While the way that acne affects the skin differs from person-to-person, the one thing that's common is the odd, sinking feeling you get when you look in the mirror and discover those pesky red dots on your face…again.
In addition to blackheads, whiteheads, and very common red bumps, many people also experience crusting and scabbing of the swollen areas, along with redness and scarring, which more often than not leave permanent marks on the skin.
It’s absolutely no question that everyone should feel comfortable and confident in their own skin, and that includes your face! After all, it is the first thing that people see when they meet you, and things such as acne often makes these circumstances very difficult.
Not surprisingly, acne often leads to diminished self-esteem and anti-social behavior thanks to a high amount of concern over physical appearance. That said, while you cannot prevent acne entirely, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of acne occurring, and even more you can do to treat it quickly when it does appear.
You must, therefore have a fair idea about the root causes and triggers that bring about acne, along with some natural solutions that can help you treat it.
So What Is Acne?
We all know the answer to this question, right? Acne are those unsightly little bumps that erupt on the body and face, and often leave behind long-lasting and unwanted marks. There is, however, a mechanism-of-action behind how acne is formed, which is indeed often overlooked.
When the hair follicles get infected and/or congested, what follows is the formation of red bumps, whiteheads, and blackheads…in other words, acne. Ranging from a couple of small pimples here and there to severe cysts that may turn out to be painful and scarring, acne affects over 50 million people every year, and affects over 95% of the population at some stage of their life.
While acne can occur at any age and in both sexes, it generally occurs during the hormone-fueled teenage years. That said, incidence of acne has also been recorded in around 50% of adult-women and more among women who are pregnant.
While in the past acne was regarded exclusively as a surface skin condition, the paradigm is now shifting and reflecting the fact that acne's root causes are indeed very complex in nature, one of the main contributing factors being inflammation. Regardless of the cause, there is no doubt of the stress that acne creates to an individual.
According to statistics, over 50% of adolescents who suffer from acne become psychologically disturbed by it in some way, thanks to anxiety, poor self-esteem, depression, social impairment, body image issues, and suicidal thoughts. (Note: This is an underestimated statistic thanks to a low number of documented reports in comparison to actual occurrence).
Causes of Acne
Acne always occurs due to any one of two core reasons:
- Excess Keratin Production
- Excess Sebum Production
Excess Keratin Production
A special kind of protein, Keratin holds the skin cells together. Among those people who have normal skin, the cells die and are simply separated and pushed away from the pore.
Among acne-sufferers, however, the case is vastly different. Paul Jaminet, Founder and CEO of Angiex Inc., says that when an excess of keratin is produced, the skin cells get stuck together far too much, which makes it extremely difficult to push the dead ones away, and in turn results in the hair follicle getting plugged.
Excess Sebum Production
Secreted by the skin follicles, sebum is an oil that occurs naturally and helps in keeping the skin on the face moisturized. Its imbalance leads to the formation of blackheads and whiteheads.
When sebum is trapped in a pore, the pore gets clogged, which results in the formation of a blackhead. It is called so because of the fact that sebum oxidizes once it is exposed to air, which in turn gives it its black colored look.
Whiteheads, on the other hand, occur when the skin closes over the pore, followed by the follicle being invaded by bacteria. This gives the acne its pus-filled, white-colored look. The sebum build-up reduces the amount of oxygen in the pore, making it an ideal environment for the acne bacteria to grow in. This leads to the immune system responding in an inflammatory manner – something that is seen at the pimple site.
Types Of Acne
While most cases of acne fall under the category of Acne Vulgaris, acne are actually of many types. The following are the most common forms of acne:
The most commonly found acne type, it can occur in any stage in one's life – from the early stages of adolescence to adulthood. Its appearance is seen as a combination of blackheads and whiteheads.
These are plugged hair follicles or comedones which get irritated. They are extremely sensitive and appear as small pink or red bumps
These are irritated comedones as well, but have the appearance of a whitehead that has a red ring around it.
These are large and irritated bumps which form under the skin.
These too are large and irritated bumps which form under the skin, but are a more severe kind of acne and are filled with pus.
Quite a more severe type of acne, these are characterized by nodules that connect with one another beneath the skin. Generally growing on the butt, chest, neck, and arms, they are more painful and often end up leaving scars.
Caused due to friction, heat, and sweating, these occur in those places where ball caps, sports bras, helmets, and other tight-fitting garments and equipment are worn.
Rosacea, which until very recently was called “acne rosacea”, and classified as a papulopustular subtype and is not a kind of acne, despite looking very much like one. While the main causes of both conditions may be similar, they are in fact very different conditions and need to be dealt with accordingly.
Not sure whether or not you have rosacea? Here are some guidelines that will help you tell the difference:
While acne occurs all over the shoulders, neck, and face, rosacea generally occurs exclusively in the middle part of the middle forehead.
Whereas acne consists of several types of lesions such as nodules, pimples, cysts, whiteheads, or blackheads, rosacea's appearance is more swollen, red, bumpy, and at times even bloodshot. Once you have identified the root cause, it will be much easier for you to treat rosacea.
