Holistic Answers to Acne Questions
By Kathryn Beach
People tend to think of their skin as a covering, like they think of their clothes, something that covers their bodies to make them more attractive and protect what lies beneath it.
Actually, our skin is an organ of the body, the largest organ. One of its purposes is to deliver an oily substance called sebum to the surface of the skin via fine hair follicles, through the openings called pores. This is part of our bodies' cleansing process.
The hair, sebum and the cells that line the follicle can form a plug which prevents sebum from reaching the surface; this is the beginning of acne.
The mixture of oil and cells allows bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) that normally live on the skin to grow in the plugged follicles. These bacteria produce chemicals and enzymes and attract white blood cells that cause inflammation.
When the wall of the plugged follicle breaks down, it spills everything into the nearby skin – sebum, shed skin cells, and bacteria – leading to lesions or pimples.
What is Acne?
Acne is an imbalance believed by doctors to result from an increase of male sex hormones in both males and females, which causes the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. Some research indicates genetics can affect the tendency to develop acne, also using certain drugs or greasy cosmetics.
Acne can occur during puberty, pregnancy, or while starting or stopping birth control pills. Acne is most commonly found in teenagers, usually disappears by the 20's or 30's, but has been known to extend into the 60's in some people.
Acne is usually not a serious health threat, but it can be accompanied by both emotional distress and physical discomfort. Permanent scarring can result in severe cases.
How can acne be treated?
Acne, like all chronic health problems, requires a systemic, holistic approach for its control, and in some cases cure.
The goals of treatment are to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from forming, prevent scarring, and minimize the psychological stress and embarrassment caused by this disease. Treatment options include drug treatment, skin treatments, diet, and lifestyle changes. Any and all treatment should be conducted under the supervision of a doctor.
Drug treatment is aimed at reducing several problems that play a part in causing acne:
* abnormal clumping of cells in the follicles
* increased oil production
Be forewarned, all medications can have side effects. Check with your doctor and pharmacist.
Tea tree oil has been proven effective at killing acne bacteria and healing scars, and it won't clog pores, but many acne sufferers are very sensitive to the oil. So start out with a very mild dose. Add only a drop or two of pure tea tree oil to an ounce of pure aloe vera gel, which is particularly soothing and healing to irritated skin. Increase the amount of tea tree oil as you wish.
Limited research indicates that tea tree oil applied to acne lesions on the skin may work slower and may also cause fewer adverse effects (skin dryness, itching, stinging, or redness) than do other commonly prescribed acne drugs. The speed of action depends on the strength of the tea tree oil application.
Aside from individual experiences of irritation, there are no known side effects from using tea tree oil, but the oil may cause excessive drying of the skin when used with some other drugs that are used to treat acne, such as tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova) or isotretinoin (Accutane).
Dietary and lifestyle changes can help
There's more to this story; more than can be written in a short article. I will briefly touch on research-based information that supports dietary and lifestyle change to limit or help eliminate acne.
Most importantly, your diet will not cause or prevent acne, but if you are predisposed to getting acne, certain eating habits will encourage flareups, other habits will help your body fight the problem.
Firstly, eating refined carbohydrates and sugar leads to a surge in insulin and an insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1. This in turn leads to an excess of male hormones, which encourage the skin to excrete large amounts of sebum.
Secondly, a diet rich in raw foods and antioxidants means that we consume more nutrients and fewer acne aggravating free radicals.
Lifestyle changes eliminate other factors that may trigger or worsen acne outbreaks. These include avoiding oily skin products and grease in the work environment (don't work in a kitchen where foods are deep fried, for example!), pressure from sports equipment and helmets, backpacks, tight collars, or tight sports uniforms; and environmental irritants, such as chemicals, pollution, and high humidity; touching your skin excessively or squeezing blemishes; hard scrubbing of the sking; and avoiding stress.