Acne is characterized by inflammation of the hair follicles and sebaceous glands, often on the face. The production of acne is due to an excess production of keratin (skin cells) and a hormonal related excess production of sebum by sebaceous glands. This leads to a blockage of the hair follicle, leading to an environment that supports the growth of Propionibacterium acnes, acne-causing bacteria that breaks down the sebum, leading to inflammation and pustules most commonly known as acne. Hormonal acne is often due to an overproduction of androgens (testosterone and DHT) which result in an excess production of sebum, which fits into the cascade outlined above. However, in some cases acne can be related to a hormonal imbalance in estrogen and progesterone as these hormones must be in balance to prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT (the more potent form). Additionally, some people notice acne flare-ups are worse when they eat certain foods (often dairy) indicating a food sensitivity may be a factor. When we consume foods that we are sensitive to our immune system reacts by secreting inflammatory mediators, which may result in inflammation of the skin and acne lesions. It is important to get to the bottom of the underlying cause of your acne – whether it be related to hormones, food, your environment, skincare etc. but often this process can take a while – for me it took a year of active treatments and testing before I received a diagnosis that explains my constant skin battle. In the meantime, here are a few everyday tips that have helped me reduce my acne lesions:
Lemon Water – I start every morning with warm lemon water. This helps wake up your digestive system and aids in detoxification. Lemons are also high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which is a great antioxidant for our skin and protects from free radical damage and inflammation. Just squeeze half a lemon into a mug, fill with boiling water and drink while you eat breakfast or get ready in the morning! I also add a green tea bag for added antioxidant benefits.
Herbal Tea – Some of my favorite herbs for acne include nettle, dandelion root, spearmint and green tea. These herbs aid in detoxification to help eliminate excess androgens and toxins from the body. For more information on herbs for acne visit this post.
Limit dairy, refined carbohydrates and refined sugars – Dairy is a very common trigger for acne as it can be inflammatory. Additionally, sugars from refined carbohydrates or sweeteners can promote inflammation and increase sebum production by spiking insulin. Pay attention to how your skin reacts to what you consume, and try to eliminate any foods you may feel are contributing to breakouts.
Stay Hydrated – our skin is our body’s first defense against our environment. When we are dehydrated, the natural moisture barrier of our skin is compromised and allows microbes to invade. This can result in inflammation, which may aggravate acne. Additionally, water helps to flush toxins from our body and supports the functioning of every organ.
Castor Oil Packs – castor oil packs increase circulation and assists in the detoxification of waste material, toxins and hormones when placed over the liver. They also help increase lymphatic circulation and decrease inflammation. Here is how to do a castor oil pack. I often just put a tablespoon or two on a piece of organic flannel, place it over my liver and put a hot pack right over top for around 30 minutes before bed. It is also a great way to relax for 30 minutes of the day!
Tea Tree Oil – can be used as a topical antimicrobial to reduce the appearance of acne lesions. I often put tea tree oil on at night after I have washed and moisturized by face, and leave it on overnight. I often use the Zap Treatment from Saje Natural Wellness because it has other soothing and antimicrobial essential oils, and it is already diluted in a pre-formed mixture – some people may be too sensitive to tea tree oil that is not diluted. Additionally, you could dilute it yourself with jojoba oil (closest to our skins natural sebum).
Change Your Pillow Case Frequently – dead skin cells build up on our linens when we sleep, so by keeping your pillow case clean you can prevent bacteria from transferring to your skin and contributing to breakouts. I try to change my pillow case every 2-3 days but if this is not possible you can flip it over after 2 days, and then wash it after 4 days.
Wash Your Face Twice Daily – Washing your face morning and night is good practice. Make sure to use a face wash that is suited to your skin type, and aim for one that is free of chemicals such as parabens and phthalates that can cause endocrine disruption. Before washing your face at night it is important to remove your makeup for a deeper clean – also NEVER go to bed with makeup on, as this is the time when your skin cells turnover and regenerate.
Once a Week Deep Clean – I like to take one or two days per week to do a really deep clean. I start by removing my makeup and exfoliating to loosen any debris (I use this one). I then steam my skin to open my pores, allowing for a deeper clean – boil water, pour into a bowl, cover head and bowl with towel and steam your face for a few minutes. I then wash my face (with this cleanser) and then apply a mask. After the mask, I apply a serum (right now I’m using this one) and any spot treatment needed, and go to bed. I often make my own masks (see Instagram: gina.neonakis) or use this one.
Wash Make-up Brushes Regularly – this is just as important as washing your face, because bacteria builds up on our makeup brushes too. Often, citrus essential oils can be diluted in water and sprayed on a cloth, then swirl your brushes over this for a quick clean. Every once in a while do a deep clean with a natural makeup brush cleanser (Dr. Bronner’s soaps work really well!)
Destress – stress can contribute to acne byincreasing sebum production and creating hormonal imbalances due to the upregulation of stress hormones. Try to find time to relax and do what you love a few times per week, good practices to destress include meditation (I like the HeadSpace or Calm App), yoga, exercise and receiving adequate sleep.
Exercise – sweating is one of the ways our bodies detoxify, so by actively sweating every day you can accelerate this process. Additionally, by increasing circulation you also increase blood flow to the cells of your skin, providing adequate nutrition to keep your skin healthy. This blood flow also helps to carry away waste products and damaging free radicals. It is important to wash your face right after a workout, as sweating opens your pores and increases the potential for bacteria to colonize. Also, remember to not touch your face while working out (limit this always) because the bacteria from our hands (especially if you use machines at the gym) will increase the risk of developing acne lesions.
Balance Moisture Levels – often acne cleansers are very drying for our skin. When our skin is dry, it overcompensates by upregulating the production of sebum which leads to oily skin and an increased risk of the production of acne lesions. If your skin is dry, try using a light serum before your moisturizer as this will penetrate deeper and provide more intense hydration. If you don’t want a store-bought serum, you can use jojoba oil as this is the closest oil to our skins natural sebum so it will not cause acne. I have used coconut oil and olive oil in the past – I find that coconut oil clogs my pores, and olive oil is great for the winter months but is too thick in the summer.
Supplements – there are many supplements that can help with acne such as probiotics and B-complexes. Often people search for supplements online and find articles about Vitamin A or Zinc, however it is important to talk to your doctor before prescribing yourself vitamins as they are only required if you are deficient, and can be harmful otherwise.
Overall, these tips have helped me achieve healthier and more clear skin. However, the best way to clear your acne is to get to the root cause of why it is occurring in the first place. I recommend booking an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor who focuses on skin health if you are interested in treating the cause of your acne naturally. Additionally, Naturopaths who go through additional training can provide therapies such as LED light therapy and micro-needling that can help treat acne and diminish hyperpigmentation and scarring post-acne. This information is for educational purposes only, and what works for me may not work for you, so seeking out individualized care specific to your skin will provide better results.