Ugh. 7 am.
There's a bright red, angry monster that somehow took up residence on your chin overnight and is now staring back at you in the mirror. The beast hurts when you touch it. It is also probably giving you the stink-eye, just in time for your incredibly important interview.
I've been there too.
As a teen I had acne so bad it covered my face, chest and back. I went through years of antibiotic creams, washes, birth control pills that I never wanted, and Proactive facial care systems that stained all of my mother's towels. I was even on Accutane for two years. A high dose pharmaceutical variation on Vitamin A, Isotretinoin or Accutane, is commonly prescribed for severe cystic acne. While it is known teratogen (meaning that it is known to cause severe birth defects), a less common side effect of the drug is anxiety, depression and even suicidality. Fun times for me, when both me and my high school boyfriend were taking long courses of Accutane. It worked, however it was a pretty dark time and I'm lucky my family was so patient with me. It has since been taken off the market in Canada due to a possible link between use and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Yikes!
Acne vulgaris (the medical, even uglier sounding term) can be caused by a number of concerns, including:
Hormonal imbalances - excess testosterone, or excess estrogen, PCOS, puberty, pregnancy/post-partum, menopause hormonal changes
Food sensitivities - dairy, gluten, eggs are the most common although there are many other possible culprits, sugar, preservatives
Digestive Weakness - low stomach acidity, excess protein (often from conventionally raised animals whose meat is pro-inflammatory and hormone-laden), poor gut flora, recent antibiotic use
Medications - corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, anabolic steroids
Allergies - cosmetics, chemicals, fragrances, clothing material, detergent
Stress - lack of sleep, stress hormones in overdrive, less-than-scrupulous (or overly vigorous) hygiene
But I'm not a teenager anymore!
While it can be pretty devastating dealing with acne as a teen, most of us grow out of it. However, some people have acne lasting well into their 30's and 40's. Many others are suddenly faced with some angry crops of acne as adults. Several women I see with adult acne struggle to be taken seriously in their professional lives while feeling that that they look like a kid. Acne is not uncommon in the body-building world either, as anabolic steroids, sweaty work-out cloths and high amounts of whey protein powders can contribute to facial and b-acne.
In these cases, look to food sensitivities and other environmental factors. Another form of adult acne, Rosaceae, is often related to low stomach acid or or food sensitivities.
So what can I do for my adult acne?
1. Ditch the chemical laden products - Check out EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to determine if your cosmetics and personal care products could be contributing to your symptoms. Pay particular to expensive high-end brands - many of them have some particularly nasty ingredients.
2. Switch to raw honey as a facial cleanser. Full of good bacteria, honey acts as a skin normalizer for both oily and dry skin and promotes healing.
3. a) Limit sugar, dairy and processed foods. Low glycemic diet and acne (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007), Acne: the role of medical nutrition therapy (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013)
b) Clean up your diet. Focus on lots of orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, winter squash, and pumpkin as they contain beta-carotene to help improve skin health. Leafy greens such as dandelion, beet greens, spinach, kale, chard, water cress, blue-green algae (spirulina, seaweeds) tonify the liver to help balance hormones. Mung beans, adzuki beans, unpeeled cucumber slices, alfalfa and soy sprouts are all used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of acne as well.
4. Drink lots of water and green tea. Your kidneys and liver filter toxins out of your body - staying well hydrated assists this function.
5. Adopt a regular stress management practice. Acne is associated with lower self-esteem, higher and rates of depression - Understanding the burden of adult female acne (Journal of Aesthetic and Clinical Dermatology, 2014). Yoga, deep breathing, and exercise can be helpful for confidence breathing, handling stress and improving your quality of life.
Check out Jean's story... this is a great example of how naturopathic medicine can help treat adult acne with amazing results! Naturopathic approaches to acne involve removing food sensitivities, creating a tailored supplement protocol, stress management exercises and hormonal support as needed to help resolve current acne, minimize scarring and reduce the occurrence of future outbreaks.
If you are struggling with acne - whether you are a teen or a grandmother or anywhere in between - let's set up a time to chat.
Here's to your clear skin!
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.