Acne 101: The basics you NEED to know
Skincare for acne…. For most people, acne is the reason they start paying attention to skincare in the first place, but this “villain” isn’t just for those teenage years, no matter what anyone has told you! Acne can be a continual concern well into your 40’s! NOOOO! Say it ain’t so!!!! Unfortunately, it is. Moderate to severe acne will require some kind of treatment to zap those nasty buggers, but what is acne and why is skincare for acne different?
Here’s the DL on your most annoying friend-
Skincare for acne is different. Forget everything you think you know. Bacteria growth IS NOT the root cause of ALL acne. In fact, most acne is inflammation or hormone related. So, where did the whole bacteria thing come from? Well, it can be a cause of lymph and bowel congestion (see helpful tools for treating acne below), but doctors used to think acne was caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes (we just called it P. acnes when I worked in infectious disease). This bacteria has now been renamed (Cutibacterium acnes), but this misconception did cause a lot of dermatologists to prescribe regimens full of topical and oral antibiotics. This was the common practice when I worked in dermatology decades ago and I seriously hope it isn’t anymore. In the end, this bacteria is only PART of the puzzle that is acne.
Let’s start at the root, or the pores, to be exact. Sebaceous glands are within your dermis. So, you have your epidermis that everyone can see and below that is your dermis. These glands are crucial for healthy skin because they release sebum, antimicrobial lipids, upregulate antioxidants, and maintain pro- and anti-inflammatory responses. Our skin is amazing, I know! However, this is also the right scenario for acne growth for 2 reasons- hormones and triggered inflammation. This is one reason skincare for acne is different than we thought.
Sebum secretion is promoted by an increase in androgens, aka HORMONES, which is why acne is a classic trademark of puberty. Androgens are responsible for triggering sebaceous gland growth and sebum production which is like absolute primo material for those nasty acne breakouts. What else? They’re also responsible for hyperproliferation, aka excessive cell growth. This can, and will eventually, if not taken care of, cause a buildup within the follicle. I know, skincare for acne can be so difficult to manage.
Now, sebaceous glands do have those nice little pro-inflammatory lipids that help defend against invaders, but they can also make acne worse. Even more so if there’s a lack of C. acnes. Need I say, “skincare for acne is different,” again?
BOOOOO! Nobody wants that!
So, what am I even saying? That pesky bacteria thought to be the sole cause once upon a time is more of a result of angry sebaceous glands than the cause. Acne is a complex condition that isn’t easily solved by washing your face, or any other place you have acne, a bunch and putting those toxic and expensive topicals on (Don’t do this!). It’s now well known, I hope anyways and if not, I am here to help inform, acne can stem from a genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalances, and stress with links to androgens and pro-inflammatory lipids. With so many factors, it can be a treacherous process to figure out which treatment is best for you and your specific type of acne. Keep in mind, although skincare for acne can be hard, it is doable. Be prepared with patience, diligence, constant trial and error and a lengthy treatment process. If you’re lucky, you get it right with the first, second, or third thing you try. Most of the time, even when I worked in dermatology, that doesn’t happen. This is just because skincare for acne (each type of acne and each person) varies so much.
Ways to prevent acne
Although skincare for acne can be difficult, there is no sure-fire way to prevent acne, and even the most flawless skin gets it from time to time, there are some things you can do to help prevent acne before it starts.
Proper skincare for acne starts with the basics. Wash your face properly. This will prevent pimples by removing EXCESS dirt. Yes, excess. AVOID going crazy on the oils in your skin. Stripping your skin of all of these lovely moisturizing content can backfire and cause more acne than when you started out. Do NOT wash more than twice a day- once in the morning and once at night. I personally try to only wash my face once a day and if I shower, I don’t wash it with cleanser at all. I found that works for me, and it might for you too, so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Use a moisturizer
Skincare for acne includes a cleanser!? That’s right, just because you are battling acne doesn’t mean you can skip out on this! Keeping your skin hydrated is essential. When skin is dry, it produces oil to counter the dryness, which results in excess sebum and, consequently, clogged pores. Also, a lack of moisture causes wrinkles so you’ve now got acne AND you’re causing wrinkles for later. Yikes!!!!
MAKEUP!!! Listen up! I know you love that stuff, but limit it! Using a lot of makeup can clog pores and trigger breakouts. If you absolutely must, and believe me you’re prettier without it, make sure it’s non-comedogenic and fragrance free to prevent irritation. Take it off before bed EVERY NIGHT.
Resist touching your…
face throughout the day. Touching your face can transfer bacteria and all those pore-clogging impurities you’re trying to get rid of. Be mindful of how much you touch your acne prone skin. This one isn’t news though, is it? I remember growing up and my mom telling me to stop touching my face or I’d get pimples. Skincare for acne is different and can be difficult, but I think this tip has been around forever!
Limit sun exposure
This can dehydrate skin over time and increase inflammation which further clogs pores by trapping impurities under the skin layers. Again, dehydrated skin = winkled skin
Keep in mind, anything you try, you should be trying for 4-6 weeks! Yes, WEEKS!!! I know you want a quick, easy answer that will cure it all anytime you have it, but that’s just not how our bodies work. Skincare for acne takes time to work. Clearing out all that gunk takes time. Anything you try should show some sign of working by week 4. I prefer to take a before pic and weekly pics on the same day every week so I can clearly see (and show) progress. I usually pick Sunday because that’s when I practice my self-care, no matter what that looks like for the week.
