Don’t you just hate it when acne develops on your face or on any visible part of your body especially at a time when you want to look good for a special event or a date? It could be the worst feeling. It may cause emotional distress and self-esteem issues for some people particularly for teenagers. The good news is that there are treatments available to help overcome this common condition that can affect anybody, even the very young and older adults. But what is acne? What are the common misconceptions that surround this skin problem?Acne is a common yet puzzling inflammatory skin condition that occurs when hair follicles or pores on the surface of the skin get clogged with oil and dead skin cells (keratin). This blockage is called a comedone which prevents sebum, an oily substance produced by sebaceous glands that lubricates skin and hair, from flowing out. In addition to oil and keratin, bacteria also build up underneath the clogged pore due to lack of oxygen. The end result is an inflammation that presents itself in the form of a cyst called a pimple or a zit.
Some people are more susceptible to acne than others including teenagers, females several days before their menstrual period, pregnant women, people on medications containing corticosteroids, androgen or lithium, those with a family history of acne, and those with gut or digestive problems.
MYTH #1 - Acne is caused by dirt.
Dirt is not a bacterium and although dirt may worsen acne, it does not necessarily cause acne. Acne is an inflammatory problem due to oxidative stress. The presence of pathogens in the skin can cause an inflammation which can induce acne. Some people tend to think that if they scrub parts of their affected skin several times a day the problem will resolve faster. The truth is excessive cleansing or scrubbing of the skin with chemicals and harsh products may irritate the skin and worsen acne. Removing makeup and gentle washing or cleansing twice a day and after exercise or working out using mild non-drying cleansers with antioxidants including Vitamin C with your clean hands to remove excess oil and dirt is sufficient.
MYTH #2 - Chocolate causes acne.
Dark chocolate or chocolate without milk does not cause acne but high calorie or high carbohydrate diet and dairy may play a role in the formation or aggravation of acne. Milk contains natural hormones that turn on oil glands. Sugar is a carbohydrate. High levels of blood sugar increase the levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This process then leads to overproduction of male hormone androgens which can stimulate sebum and keratin production that triggers acne outbreaks. Restricting poor quality carbohydrates in your diet reduces insulin levels and therefore reduces your risk of inflammation.
MYTH #3 - Stress causes acne.
While stress is a major risk factor in the formation and worsening of acne, it does not necessarily cause this skin condition alone. Acne sufferers’ skin contains clogged pores. Stress results in an inflammatory response in the body that can cause the walls of these pores to break, and, eventually, a pimple or a zit. Stress also prompts the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of male hormone androgens which, again, lead to acne.
So if you tend to develop acne, what can you do to prevent and treat breakouts? In addition to gentle cleansing of your skin using mild cleansers with antioxidants; taking antioxidant supplements and/or applying topical applications with antioxidants; making dietary changes low in carbohydrates and avoiding dairy; and, managing stress by getting enough sleep, doing some meditation, and exercising regularly, studies suggest that the following may be able to help:
1. It is suggested that getting enough Vitamin D may be beneficial for the skin. Vitamin D is shown to reduce the growth of sebocytes. Less sebocytes means less sebum. And less sebum means less clogged pores. Among acne sufferers, skin cells tend to grow too fast and stick together after they die which leads to clogged pores. Vitamin D is believed to reduce skin cell growth so taking Vitamin D supplement and/or getting some sun in the morning for about 15 minutes if you are deficient may help combat acne. It is not recommended, however, that you expose your skin to direct sunlight for long periods of time between 10am and 3pm because ultraviolet rays can also cause inflammation and put you at risk for the development of melanoma or skin cancer or other forms of skin damage. Vitamin D in excess may also pose some risks including toxicity that may cause potentially serious symptoms so if you’re in doubt, have your doctor check your Vitamin D blood levels.
3. Moisturize your skin twice a day using a natural noncomedogenic moisturizer that contains antioxidants. A lot of topical acne formulations contain skin drying ingredients like alcohol so when you are using any of those products make sure to moisturize your skin or avoid using them altogether and opt for more natural alternatives. If you have oily skin, choose an oil-free or gel-based moisturizer. If you have dry skin, use a moisturizing cream or lotion. It is important to hydrate your skin by drinking adequate water and avoiding beverages that dehydrate the skin. Hormonal balance is regulated by water so there is a strong connection between drinking water and acne. The human skin is the largest external elimination organ and the human body consists of 70 percent water. When the body is not adequately hydrated the skin is adversely affected and becomes dehydrated as well. When the skin is dehydrated, it loses moisture and is deprived of essential nutrients from lack of proper circulation. This leads to an imbalance in the skin’s pH which allows bacteria to thrive and if the pores become clogged, acne develops. Avoid alcohol, soda and other caffeinated beverages. Fruits and raw vegetables are also beneficial for hydrating the skin because of their water content and most of them also contain antioxidants. Studies suggest that acne prone skin may be lacking in antioxidants and without adequate antioxidant protection sebum gets damaged and acne develops. This leads to a conclusion that topical and supplemental antioxidants may help acne. Eating foods rich in Vitamin A or beta-carotene including carrots, apricots, spinach, kale, lettuce, turnip greens, collards, cantaloupe, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and dried herbs may boost skin health. Vitamins A, C and E are the most important antioxidants that provide protection against oxidative stress.
5. It’s easier said than done but it’s important to avoid touching your face unnecessarily. Doing so may force contaminated materials from the pore deeper into the follicle and into the dermis which could result in infection and scarring. Also, avoid picking or popping zits with your fingers as this can lead to a hard nodule or a fluid-filled cyst which is a serious form of acne. If you develop cysts it is best to see a dermatologist for medical treatment that may include an antibiotic prescription. Keep in mind though that while prescription medications are effective in treating acute acne breakouts, they may only provide temporary symptom relief. Make it a habit to use natural alternatives for maintaining healthy skin and for treating mild breakouts.