Acne affects more than 90% of Australian adolescents.
Unfortunately, one of the rites of passage through puberty are pimples. Facial, shoulders, back, chin and upper arm skin breakouts can appear randomly out of the blue and be stubborn to get rid of. And adding insult to injury, it can also be so demoralising it can keep a teen indoors.
Acne can have significant effect on self- esteem, confidence and mood therefore, as a physical condition, it can have psychological consequences.
Whilst as a parent you may overlook it or accept it as part of growing up, your teen could be cringing inside and literally only see the spot or spots that are emerging every time they see their reflection. This is an important factor.
How a teenager see themselves during these formative years is very important.
Let's have a quick look at the causes..
The pores in the skin contain oil glands and when there’s an increase in sex hormones (androgens) during puberty, these oil glands can become overactive and produce too much oil (sebum).
Acne is marked by clogged pores, painful pimples, sometimes hard lumps / cysts deep beneath the surface of the skin (they’re the ones that are really hard to squeeze and super duper painful).
So basically, when there is too much sebum, the pores can become blocked and promote an overgrowth of bacteria. This can lead to inflammation, redness, pus and the unsightly eruptions of large pimples. BTW a pore that clogs and closes is a whitehead, and a pore that is clogged but open is a blackhead – due to the exposure of he oil to air.
Acne can worsen under certain conditions such as heat, sweating from exercise, certain clothing (synthetic is the worst) rubbing against the skin and stress. So addressing these can help reduce the inflammation.
Also, a poor diet, deficient in nutrient rich foods to maintain the integrity of the skin, as well as the ecology of the gut (yes – gut health has a role to play as well) can influence the incidence and severity of teen acne.
The severity of acne vulgaris can vary but in some cases, be self-limiting. However, this condition can linger and become more and more untenable for the teen. Also, moderate to severe acne has the potential to cause permanent scarring so intervention and treatment may be necessary to mitigate this.
The burning question is what can be done about it? Remember this is a general guide - you/your teen is an individual and should be treated as such!
Of course there are pharmaceutical treatments available, however, I would encourage you to book a consult with me before you go down the rabbit hole of medication simply because there are other options to try. [Should you choose to take pharmaceutical medication after trying a more naturopathic approach, of course that is entirely your decision and I will support you regardless].
When seeing teenagers in my clinical practice I explore:-
- Gut ecology – balancing the beneficial bacteria
- Protein intake
- Fatty acid intake
- Sleep and rest
- Stress levels and management
- Persoanl hygiene
- Exposure to devices after hours (ie after 8:30pm)
- Social connections
- Health history
- Antibiotics exposure
- Environmental exposure
- Hormonal health
- and of course DIGESTION!
We often just turn to topical lotions to manage acne and whilst may be an important aspect, it’s also important to look at the bigger picture. The naturopathic goal is to always work with the body – not to suppress the body. So, if there’s an issue with the skin then the underlying or contributing cause could do with some help.
Many skin conditions, including acne vulgaris, have increased inflammatory or immune activity and have links to dysbiosis and increased gut pathogen overgrowth. Did you know that the skin has a microbiome as well? (That’s another topic in itself!)
Whilst more research is needed, the link between pathogens and skin conditions is not new and antimicrobial treatments have become the mainstay treatment for acne.
Washes and scrubs can rob the skin of its natural oils. Some topical retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives) can irritate the skin and potentially make the skin very sensitive to sunlight. So where possible, I recommend choosing topical ointments that cleanse but also nourish the skin.
Remember - always patch test on the skin first in case of irritation.
Those that are chemical free and have a more natural base are best. Avoid essential oils and use tea tree sparingly as whilst it’s a fantastic anti-bacterial, it is astringent and can dry out the skin. We’re looking to support the skin, not dry it out entirely!
Some of my favourite ingredients for topical application are
- Green Tea
- Vitamin B5
- Aloe Vera
- Vitamin A
- Golden seal
Whilst I have a few topical products that I recommend to my patients - both teens and adults alike – I rarely do without also attending to the insides.
ON THE INSIDE
The consumption of certain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds in the diet is one of the most effective ways to treat skin conditions and improve the look and feel of one’s skin.
- it is recommended, whilst addressing the gut-skin axis, that a low antigenic diet be following: NO tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar, artificial colours/flavours/sweeteners, and elimination of gluten, dairy, soy and any other identified or suspected allergenic agents
- a higher frequency of milk and ice-cream intake have also been positively associated with acne vulgaris development so eliminating / reducing these for a period of time could be beneficial
- reduce processed food
- low glycaemic foods as high glycaemic index foods have been associated with acne vulgaris
- focus on an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant diet to support the detoxification pathways and the liver
- hydrate with water and herbal teas
- follow my nutrition guidelines
- increase fibre
- include essential fatty acids
- include activated nuts and seeds for nutrients such as selenium, niacin and vitamin E
Nutrients and probiotics
- Lactoferrin: a glycoprotein widely present in mammalian secretions and possesses documented protective effects, including antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. A systematic review of Lactoferrin in dermatology reports that there is encouraging evidence to suggest that lactoferrin may be beneficial in acne. Results of an investigative study indicate that lactoferrin in mild to moderate acne vulgaris is well tolerated and may lead to an overall improvement in acne lesion counts in the majority of affected adolescents and young adults when administered as a dietary supplement on a twice daily regimen.
- Vitamin D: plays a critical role in attenuating skin infection
- Zinc: research suggests that people with acne have lower blood and skin levels of zinc and oral supplementation appears to help treat acne.
- Vitamin A: found to be highly efficacious in the treatment of acne, although in prohibitively larger doses of 300,000 units for women and 400,000-500,000 units for men
- Vitamin C: has been known for decades to play a crucial role in the regulation of the structural protein collagen, which is necessary for the extracellular stability of the skin
- Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory, and the relative intake of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may be a crucial dietary factor in the regulation of systemic inflammation.
- Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an essential cofactor for enzymes that regulate fatty acid metabolism
As a naturopath I am a huge fan of using herbs to support the skin. Being the largest organ of the body, the skin reflects what is going on within the body.
So the herbal treatment options include supporting not only the skin, but the liver and the digestive system as well. We need to enhance detoxification pathways to aid in the elimination of waste and toxic metabolites.
Herbs are a wonderful asset for us naturopaths as we can use one herb across many systems.
For a herbal formula, you need a prescription but some of my favourites include:-
- Chaste tree
- Oregon grape
- Poke root
- Baical skullcap
- Slippery Elm
- St Mary’s Thistle
There are some fabulous tablet forms that combine both herbs and nutrients but dosing is important to get the therapeutic effects. Teenage dosing depends on their age, weight and stage of development
So in summary, the treatment of acne is not a one faceted approach.
This is simply to share with you some alternative options which may require a little bit more effort than taking a pill (and including THE Pill which is also a blog in itself) but in the long run it will help support and not suppress the body’s natural healing.
For your individualised treatment approach, book a Teen Consult
This is for information purposes and it not intended to be used as medical advice.
FURTHER INFORMATION / RESOURCES