Sherry Torkos, BScPharm
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.
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.
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:
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
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.