Acne's Root Causes
Diet has a significant role to play in the occurrence of acne, since it can trigger the immune system to act in an inflammatory manner and also alter blood sugar. Dr. Carrasco says that many foods generally consumed by Americans, like refined sugars, dairy, high-glycemic foods, and bad fats, lead to acne outbreaks.
Inflammatory Fat Consumption
Processed and fried foods and conventional meats, which have a high inflammatory fat content, are known to trigger inflammation.
Food Allergies And Sensitivities
Many allergies contribute to acne formation, since they entice a response that causes inflammation. Some common foods in this regard are dairy, gluten, nuts, eggs, soy, and corn. In reality though, any kind food can be a trigger for someone who is allergic to it.
Coloring And Additives
Present in processed foods, they excite the immune system in a manner similar to food sensitivities, and in turn entice an inflammatory response.
Lack Of Proper Sleep
Lack of proper sleep leads to an increase in stress-hormone levels, which in turn triggers the increase of neurotransmitters that increase the inflammation which causes acne outbreaks.
Poor GI Health
Not surprisingly, your intestinal health has a profound impact on your skin health. An unhealthy gut does not allow for elimination and detoxification, which in turn leads to build-up of toxins and contributes to the occurrence of acne.
Among those who have unhealthy GI tracts, the gut gets inflamed and ends up using the antioxidants in the area before they can be spread to the rest of the body. This initiates a cycle of reactivity and inflammation of the immune system, which in turn triggers the acne.
According to scientific research, inflammation has a rather large contribution to the development and occurrence of acne. Paul Jaminet says that inflammation is seen to be present at the place of the outbreak – even before the acne-causing bacteria appears.
Additionally, Chris Kresser says that apart from sebum and altered fatty acid production, factors such as low stomach acid, SIBO, and leaky gut result in the gut bacteria producing more inflammatory substances, which perpetuates acne outbreaks. He even called poor GI function “leaky skin,” due the gut and skin having the same essential function (that of keeping out foreign elements).
This leads to a reduction in the number of anti-inflammatory compounds that the skin produces, which in turn results in skin inflammation and acne outbreaks. Not to mention the fact that gut bacteria imbalance (aka dysbiosis) pretty much perpetuates the leaky gut and inflammation.
Given the importance of gut health in your systemic health, it also plays an essential part in your skin health. This makes leaky gut a primary cause for acne. The gut becomes “leaky” when it becomes hyper-permeable, which happens when the junctions between intestinal cells loosen-up. This happens due to a variety of causes, from GI infections, dysbiosis, medications, and toxins, to allergies and food sensitivities, among others.
A leaky gut allows pathogens, toxins, and undigested food particles to go into the bloodstream, which entices the immune system to react to the foreign particles, and in turn creates inflammation all over the body. A leaky gut should always be appropriately identified and treated, with the gut being given enough time to heal, so that the situation can be reversed and the acne problem (along with the many other side effects it causes) can be resolved.
Hormones present in our bodies work in a specific balance. Things such as lack of proper diet, stress, lack of exercise, toxins, and lack of proper sleep lead to inflammation, which in turn leads to acne outbreaks.
Some hormones, such as IGF-1, androgens, and insulin in elevated levels cause acne outbreaks. This is primarily due to the fact that these hormones result in excess keratin and sebum production.
Insulin is a storage hormone that regulates blood-sugar. Elevated levels of blood-sugar results in high production of both insulin and IGF-1, both of which elevate testosterone levels, which in turn results in excess keratin and sebum production.
Yet another hormone whose imbalance leads to acne outbreaks is progesterone. Estrogen imbalance happens when the body has low levels of progesterone along with high levels of estrogen. Additionally, high blood sugar, stress levels, and chemical estrogen exposure (from processed foods and personal care products) all result in hormone imbalance.
Acne is also a common symptom of PCOS. A hormonal condition, PCOS takes place when a female's body produces far too much androgen hormones, such as progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.
Other symptoms are extra facial and bodily hair growth, blood sugar dysregulation, weight gain, disturbances in menstrual cycle, and infertility. This root cause must be addressed because other interventions will be ineffective if hormone imbalances are not properly dealt with.
Though lesser-identified, nutritional deficiency is nonetheless a common cause of acne. According to Mark Sisson, a decrease in levels of minerals such as zinc and vitamins such as A, E, and D contribute to the occurrence of acne.
All of these elements have important effects on bodily processes – while Vitamin D and zinc regulate the immune system, Vitamins A, E, and zinc have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Chris Kresser says that nutrient deficiency is an increasingly emerging cause of acne. Today's industrialized world is characterized by overfed, yet undernourished individuals.
As a matter of fact, over 50% of Americans suffer from a deficiency of elements like calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A and B6. Other kinds of deficiencies that lead to increase in acne is that of essential fatty acids.
Populations that are known to consume more fish consumption, for instance the Inuits, have been observed to have a low incidents of acne courtesy of the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil. Additionally, lack of vitamin B in the body causes poor detoxification and hormonal imbalance, which in turn leads to the occurrence of acne.
