Dealing with Adult Acne, the naturopathic way

This post was originally published in the Kingston Whig Standard on Saturday May 25th
Only people who have experienced facial acne know the amount of suffering it can cause. Make-up can only go so far in covering up the red, shiny bumps and pitting scars. It is bad enough for teenagers, but it feels doubly unfair when you are an adult.

Many people are afflicted with adult acne and feel like the whole world is looking at them and passing judgment on them. Unscrupulous companies pitch complicated and expensive treatment systems that just do not live up to their claims.

When it comes to all skin conditions, the temptation is to slather some kind of cream or wash on it, but topical treatments are actually only one piece of a treatment plan that will address the problem. Each individual has a unique set of factors that cause their acne, but those factors generally fall into a handful of categories: hormone imbalance, chronic inflammation, low immune system function, suboptimal hygiene practices and inadequate elimination of what the body does not need. To get a handle on acne, follow these five steps.

1. Streamline your hygiene — of course, the way you wash your face and otherwise treat your skin will impact its health, so let’s just lay some ground rules to eliminate this factor. You should wash your face twice per day with a liquid cleanser that contains no fragrance and lukewarm water. Avoid cleansers with physical abrasives. Use a chemical exfoliant that contains salicylic acid. Also use benzoyl peroxide, starting with a lower concentration. Do not use anything on your face that tingles or stings.

2. Balance your hormones — an excess of androgens can cause increased secretion of the skin’s oil. Other symptoms include thinning head hair, increased bodily hair and irregular menstrual cycles. There are many approaches to balancing hormones, including acupuncture, and a wide array of herbs: chaste tree, green tea, and spearmint to name a few.

3. Get rid of chronic inflammation — The less inflammation taking place in your skin and in your digestive system, the stronger your skin will be to resist the attack of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. I recommend trying an elimination diet to ensure that none of the foods that you eat are causing chronic inflammation. Food intolerances are, by far, the most common cause of chronic inflammation in my opinion.

4. Promote good bacteria — Part of the problem in acne is that Propionibacterium acnes is too abundant. To restore balance, take a probiotic supplement, and ensure that your diet includes prebiotics- the type of fibre that good bacteria like to eat. I expect that in the future someone will develop a topical probiotic specifically for the treatment of acne, but it hasn’t happened yet.

5. Get rid of toxins and waste — Constipation and sluggish liver function can promote acne. How? A couple of ways: inadequate bile release prevents hormones from being properly processed, and, when toxins are not eliminated in the stool they can be re-absorbed which can cause inflammation. If you are already increasing your fibre intake to promote good bacteria, you will most likely benefit from more regular bowel movements, too.

I know that this list is radically different from what you would hear at a dermatologist’s office — that’s because naturopathic medicine always aims to treat the underlying cause of the condition. The usual way we think about health is by dividing the body up into all its subcomponents — see a dermatologist for skin, a gastroenterologist for digestion, a cardiologist for the heart — but, really, the body is one whole, which is why naturopathic medicine focuses on making connections between what is happening in all the different systems.

And, an added bonus of following the naturopathic route is that you will receive multiple other health benefits at the same time.

To get more individualized advice, I recommend that you make an appointment to see me. I also invite you to Like the Kingston Natural Route Health facebook page. We post all sorts of health-related information there on a daily basis.