Acne is a skin condition that affects both men and women. According to the British Medical Journal it affects “over 80% of people at some point of their life” and can be severely debilitating on someone’s quality of life by affecting their mental health, causing depression, loss of confidence both in the personal life and workplace, dysmorphobia and can potentially lead to suicide.
What causes acne?
Hormones! The glands that produce oil in our skin are affected by these powerful chemical messengers. In acne sufferers, these glands can be super sensitive even to normal levels of these hormones, causing them to produce too much oil. There are tiny holes in the skin called pores. The lining becomes thickened and dead cells build up and congest the pores causing blackheads and whiteheads.
A particularly interesting fact is that a blackhead is not dirt! It is a reaction of the congestion with exposure to air.
The acne bacteria that live on the skin is usually harmless and doesn’t cause problems. However, in people with acne, the oil creates the perfect environment for these bacteria to grow. This leads to inflammation and pus-filled spots.
What types of conditions affect our hormones?
What does it look like?
In adolescence, acne often appears in the T-zone area (across the forehead, nose and chin). In adults, it usually presents on the lower part of the face, base of the cheeks, chin and jawline.
Acne is graded according to severity. The lower grades are typically a mix of blackheads, whiteheads and small pimples whereas higher grades actually present with deep cysts and nodules, which can be very disfiguring and tender to the touch.
Ingredients to look out for in skincare
Tea tree oil – A popular ingredient that works to decrease the inflammation particularly tose with mild to moderate acne. It’s an ingredient in many skincare products. The essential oil can be used as a spot treatment, but always dilute it first in a carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba or almond. Add 1 – 2 drops Tea Tree to every 12 drops of the carrier. Always patch test on the inside of the arm to ensure that you don’t experience any irritations
Alpha Hydroxy Acid – Known as AHA’s, these are plant acids. Glycolic and Lactic acids are good examples. They help by removing the excess dead skin cells that block the pores. These acids can also help with scarring due to their resurfacing effects. It is important to wear an SPF when using AHA’s as they can increase the skin’s sun sensitivity.
Beta Hydroxy Acid – I generally prefer BHA’s on acne due to the fact that these work deeper inside the pores. They are also oil soluble. They aren’t aggressive usually and can actually calm the skin. Salycylic Acid is a BHA.
Green Tea – This is fantastic for decreasing inflammation in the body, so try drinking a few cups a day. You can find topical skincare products that contain green tea extract but look for ones that contain at least 2%.
Niacinamide – This awesome ingredient helps to build cells in the skin and protect from environmental stressors, including UV, pollution and toxins. It can be helpful on all acne, but particularly if it’s inflamed, improving skin texture and reducing lesions.
Retinol/Vitamin A – This is a blog all by itself, the wonders of Vitamin A and Retinol. I would definitely get the advice of a skin professional as Retinol can be a very strong ingredient. Vitamin A is basically a normaliser of cell DNA, thickens the skin by releasing growth factors, heals quicker, increases the shedding of dead skin cells. It restores skin to normal.
The link between diet and acne
This is an area that is always being researched to gain a better understanding. Food can definitely be a contributing factor. It won’t cause it, but when treating acne it’s always best to look at a holistic approach.
There are several studies that suggest that a healthy diet can prevent and treat acne.
Foods that can help lead to an increase in inflammation include:
Sugars and refined carbs raise your blood sugar more quickly. When this happens, it causes the body to release a hormone called insulin. Excess insulin can cause your oil glands to produce more oil, which in turn will increase your risk of acne.
Consumption of dairy products
There have been numerous studies associated with acne and dairy particularly in teenagers. This is due to the metabolism of dairy which can elicit biological responses in some consumers and therefore can initiate an acne response. Interestingly. The studies didn’t find that the differences were measurable between total milk or skimmed milk, concluding that it is likely to be down to the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in the skin. Milk contains components that relate to testosterone, which in turn can lead to an increase in the production of sebum, which is the oil produced by the sebaceous glands in our skin.
What foods are believed to help your skin?
Finally, my top tips
Don’t keep touching your face or squeezing your spots. You are going to spread the bacteria and scar your skin. Be as hygienic as possible. Change your pillowcase after each use. Put a fresh one on, then turn it over the following night. Then replace for a clean one.
I write these blogs to be informative, but I can’t stress the point enough that your skin is always going to thank you for seeing a skincare professional. I have seen so many disaster stories by people just going to try every product on the market and over treating and stripping their skin and causing more damage than the initial acne. The skin needs treating with care and even more so when it comes to acne.