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Facing Acne

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Acne is a chronic disorder of the sebaceous glands (our skin's oil glands), which leads to the development of lesions, known as comedones, pimples, or, more commonly, "zits.

Acne is a chronic disorder of the sebaceous glands (our skin's oil glands), which leads to the development of lesions, known as comedones, pimples, or, more commonly, "zits."

Almost every teenager will have at least an occasional whitehead, blackhead or pimple, and approximately 40 percent of teens have severe cystic acne. These are not life-threatening conditions, but severe cases can leave both physical and emotional scars.

Acne is also not contagious you can't catch it from someone else. While the exact cause is not known, heredity and hormones contribute to this distressing skin problem. If your mother or father had the condition, you are at increased risk of having acne, since large pores and overproductive oil glands can be inherited.

At puberty, certain hormones called androgens cause the sebaceous glands to become more active, grow and produce more sebum (oil). This also causes changes in the skin cells lining the hair follicle. They shed more quickly, and in clumps. As a result, the sebum and skin cells clog the pores and form pimples. A type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes, which normally lives in the skin, invades the clogged pores and begins to grow, creating inflammation and irritation. This results in plugged, inflamed follicles that develop into pimples. The usual areas affected by acne include the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and scalp.

Risk Factors

Acne usually starts between the ages of 10 and 13, and lasts for five to 10 years. However, some people struggle with acne for decades, having outbreaks even in their 30s, 40s and around menopause often due to hormone imbalance. Caucasians tend to be more affected than or those of African or Asian heritage. It affects men and women equally, though men are more likely to have more severe, longer lasting acne. Women are more likely to have intermittent bouts of acne because of hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and with pregnancy.

Acne may be aggravated by contact with substances that clog your pores, such as cosmetics or exposure to airborne grease (working in a fast-food restaurant). Wearing headbands, helmets or tight collars can cause friction and sweating, which may make acne worse. As well, stress, exposure to extreme temperatures, and certain medications (hormones, cortisone) can worsen acne.

Natural Approaches

Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for mild to moderate acne, but their use is hampered by a number of side-effects. They may cause yeast infections in women and affect proper function of the immune system. If you want to try some non-drug approaches, here is a list of some of the supplements that may help to minimize acne and improve skin health:

  • Vitamin A - very important for skin health; helps regulate sebum production. The usual recommended dosage is 25,000 IU daily for one to two months, then 10,000 IU daily. Do not exceed this amount unless advised by your doctor. Women who are pregnant should not exceed 5,000 IU daily.
  • B vitamins - B-vitamin deficiencies have been associated with acne. Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) helps regulate hormone levels in women and may reduce outbreaks. Preliminary research found benefits with high doses of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). Topical solutions of B5 may also be helpful. Try a B complex that provides 50 to 100 mg of the B vitamins.
  • Vitamin C - aids skin repair; improves collagen production. Take 500 to 2,000 mg daily.
  • Vitamin E - essential for skin health; may help prevent scarring. Take 400 to 800 IU daily.
  • Essential fatty acids - reduce inflammation; repair damaged skin cells. Try flax seed oil or fish oils.
  • Zinc - promotes tissue healing and reduces inflammation. Several studies have found zinc supplements to be helpful. The recommended dose is 25 to 50 mg daily. Choose a supplement that also contains copper, as high doses of zinc can cause a copper deficiency.
  • Tea tree oil - natural antibiotic and antiseptic; try a lotion or cream with five to 15 percent tea tree oil. If used at full strength, it may cause skin burning and irritation.

Dietary Strategies

While there is no concrete evidence implicating specific foods as a cause of acne for the general population, those with food allergies may notice skin eruptions or an acne-like rash or skin reaction in response to consumption of certain foods. In these cases the known trigger, whether it is sugar, wheat, yeast or dairy, should be avoided. To determine potential allergens, an elimination diet can be followed under the supervision of a health-care practitioner. For overall health inside and out a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish is recommended. Sufferers of acne rosacea may notice flare-ups when they consume spicy foods or alcohol, so avoiding these foods may be helpful.

Other Suggestions for Managing Acne

  • Drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily.
  • Wash your face morning and evening with warm water and a gentle cleanser. Do not scrub hard or use abrasive cleaners as this can irritate acne.
  • Resist the temptation to pick or squeeze; this can cause tissue damage, infection and scars.
  • Use only water-based and hypo-allergenic cosmetics and skin care products. Do not wear cosmetics regularly. If you have dry skin, choose a cream or lotion moisturizer. If your skin is oily, it may be better to use a gel or solution, since these products are usually alcohol based and will help to dry up the skin.
  • For moderate to severe cases where there are multiple lesions or cysts, consult a natural health-care practitioner for proper care.

Although we can't escape the genetic tendency to have acne, we can do many things to improve the health of our skin. Nourish your body and your skin with a healthy diet and lots of water. Keep your skin clean and avoid picking blemishes. Nutritional supplements can play an important role for mild to moderate cases. If you have severe acne, consult a natural health-care practitioner for proper guidance.

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