of writing my book at the moment and was just thinking that I have to write a how to get started chapter. The book covers so much information and makes so many specific recommendations that without a good guidance people can get overwhelmed.
The problem with acne is that it’s caused by two ‘fundamental things’ (for lack of a better word): hormones and inflammation. Inflammation especially can come from many, many sources. And that means there are an almost infinite number of causes and cures to acne. Not all of those are relevant to you, but we have no good way to say which are and which aren’t It’s like the old advertising truism that half of my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half. And different people have different causes. For example, one person may get breakouts from stress, another from gut issues and a third person from eating gluten. That’s why I have to cover a lot of ground.
Good places to get started
I have no data to back this up, but based on what I’ve heard from acne patients, the most common causes are (in no particular order):
- Stress and negative emotions
- Gut issues
- Diet, either
- Blood sugar issues stemming from insulin resistance
- Specific dietary triggers, like gluten, dairy or eating something you are sensitive to
- External irritants or improper skin care regimen
Unfortunately I haven’t covered all of these topics on my blog, so I can’t always point you to lot of additional information, but let me at least cover the basics on this post.
I believe that to some degree stress is a factor for every acne patient. We just live in such stressful and hectic lives. When you get stressed the brain releases neurotransmitters. One of these, known as substance P (SP), has a direct effect on the skin. It can cause inflammation and increase sebum production. One study on psoriasis showed that injecting SP on the skin triggered psoriasis flares – even on people who are not prone to getting psoriasis. Substance P, and stress in general, also has a very negative effect on gut health.
I’ve covered gut issues pretty well on this blog. I have a hunch that most people are unaware they even have gut problems. That’s because they don’t necessarily cause symptoms we take note of. At least in my case I dismissed them as normal rumblings of the stomach. It was only until I started paying attention that I noticed there’s some problem with my gut. I also noticed that when I get gut problems flare up of my scalp acne soon follow.
Please see this post for more: Is Your Acne Caused By Gut Issues? 3 Simple Ways To Know.
If you have gut issues, it might also be a good idea to ask your doctor to test you for Candida infection in the gut. A couple of studies have shown that people with chronic skin problems have higher rates of Candida infections in the gut than people with clear skin.
I’ve also written about diet a lot here. I think that in the natural health circles the effect of diet on acne is overrated. Yes, it’s a factor, but people make unwarranted claims on how much dietary changes can affect acne.
Unfortunately the whole diet thing is a huge can of worms. There are a few easy things you can do, like try eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet. But pinning down dietary sensitivities and other triggers is a stuff of nightmares. For food sensitivities I want to say that never, ever get diagnosed by naturopaths, chiropractors or other alt-med practitioners. The problem is that they often use unreliable tests, such as vega tests or muscle testing. Those tests look impressive on people who don’t know any better, but when they always fail in blinded tests. Studies have shown they are no better than guessing. The practitioners who use these are fooling both themselves and their unfortunate patients.
See the diet section for more info on diets.
External irritants and improper skin care
I wrote a lot about these into my book, but unfortunately haven’t covered these well on the blog. But the crux of the matter is that acne is triggered by inflammation (in the skin). And the skin doesn’t care where that inflammation comes from. It can come from external irritants, harsh skin care products or internal factors, but the end result remains the same.
Luckily there’s a simple way to get some idea of whether your skin care regiment helps or hurts. Just keep an eye on your skin for any signs of irritation shortly after applying your skin care products. It’s normal for your skin to feel slightly tight or dry following benzoyl peroxide, but any signs of burning, redness, itchiness or more persistent dryness of the skin are all bad signs.
There’s also a flipside to this. Acne-prone skin needs better care than normal skin. That’s because it produces more sebum and has a stronger reaction to P. Acnes bacteria than normal skin. So if your skin feels dry, tight or is easily irritated then you probably need to take a better care of it. I’ll give some specific tips later.
How to get some quick wins
Let’s talk about how to get some quick wins. Given the nature of acne, these things should be effective for many people.
- Daily 15 minute relaxation or meditation session. Little bit of relaxation can do wonders to stress levels. And it doesn’t have to be more than 15 minutes. You can find plenty of free relaxation or meditation audios online for free. Just pick one that you like listening and do it every day.
- Eat fermented foods. I believe that fermented foods are better way to get probiotics than supplements. They are also simple to make at home. I don’t have instructions on my site, but you can find them online. Yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut are good ones to get started with.
- Eat less carbohydrates and more fat and protein. No need to go low carb. Just eat less carbs than you normally would and substitute them with fat and protein. This can really help with blood sugar issues and hormonal acne.
- Omega 3 fats. Balancing omega 3 and 6 fats can do wonders for inflammation. In practice this means eating less processed foods (and especially bakery products) and more omega 3 rich foods. Omega 3 enriched eggs are a surprisingly good source.
- Drink 5 cups of green tea per day. Green tea polyphenols are potent antioxidants. Studies have shown that regularly drinking green tea can help with hormonal issues and reduce inflammation.
- Use antioxidant moisturizer or cream. People with acne often shun moisturizers since their skin is already oily. But oily skin is not the same as moisturized skin. Moist skin means there’s water in the cells of the top layer of the skin. More importantly you can use them to apply antioxidants to your skin. Studies have compared antioxidant creams to benzoyl peroxide and topical antibiotics. The results show that antioxidant creams can be as effective as those established treatments in treating acne. Look for something with vitamin B3, C or E. Green tea creams can also be effective.
Of course there’s lot more to acne than what I can cover here, but this should set you on the right track. And I’d be surprised if none of the above helps your skin.