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Preventative Medicine

Solutions to Keep Skin Clear and Healthy

Most people believe that acne is a rite of passage that plagues your teenage years and is primarily restricted to teens as it is a prominent feature of the awkwardness associated with being an adolescent. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. Over 70 percent of adults of all age groups (not just early 20’s) report having acne, with it affecting significantly more women than men. Some adults continue to get acne well into their 30s, 40s, and even 50s. It is even possible to get acne for the first time as an adult. Acne is not just annoying or embarrassing; it can have significant negative outcomes, from scarring to skin discolouration that are life lasting. There are a multitude of reasons why acne breakouts can occur including:

Stress: In many adults there is a relationship between stress and acne outbreaks. When we are stressed, our bodies produce a specific type of hormone called androgens. Androgens stimulate oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, encouraging acne-causing bacteria on your face, which can lead to acne. This explains why acne can be an ongoing problem when we find ourselves under constant stress.

Hormone Fluctuations:  Hormones control many bodily processes and functions. Excess oil gland production, shedded skin cells becoming abnormally sticky, accumulating and clogging hair follicles and skin inflammation can all contribute to adult acne.  In part, the hormonal fluctuations that accompany menopause, the monthly cycle and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can help explain the connection between adult acne and female hormonal fluctuations.

Medications: Acne is a common side effect of many medicines (including birth control, the morning after pill, lithium, anti-seizure drugs, and corticosteroids). If you are concerned, don’t stop taking the medication, but have a talk with the practitioner who prescribed it for you. Ask them if acne is a possible side effect. If it turns out that acne is or could be a side effect, ask if there is a substitute for the medication. If there are no appropriate substitutes, talk to a dermatologist in an effort to control the acne.

Genetic History: Having a close family relative, such as a parent, brother or sister with acne is a good indicator that you will be predisposed to adult acne.

Cosmetic, Hair & Skin Products: Using the wrong product on your skin can help cause acne or make it significantly worse. When using makeup or moisturizers, always choose one labelled "non-comedogenic" or "non-acnegenic," meaning that it won't cause acne. There are other product ingredients to beware of, including lanolin (potentially clogs pores), Food, Drug and Cosmetic dyes (FD&C) (known to cause acne), sulfates (clogs pores), alcohol (irritating), fragrance (irritating). Avoiding these ingredients can help reduce the risk of flare ups.

Medical Conditions:  Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) causes multiple health issues, including hormone fluctuations, which can lead to adult acne. Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult onset diabetes, can lead to multiple skin complications, including acne. Diabetics with acne find it particularly difficult to treat as diabetes reduces the body's ability to heal from infection, which includes skin infections like acne.

Prevention Protocol:

Water, Water, Water: Drinking sufficient water helps cleanse toxins from your skin, helps your skin stay moisturized and cleanses your cells of built-up waste. However, water does not alter the level of oils your skin produces.

Stress Less: Don't stress out if you have a breakout or flare-up. It will only make the problem worse. Stay calm and focus on reducing stress. Aim to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Adequate sleep helps reduce cortisol levels and lets your body (including skin) repair and regenerate. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps control stress and oxygenates cells.

Keep Clean: Wash your face twice a day with a gentle salicylic acid cleanser to help dissolve dirt and oil and gently exfoliate the skin. Don’t rub your face dry, instead pat dry, as it is gentler on your skin. Use a gentle fragrance-free SPF moisturizer. Skin cleansers can increase your sensitivity to sun, so protect yourself every day. 

Sugar Connection: Sugar — and starch-rich foods — increase blood sugar levels, which lead to hormonal changes that can lead to acne. Eating a balanced diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables and low in refined sugars and starches can help balance blood sugar levels and reduce hormonal variations.

Supplement Wisely: Regardless of the contributing factors, supplementing wisely can help reduce flare ups and outbreaks.

Zinc – Many acne sufferers are deficient in zinc, and although we don’t know the mechanism of action, we do know that often, zinc supplementation helps improve acne.

Vitamin A – This vitamin helps prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores. It reduces the amount of oil your skin produces, which also reduces pore-clogging.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C boosts immunity and fights infections. It helps the body regulate the production of collagen, which is necessary in the treatment of acne.  As your body fights acne, it causes skin to become inflamed and red. Vitamin C is effective as it reduces redness on the skin. Vitamin C is unique in that it can regulate your immune system so that it reacts appropriately and can effectively fight acne-causing bacteria.

Collagen - This vital protein is critical for treating all kinds of wounds, including acne. The bacteria that cause acne damages skin and weakens skin cells. Collagen helps to repair and strengthen these cells.

Chromium - Chromium helps to balance blood sugar levels (preventing hormonal changes). Multiple studies have found a link between chromium deficiency and acne.

Chlorophyll - Chlorophyll is an internal cleanser, alkalizer and antioxidant. It can help to balance hormones, reduce inflammation, cleanse toxins and help heal skin cells and wounds.

Acne is an annoying skin condition that can flare up at any time. Take care of your skin by avoiding irritants and supplementing wisely. If you take care of your skin, it will serve you well, lasting you a lifetime.

Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.