Stress and Sleep
We are all well-aware of the affect that stressors have on us. When these stresses become far too much for us to bear, they result in the hormone levels getting imbalanced, leading to poor sleep and gut dysfunction – all of which ultimately leads to acne.
According to Dr. Amy Myers, a leading expert on functional medicine, stress is indeed very bad for your skin, since it causes hormonal imbalances which in turn negatively affect your complexion. When you sleep, your body tries to undo the damage done to it by soothing inflammation and repairing tissue damage. Needless to say, restorative sleep is indeed essential for you, especially if you suffer from problems like acne.
Hormonal imbalance elevates the levels of androgen hormones such as progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone, which in turn causes acne. Acne may also occur due to uncontrolled systemic inflammation caused by adrenal fatigue, which lowers the level of cortisol – the main anti-inflammatory hormone in the body. Dr. Myers elaborated further to explain that your natural hormone cycle is monitored by your 24-hour sleep cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm.
Lack of sleep – just like stress – increases the amount of cortisol in your body and ultimately disrupts your circadian rhythm and leads to acne.
The best way to prevent acne, therefore, is to maintain your sleep cycle. Ensure that you get at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night. While that is generally the optimum amount of sleep required by most people, you can find out your own by going to sleep at night and observing the time in which you wake up on your own without needing an alarm.
Not surprisingly, environmental toxins can – and do – destroy many a healthy skin. In fact, acne is among one of the numerous side effects of environmental toxins that have been listed in the EPA's chemical database.
Common chemicals like PCBs, dioxins, phthalates, phenols, furans, and benzenes contribute to the formation of a kind of acne known as Chloracne. These chemicals come from many different sources – from industrial areas, contaminated water and food, and even your own personal cleaning and care products – all of these are sources of exposure.
If absorbed regularly, these chemicals contribute to the occurrence of cysts, blackheads, and pustules on the body and face. Once these toxins enter the body, it is extremely difficult to eliminate them, primarily due to their tendency to get themselves stored in fat.
This in turn leads to several systemic disorders like impotence, arthritis, anemia, fatigue, thyroid and liver dysfunction, and neuropathy. Many cases of acne that are caused due to these toxins take months, if not years, to fully heal and recover.
Apart from these, many preservatives that are abundantly found in personal cleaning and care products, like phthalates and parabens, contribute to acne formation by mimicking and thereby being mistaken as estrogen by the body, which in turn imbalances the amount of the hormone present in the body.
Many topical preparations have been proven to be very effective in treating acne. Some effective topical applications are:
Its antibacterial properties work well for most people when it is applied to the acne area directly.
Nicotinamide AKA vitamin B3, this helps reduce inflammation.
Tea Tree Oil and Willow Bark
While both are known for having antibacterial properties, the former additionally acts as an effective astringent.
Calendula and Feverfew
This helps in lessening the redness.
Several homemade pastes, such as that of baking-soda and water, or that of Greek yogurt, honey, ginger, and turmeric, help the skin by calming and soothing it. Crushing cloves of garlic and mixing them in aloe vera gel works, too.
Apart from topical preparations, you can also treat acne by cleaning the skin (and thereby decreasing the extent of inflammation) in the following ways:
This opens up the pores and increases the amount of absorption of treatments.
Always clean acne-prone sections of your skin gently. Make sure to apply a light exfoliant, such as a baking soda and oatmeal paste mixed in water. Avoid excess exfoliation and scrubbing in case your face is too sensitive or inflamed.
- Rather than using tap water, wash the acne-affected sections of your face with distilled or filtered water.
- Keep yourself from touching your face as much as possible.
- Change your pillowcases regularly.
- Clean the screen of your smartphone regularly.
- Make a natural toner by diluting apple cider vinegar with distilled or filtered water in a 1:3 ratio, then apply it twice daily.
- You can try exercising, since it helps reduce the occurrence of acne by regulating hormones and increasing the blood-flow to the skin.
- Avoid toxin-exposure by making use of natural products both on and inside your body. Furthermore, drink purified water and eat foods that are whole, organic, and non-GMO.
Believe it or not, your face produces excess oil due to excessive washing and exfoliating. To counter this, Dr. Carrasco recommends that you use oil to wash your face. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it is actually very beneficial.
Rather than stripping your face of its moisture, the oil with its increasing moisture and antimicrobial properties acts as an efficient cleanser. Dr. Carrasco has recommended this homemade cleanser, with the ingredients adjusted according to the skin type:
- For oily skin, mix 70% sunflower seed oil with 30% castor oil
- For balanced skin, mix 80% sunflower seed oil with 20% castor oil
- For dry skin, mix 90% sunflower seed oil with 10% castor oil
Here's how you make the cleansing blend:
Take a small quantity of oil and apply it to your skin for about 45-60 seconds. Take a washcloth, soak it in warm water, put it on your face, and wait until the temperature cools down. Wipe off any excess leftover oil with another clean cloth.
Acne Causes Final Words
Now that you are aware of the many ways in which you can naturally treat acne, you will now be able to deal with your acne problem by addressing its root causes.