While blemishes are best known for inspiring teenage angst, they also plague adults of all ages. And when your skin breaks out, sanctuary behind a cascade of hair or coverage behind thick pancake makeup may make matters worse if your camouflage clogs pimples and hinders healing.
Acne can devastate your self-esteem, scar, mar and disfigure. Crisp, fall weather offers no respite- acne appears to flare more often in the fall than in the summer according to some experts.
The Inside Story on Acne
Acne inflames the skin with blackheads, whiteheads and cysts. Acne lesions arise when a plug of impacted dead skin cells (keratin) and excess oil (sebum) stops up pores. As more keratin and sebum back up behind the plug, the pore distends and forms either an open comedo (blackhead) or a closed comedo (whitehead). Bacteria proliferate and break down lipids into free fatty acids, causing inflammation. The distended pore may rupture, inflaming a wider area.
Sometimes called “acne tarda”-acne in adults can create large painful cysts, usually on your chin. Often linked to hormonal changes, adult acne plagues women more than men. Birth control pills can either alleviate or aggravate existing acne conditions and women with long-term acne sometimes find that it disappears when they’re pregnant. Sadly, after giving birth, women may find their hormones readjusting and acne reappearing.
Causes: Heredity and Hormones
Acne’s vast variety of causes makes treatment difficult. In many cases, what cures one person’s acne, worsens another’s. In addition, acne-prone skin frequently indicates internal imbalances that can be linked to stress, diet, heredity or hormones.
Perspiration, sun exposure, contact and rubbing with clothing, and some medications (birth control pills, lithium, systemic corticosteroids and some anticonvulsants) can incite acne or make existing problems more serious.
But vitamin A , beta carotene , zinc and B6 (Pyridoxine) may alter sebum production and sometimes alleviate acne linked to hormone imbalances. Magnesium, zinc and potassium supplements also may help.
Acne and Food
Some experts believe that acne can be be linked to your response to food. Reportedly, many acne sufferers find relief by abstaining from:
- foods containing iodine, such as iodized salt, shellfish, eggs, wheat germ;
- dairy foods, especially ice cream, cheese and yogurt;
- sugary desserts and drinks.
If you suspect your acne arises from allergies, remove suspected allergens from your daily life. Wash with mild, unperfumed, non-deodorant soaps. Avoid perfumes and scented lotions. Launder with unscented laundry detergent. Switch shampoos, conditioners and hair treatments. Avoid gels and sprays that cause reactions.
Acne from Toxins
Since toxins exit the body via perspiration, some experts believe blemishes eliminate large amounts of toxins through the pores, causing an overproduction of sebum. Get rid of toxins, these folks claim, and you do away with acne.
According to this view, a diet high in fiber helps cleanse the body and relieves skin irritations. Plus, a diet of organic food reduces pesticide exposure, and lowers ingestion of hormonal and herbicide residues.
Because zinc helps immunity, eating zinc-rich foods (soybeans, whole grains, sunflower seeds and raw nuts) may help keep skin healthy.
Others theorize that processed, overly fatty foods contribute to or aggravate acne. Among these alleged villains are saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, candy, cake, sugar, alcohol, butter, margarine, chocolate, caffeinated drinks, cheese, cream, fat, eggs, fried foods, hot/spicy foods and meat.
By internally cleansing your body and ridding it of toxins with cleansing herbs such as burdock root, milk thistle and red clover, you may be able to clear up your skin.
Front Line Acne Defense
Unfortunately, the mass market acne treatments are mostly meant to dry out skin, removing the oil that causes acne. This approach can backfire: As skin dries out, it just makes more oil and, consequently, more pimples appear. Meanwhile, drying agents like benzol peroxide can damage skin. Teen skin, more resilient, may recover faster, but natural, hydrating products, are gentler on all skin, no matter what your age.
Care for Your Skin
Acne requires gentleness. Don’t scrub, squeeze or pick. Exfoliate with alpha and beta hydroxy acids and papaya enzymes. Mechanical exfoliants, such as scrubs, may only exacerbate severe acne conditions. Keep affected areas oil-free and make sure your hair is clean. When possible, pull hair off the face, neck, shoulders and back so that hair oils do not contact the skin. Use natural shampoos and conditioners that don’t leave a pimple-stimulating residue. Skip the hairspray, which may cause your forehead and cheeks to break out. Go without makeup or when you do use makeup, apply those that are oil-free and water-based. Clean makeup applicators (brushes and sponges) with alcohol to prevent spreading bacteria. For cases of severe acne, boil sponges and cloths between uses.
A combination of different natural facial care treatments can alleviate blemishes: gentle cleansers such as CamoCare’s Light Foaming Cleanser or Reviva’s Camphor Milk followed with an appropriate toner like CamoCare Oil Free Toner for Combination to Oily Skin, Alba Botanica Sea Kelp Facial Toner or Kiss My Face Citrus Essence Astringent.
After the toner, a raw egg yolk mask, followed with Thursday Plantation’s tea tree oil (dab on blemishes) offers further relief.
