By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
Having a teenager in the house has reminded me of those difficult years spent trying to avoid those ill timed breakouts and spending way too much time coming up with creative ways to cover them up. According to the Canadian dermatology association acne affects about 90% of adolescents and 20-30 percent of adults aged 20-40 years. More than 80 % of suffers will be between the ages of 12 and 24. It usually starts at puberty and can last until adulthood. So while we tell our kids that it is normal and will go away, reality is that it can last for sometime.
Acne is an inflammatory condition of the skin, which appears as pimples, white and black heads. This happens at puberty due to hormonal shifts, which increase the number of sebaceous glands, with a consequent increase in the production of oil. These sebaceous glands can get obstructed. An increase in hormones can also cause an increase in a normally benign bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes. This, in combination with obstructed glands, causes inflammation to occur.
Babies can get acne. “Baby acne” can happen in response to the withdrawal from a mother’s hormones. The good news is that in a few weeks this will pass. In the case of a teenager though, some intervention may be required.
Acne can affect self esteem.
A Canadian study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found even having mild acne can bring on feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. That in addition to the other body changes that puberty brings, adds to a teenager’s feelings of uncertainty regarding body image. Acne has been associated with these psychological effects: social with drawal, decreased self esteem and confidence, poor body image, embarrassment, and frustration. If your child suffers from acne it is very important to get medical attention, not only for the emotional consequences, but also to avoid the pockmarks and scarring which can arise if the condition is left untreated.
Not just teenagers
But even when you think the teenage years are behind you acne can still rear its ugly head. Cyclical hormonal changes can also cause breakouts. Some women can get a flare up every month the week before their period. This happens as progesterone (which can worsen acne) reaches it’s peak. Balancing estrogen and progesterone can help to prevent or reduce the severity of these breakouts. Another condition called Polycystic Ovarian syndrome affects androgen production (includes free testosterone, DHEA-S, dihydrotestosterone). Androgens control sebaceous gland secretion and can exacerbate acne flareups.
Acne is not a result of poor hygiene, so don’t scrub too much! Do wash your pillowcase and sheets often as they absorb oil and can reapply the dirt and oil onto your skin. Do wash your face once or twice a day with a proper acne wash. Avoid moisturizers that contain mineral oil or petrolatum, that block oil glands. Also avoid additives like ammonia, artificial colours, ethanol, EDTA, formaldehyde, nitrates, paraffin, sodium laurel sulphate, methyl and propyl parabens, phthalates, and artificial fragrances. Use instead oil-free, water based, non-comedogenic products.
Tea tree oil is a natural astringent and antibacterial, so consider products with tea tree oil. Thursday plantation has an entire acne line including acne wipes and blemish sticks.
Diet and acne
Multiple randomized controlled trials have found a lower glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne. Adolescents should be encouraged to drink a lot of spring water throughout the day. Add a ¼ of a lemon to encourage alkalinity. Encourage lots of leafy green and orange vegetables. Avoid alcohol, sodas, chocolate, fried foods, and refined sugar. These lead to an acidic environment, which encourages acne. Try limiting all animal fats and hydrogenated oils for at least 2 months. This includes dairy products and margarine, fatty red meats, and any fried food. This will decrease the amount of inflammatory fatty acids produced in the body and will help to decrease inflammation. This can result in dramatic improvements.
- Beta carotene – our body changes beta carotene to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps to heal the skin. Look for mixed carotenoids – a teenager can take 25,000 IU twice daily for one month.
- Zinc is also healing to the skin and is essential to normal growth and development of the reproductive system, so important in the teen years. Try 15 mg -25 mg daily for 2 months.
- Vitamin C and bioflavonoids help to clear acne by strengthening connective tissue, supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. Try 250 mg of each up to 3 times a day for one month.
- Probiotics – Lactobacillus acidophilus has an important role in restoring friendly bacteria in the intestines. Friendly bacteria support hormonal balance and strengthen the immune system. It can improve constipation, which can worsen acne.
While it is near impossible to completely avoid acne during puberty, Naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer in its treatment and prevention. Hopefully you can make the transition to healthy adult skin a painless one for your teenager.
Book an appointment with Dr Berni to put a plan together to help with adolescent or adult acne.