Do you associate a constellation of spots with the teen years? Or have blemishes remained a hassle?
You’d think that saying goodbye to acne would be one of the celebrations of aging. But millions of American adults struggle to maintain a clear complexion.
No matter what your age, acne can take a toll on social confidence and self-esteem—it’s even been associated with depression.
The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices and a natural skin care regimen can prevent breakouts before they begin.
Below the surface
Acne vulgaris is known as a disease of the pilosebaceous units of the skin—the area underneath each pore. There are three major blemish culprits: excessive oil production, clogging of the canal under a pore, and bacterial imbalance. Each of these can cause open comedones (blackheads) or closed comedones (whiteheads). Add a rupture under the skin, some significant inflammation, and oxidative stress, and you can end up with large, discomfiting red or yellow bumps (papules and pustules, respectively).
Like, e-w-w. Although genes, hormones, and stress play a role in breakouts, nutrition has recently been validated as a key element in flawless skin. A skin-supportive diet is the first step toward stopping the spiral of clogged oil glands and inflammation involved in acne.
The right nutrients
Recent research finds that eating a diet high in protein and high-fiber, low-glycemic foods (which raise blood sugar and insulin levels more gently than high-glycemic foods) may help reduce the symptoms of acne. This supports existing evidence that reduced circulating insulin levels in the body are linked to fewer breakouts. Study author Neil Mann, professor of human nutrition at RMIT University in Australia, notes that removing refined grains and sugar-laden foods from the diet will help clear problem skin. He adds, “We advise eating more natural foods (low-glycemic in nature) such as lots of vegetables and fruits,” plus whole grains such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, as well as lean meats and fish.
“Keep your blood sugar and insulin levels balanced by eating nutrient-dense meals and mini-meals every two-and-a-half to three hours,” suggest Alan C. Logan, ND, FRSH, and Valori Treloar, MD, CNS, FAAD.
Low stomach acid is common in people with acne. Bitter herbs including dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaf and root, gentian (Gentiana lutea) root, and Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) root may stimulate acid excretion and lead to healthier digestion—with results you can see.
Individuals with acne appear to have an imbalanced level of good to bad bacteria in the intestines, so it’s little surprise that preliminary research shows that probiotics, or “good” bacteria, make valuable additions to conventional treatment.
A gentle, natural cleanser can help unblock pores without irritating the skin. Useful ingredients for acne-prone skin include tea tree oil (with antibacterial and soothing properties) and salicylic acid (which fights bacteria and inflammation while exfoliating). A proprietary ingredient, oligopeptide-10 is a fusion of amino acids that helps reduce redness and acne-causing bacteria.
In addition, organic botanical extracts may help soothe inflamed skin. A calming toner can help rid skin of impurities and regulate oil secretion, says Shelley Rubenstein at Nature’s Gate.
Look for a natural toner free of alcohol. But don’t fight an oily complexion by skipping the final skin care step: moisturizer. Consider an oil-free lotion to eliminate dry skin and help promote healing. Check labels; some moisturizers are formulated especially for combination, oily, or acne-prone skin.
“Moisturizing ingredients like jojoba, allantoin, and aloe vera are very nourishing,” adds Zia’s Spradlin.
For the occasional breakout emergency, keep a correcting formula on hand. If you catch a spot in the early stages (itchiness or just-emerging redness), you may even prevent the full-blown appearance and discomfort of a blemish. Apply at the first symptoms and continually, up to three times a day, suggests Rubenstein at Nature’s Gate. To help remove impurities and keep skin clear, pamper yourself with a purifying mask once a week. Sometimes acne strikes the body as well as the face. A gentle exfoliating scrub can help fight these outbreaks.
“Look for products that contain camphor, tea tree, and colloidal sulfur to help banish blemishes and fight acne-causing bacteria on the body,” says Zia’s Spradlin.
Colloidal sulfur and kaolin clay may also loosen blocked pores and calm overactive oil glands.