When to see a doctor…
There are times you should refer to a doctor for your acne and I am going to put those in bullet points to make it quick and easy to get to:
- You’ve tried everything you can naturally and nothing seems to help
- You have recurring breakouts that clear up just to return again
- You have acne that is under the skin and painful
- You think your acne is medication related
- You have acne that leaves dark spots
- You have acne in odd places, like the upper arms and thighs as this is usually not acne
Helpful tools for treating acne, NATURALLY, at home
Although skincare for acne can be difficult and it is different than skincare for those without acne, there are ways you can help at home. Reducing lymph and bowel congestion can be VERY helpful in reducing acne. Why? Well, lymph glands are the body’s waste collectors. When systematic toxicity is high, the lymph glands have to work OT. If there is too much waste, they can’t keep up and the skin attempts to cleanse the body by pushing it up and out through the surface! YUCK!!!
Hydration contributes to many health conditions including acne. Without proper water intake, your body can’t properly flush waste. For proper hydration, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds should be drinking 75 ounces of water per day. To help with my water intake I use these.
Exercising regularly is important for cleansing the blood and opening channels to release toxicity. I know; I know… you think sweating would make acne worse, but it actually helps! So, get out those workout shoes, folks and GET. IT. DONE!
Vitamin D deficiency is also a common cause of acne. GREAT doctors will tell you to take 2,000-5,000 IU’s per day of vitamin D for at least 2 months to see if it helps before prescribing any medications for acne. The vitamin D can also help if you’ve noticed your acne seems to get worse with eating dairy and you’ve cut it out. This was an issue for me, but we found out my youngest was allergic to dairy when she was about 2 ½ and once I cut it out, I noticed a HUGE difference. I mean, MASSIVE! If you cut dairy out, almond milk does have more calcium than cow’s milk and it has a similar vitamin D concentration, depending on the brand so, I’d recommend moving to an unsweetened almond milk if you like it and are cutting dairy out.
Just 15 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper a day can bust the heck out of that acne like no other sometimes. The recommended, and safe, upper limit for zinc is 40 mg per day so, I wouldn’t go over that without being under the care of a physician. Too much zinc can cause gut irritation and stomach pain. Applying zinc to the face won’t be effective since your skin can’t absorb it effectively so, this is supplement only.
There are a few things you have right at home that can help with acne. I am betting you know the first BIG one, apple cider vinegar. ACV has been shown to fight many types of bacteria and fungi. No joke, if you didn’t already know! Also, the lactic acid in ACV can help improve the appearance of those acne scars you may have gotten while trying to figure out how to resolve your acne issues. Here is the caveat, however; ACV can burn your skin or irritate it, especially if it’s sensitive. If you’re going to try this, mix with 3 parts water, at least. Use more water if your skin is sensitive and you just REALLY want to try this. After you wash your face (I usually rinse with warm water to open pores), apply your water and ACV mixture with a cotton ball (face towel or spray bottle, if you’re like me and want to be more environmentally conscious), allow to sit for literally 5-20 SECONDS, rinse with warm water, and pat dry. I’d start with once a day, at night, and do a skin test first to make sure you’re not burning your skin or irritating it.
If you’re looking for a good DIY face mask, you can mix honey and cinnamon into a paste. Honey and cinnamon are both natural anti-inflammatories as well as antibacterial! This can help with those who have acne caused by inflammation and it’s easy to make. 2 tablespoons of honey to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon mixed into a paste is applied after gentle face cleansing. Leave it on 10-15 minutes, rinse completely, and pat dry. I like to spot treat with tea tree oil after also. Tea tree oil can cause bacterial resistance over time and does need to be diluted as well, however. I mix 1 part tea tree oil to 9 parts water (Ex. 1 teaspoon to 9 teaspoons), put a little on your CLEAN finger and place it on the blemish. You can repeat this twice a day. I usually do once in the morning and once at night when I do it.
Green tea is an amazing facial cleanser
and can definitely be your saving grace if you have acne caused by inflammation. I have lupus, so most of my acne issues are caused by inflammation, not angry sebaceous glands. I make myself a green tea facial cleanser all the time. It works amazing for me and I think you would all love it too, acne or not. Green tea on the skin reduces sebum production, reduces inflammation, and has so many anti-aging properties since it’s packed with antioxidants! Amazing stuff! I am so in love with it! I steep green tea in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, let it cool, and use a spray bottle to apply it evenly to my face. You can use it as a wash and splash it on, but I hated the mess and I’m not a fan of using cotton balls so, I use the spray bottle. Allow it to dry, rinse your skin with water, and pat dry. Sometimes, I grind up some green tea leaves and mix it in the honey and cinnamon face mask above and it works wonders!
Now, moisturizing with acne is a feat, I tell you! No doubt. I choose to use aloe vera because it’s natural, I grow it, and it makes my skin feel amazing! I find this is best for almost everyone I’ve helped with acne. It tends not to clog pores, but helps the skin hold moisture while it adds it back in because it actually helps your body maintain its natural collagen. Crazy, right!?
There are a couple things a doctor trying to keep you off the prescription stuff will try. The first is food eliminations- dairy, processed sugars (not fruits, just the fake stuff), and chocolate. Then, usually the vitamin D and/or zinc supplements and better products. I always recommend people start with the diet changes. It’s easy-ish, natural, and non-toxic for you and the earth. Actually, not consuming animals and animal products is great for the Earth and I say this knowing I am NOT vegan. Do I prefer vegan products? Yes, but I have my own reasons for that and won’t try to sway you one way or the other, I promise. Healthcare, skincare, and body care are all 100% custom and individual to us. No 2 people are the same and, most of the time, what works for your friend’s acne won’t work for yours.
The takeaway is, acne can be hard to get rid of and you really do need to take the time to figure out the root cause of your acne to treat it and we are here to help!
Until next time…
Keep it Zen,
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