For most people, acne is as unwelcome a fact of teenage life as homework and curfews. With an incidence among adolescent populations as high as ninety-five percent in some Western countries, acne is not just the most frequent skin disorder, but one of the most common medical conditions of any sort.
Of course, acne is by no means just a teenage problem. Fifty-four percent of women and forty percent of men experience acne past the age of 25, and a significant number – 12 and 3 percent, respectively – show facial acne into middle age.
Acne is an inflammatory disease of the hair follicles and oil-secreting sebaceous glands that is marked by the eruption of pimples, in the form of either closed or open comedones – that is, blackheads or whiteheads. These pustules typically first appear soon after the onset of puberty, when the growth of androgens (so-called “male hormones”) promotes increased oil secretion.
The fact that these hormones are more prevalent in males than females helps explain why boys are somewhat more prone to acne than girls. In later life, however, women become relatively more susceptible because of hormone imbalances caused by pregnancy, menstruation, or starting or stopping the use of birth control pills. Less commonly, menopause can induce the disorder, as well.
The high incidence of acne in Western countries is largely a factor of a diet heavy in saturated fats, processed foods and refined sugars. Hormones contained in milk and other dairy products are also a prime culprit.
Acne lesions can occur in response to a variety of medical compounds, including cortico- and anabolic steroids, halogens, lithium, anti-seizure and tuberculosis drugs, and medicines that contain iodine. Industrial pollutants are another common trigger, as are cosmetics, scents and toiletries, particularly if they contain preservatives. As well, excessive washing and rubbing the skin can both cause acne and exacerbate an existing condition.
The severity and progression of acne can vary greatly, but if left untreated the disorder can leave permanent scarring. A variety of pharmaceuticals are used to treat moderate to severe cases, including salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, isotretinoin and tetracycline. Unfortunately, these drugs have side effects ranging from liver toxicity to depression and suicidal ideation. More importantly, they treat the symptoms of acne, but don’t address the cause. Even if the acne disappears completely, it may well reappear weeks or months later.
The first step to a lasting cure is to eliminate problematic foods and replace them with ones that can help the healing process. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, and the “good” fats found in avocado, almonds, seeds, fish and olive oil help to internally hydrate the skin. Drink plenty of water and reduce caffeine consumption.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can often correct underlying deficiencies. Vitamins A, C, E, B5 and B6; and the minerals zinc, magnesium and selenium are especially important, as is high potency omega 3 oil. Topically, tea tree oil has powerful antifungal properties, and herbs such as milk thistle and dandelion improve liver function and assist the body to eliminate animal hormones.
The other key to a successful treatment program is stress reduction. Proper sleep hygiene, exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong all help to lower stress and build a strong immune system. Ultimately, healthy living is the best guarantee of wholesome skin.
©Dr. Gordon, 2011.