A steam sauna opens and cleanses pores but may worsen severe breakouts. Aubrey Organics offers a home facial kit with an aromatherapy concentrate for use with steaming that contains lavender, calendula, chamomile, horsetail, rosemary, comfrey, benzoin, among other botanical ingredients.
If your skin is particularly oily, applicable topical treatments include: clay masks made for oily skin and alpha hydroxy products. These natural treatments are made to further cleanse and tone the skin without drying it. Don’t dry oily skin; this stimulates extra oil production. But oily skin may still lack moisture and may need a moisturizer. You may find that using the right moisturizer may help reduce your oil production by keeping the skin lubricated. Zia’s Aromatherapy Treatment Oils for Oil Control, with lavender, lemon, thyme and sage, calm hyper-oil-producing skin.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
While advertisements stress the wrinkle-reducing benefits of alpha hydroxy acids, its effectiveness in treating and preventing blemished skin is often overlooked. Alpha hydroxy acids dissolve (exfoliate) dead skin cells. In doing so, the acids reduce wrinkles and unclog pores, preventing blemishes. Alpha hydroxy acids include: glycolic acid, lactic acid and tartaric acid.
Beta Hydroxy Acids
Beta hydroxy are similar to alpha hydroxy acids. These include salicylic acid (from white willow bark) and citric acid (from citrus fruits). Luna Essence Radiance Cocktail includes alpha and beta hydroxy acids with aloe vera gel; extracts of bilberry, grape, green tea, chamomile, carrot and sugar cane; and salicylic acid.
Natural Enzyme Peels
Natural enzyme peels such as Fresh Papaya Enzyme Peel by Zia Cosmetics employ papaya enzymes to selectively dissolve dead skin cells. Papaya is rich in papain, a non-abrasive exfoliant, natural enzyme appropriate for sensitive skin. Reviva’s Light Skin Peel combines papaya, salicylic acid and kaolin with almond and root extracts. Applied once a week, the Light Skin Peel will not irritate sensitive or blemished skin, and lightens discolored skin, according to Reviva.
Clay masks absorb oil and tighten pores. CamoCare’s Revitalizing Mask contains chamomile extract and glacial clay. BWC Purifying Facial Mask contains kaolin clay and herbal extracts of meadowsweet, honeysuckle, chamomile and calendula. Paul Penders Mix & Mask is a powder (of kaolin clay, arnica, oatmeal, camphor and peppermint) that you mix with distilled water. Kiss My Face Scrub/Masque, with clay; oat, almond and corn meals; and honey, can be used as either a scrub or a masque.
Natural skin treatments are left on skin all day or all night in an attempt to balance oil production, kill acne-causing bacteria and soothe irritated skin. Derma-Klear’s Akne Treatment Cream contains sulfur, zinc, sage, chamomile and rosemary. Peruvian Rainforest Botanicals AcneCalm incorporates aloe vera, heather and cat’s claw. Paul Pender’s Blemish Away uses kaolin, oatmeal, arnica, camphor, menthol and sulfur to calm flare ups. Aubrey Organics Amino Derm gel has amino acids and herbs (burdock, ivy, lemon, sage) plus witch hazel to treat oily and problem skin. CamoCare’s Clear Skin contains chamomile and alpha lipoic acid to banish blemishes and soothe skin. Reviva’s Zit Stick skin blemish corrector covers and battles blemishes with sulfur, zinc oxide, tea tree oil and salicylic acid.
Moisturizing Problem Skin
Blemished skin needs moisture, but heavy-duty thick creams can clog pores. Apply a light moisturizer for oily or blemished skin. BWC Aromatherapy Oil-Free Facial Moisturizer restores and helps balance skin moisture. Rachel Perry’s Calendula-Cucumber Oil Free Moisturizer has echinacea, chamomile, ginkgo biloba, nettle and a sunscreen. Borlind’s Day and Night Creams protect the skin from bacteria and pollutants while moisturizing the skin and discouraging oil production.
Traditionally, plant oils were prized for fragrance as well as effectiveness in healing.
Cherie de Haas, in her book “Natural Skin Care,” recommends:
- 50 ml apricot oil as a base
- 10 drops lemon oil
- 10 drops cypress oil
- 15 drops lavender oil
- Other oils that can be placed directly on lesions include: tea tree, lavender and lemongrass oils.
Your skin may at first seem to worsen when you embark on a natural treatment regimen. The products encourage the pores to open and drain, so lesions that are just developing will come to the surface. After a short time of caring for your skin in this manner, it should improve dramatically.
Chamomile: Natural Skin Soother
Chamomile possesses a long history as a revered healer. Ancient Egyptians dedicated chamomile to their sun-gods, perhaps due to this plant’s sun-shaped flowers or its versatility as a treatment. Seventeenth century herbalists gave chamomile for indigestion, fever and pain. Later, physicians applied chamomile to heal wounds and skin irritations.
Topically, chamomile has also been applied as an antifungal and antibacterial treatment. Today, skin care companies are increasing using chamomile in cleansers, toners and moisturizers. Chamomile soothes the skin, reduces acne’s inflammation, eases eczema, and soothes discomfort, allowing the skin to heal and recover from its many ills.