Natural Acne Treatment
Acne is a severe condition that affects thousands of people every year. The unpleasant and uncomfortable spots can if left untreated, lead to long-lasting scarring. Here’s how you can take a natural approach to acne.
What is acne?
Acne is more than having a few spots. The condition causes spots, oily skin and can cause pain and irritation. The condition affects both men and women and is most likely to occur during adolescence.
Acne most commonly affects the face, but some may experience it in other places on the body, including the back. Acne can be uncomfortable for those suffering from it. The condition can also cause significant anxiety and embarrassment in those experiencing it, which can cause social isolation in some cases. Teenagers and young people can find this particularly challenging to manage. In some cases, acne can leave permanent scars.
What causes acne?
Acne is caused when the hair follicles in the body become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The specific bacteria that cause acne, known as Propionibacterium acnes, lives on everybody’s skin. In some people this bacteria can build up, creating an environment where this bacteria can multiply, resulting in the formation of spots.
In teenagers, as their bodies undergo significant changes, certain factors can aggravate acne, including hormonal changes, certain medications, and diet.
Causes of acne include:
- Clogged pores are caused by excess oil production and dead skin cells. Sebum can become trapped beneath the surface of the skin and clog pores.
- Hormone fluctuations or imbalances. This often happens in teens and young adults suffering from acne, women experiencing PMS, irregular periods, pregnancy, early menopause, and other hormonal conditions such as poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
- Poor diet, especially lots of refined grains, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
- Stress and related problems, including depression and anxiety.
- Use of medicines like corticosteroids (including topical steroid creams), birth control pills and lithium.
- Sleep deprivation.
- Chaffing of the skin, such as from sports equipment and backpacks.
- Genetic predisposition.
- Smoking and other causes of inflammation.
- Gut problems
Acne is, in most people, a mild condition that will rectify itself with age. However, in some, it can become severe. In these cases, a doctor may prescribe topical treatments applied to the skin, antibiotics and other drugs that can restore hormonal balance. These treatments can be effective, but there are side effects. Doctors are also much more cautious at prescribing antibiotics because of the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.
Everyone with acne can benefit by using natural remedies to help maintain the health and cleanliness of the skin which can help to reduce the spread and severity of acne. Following a natural skincare regime may also help to reduce irritation and the likelihood of acne returning.
Here’s how you can treat acne naturally.
Maintain a good skin barrier
The lipid barrier is the skin’s first line of defence from the dangers of the outside world. It must be protected, particularly in those with skin conditions like acne. Applying certain fatty acids directly to the skin can strengthen its outer barrier, keeping moisture in and pathogens out. You can learn more about how your skin works see our How your Skin Works page.
Most acne sufferers will probably recoil at the idea of putting oil on their skin. Traditionally acne products and cleansers attempt to strip away the excess sebum and that’s how most acne sufferers think. But new thinking suggests that stripping those oils makes the skin overcompensate and create more sebum, making things worse.
We often hear from customers with oily skin, that switching to oil cleansing with the right plant oils can reduce oily shine and settle skin prone to breakouts. Babassu oil is widely rumoured to be beneficial to acne sufferers. Babassu oil has similar properties to coconut oil, but unlike coconut oil, it does not clog pores.
Avoiding skin irritants
It is also wise to avoid hair products with harsh chemicals, especially if you get acne around your hairline. You should begin to inspect the labels on makeup and beauty products, avoiding those with acne-causing ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, lanolin, mineral oil, aluminium, retinyl acetate, alcohol, oxybenzone, triclosan, parabens, and other preservatives. Toothpaste can also contain irritating ingredients, This is worth considering if you have acne around your mouth (be aware that acne is often confused with perioral dermatitis).
Bacteria transferred to the skin can also contribute to acne and day-to-day causes maybe sunglasses, phones, pillowcases and fingers. Keeping things clean, and trying not to touch your face (easier said than done) can help.
Avoiding beauty products with irritant ingredients is also advised. Using good quality mineral makeup is preferable to cheap, high-street formulations. Interestingly, mineral foundations usually contain zinc oxide which can help acne.
For more information see our skin irritants page.
Apple cider vinegar
The succinic acid found in apple cider vinegar is proven to reduce P acnes bacteria-induced inflammation. Apple cider vinegar is said to reduce inflammation, and improve scarring caused by acne. It is interesting that this study found a mixture of citric acid (found in apple cider vinegar) and zinc oxide (found in our Zinc and calendula cream) 'may be an antimicrobial ingredient for the treatment and prevention of acne
Cider vinegar must be diluted before being used to avoid any burning or irritation on the skin and should be washed off afterwards. Particular care should be taken if the skin is damaged, as it will be more susceptible to burning. There seems to be conflicting advice about dilution rates, we advise doing your own research and starting with a very weak solution.
Replace lost zinc
Zinc is an essential nutrient that can have a positive effect on acne. Regularly taking oral zinc supplements can reduce acne in some people, scientific studies have found. One study established that in 12 weeks, 79% of people experienced an 80-100% improvement in their acne symptoms just by using a zinc complex supplement with added antioxidants. As well as being taken in supplements, zinc can have a positive impact when applied directly to the skin.
Some people use calendula products on acne-prone skin or any skin in need of TLC, but its effectiveness has not been proven. Of course, it's rare to find studies proving herbs and supplements will improve medical conditions because these ingredients can be used by anyone (they are not patentable) and so there is not enough profit in them to make large scale trials a reasonable business expense. Generally, only pharmaceutical products have enough potential profit to warrant large scale trials.
Aloe vera has a soothing effect on the skin. It has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Used on the skin purely, as a gel or cream studies have shown it can help to remove the harmful bacteria that causes acne, reducing the risk of spots developing again. It can also be mixed with other substances like honey and cinnamon to form a soothing face mask that can help to restore balance and reduce irritation. Aloe vera gel in a bottle must contain a preservative, so it’s best to grow a plant (they are so easy to keep) and take fresh gel from a broken off leaf as and when you need it.
Colloidal silver is made from the same sort of silver you’d find in your jewellery. It’s suspended in a liquid, which means it can be applied directly to the skin. It can kill certain germs by binding to them and destroying proteins. It’s not a long-term solution, and should not be used every day, but applied topically as an emergency antiseptic / antibiotic it could have some benefits for those with severe acne, as this article suggests .
Probiotics and diet
At Lyonsleaf we are in no doubt that acne is directly related to issues in the gut for many people and people with leaky gut are more likely to have acne. Following an anti-inflammatory diet and a LOW GI diet can really help, You can read more general advice about foods for healthy living on our site.
Probiotic foods and supplements are a really good idea if you have any inkling of tummy trouble. It’s really likely that tummy issue is at least partly to blame for your acne.
Live products like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir are great probiotic foods (they contain good bacteria). Probiotic supplements may be necessary if your gut flora is really depleted. Be aware that building up this flora takes time, and most probiotic supplements only contain a few of the thousands of strains that are present in the gut. Its wise to alternate different brands containing different strains along side probiotic foods to introduce as many good strains as possible.
Prebiotics are foods that feed healthy bacteria in our bodies. Greens, legumes, high fibre foods, nuts and seeds are good prebiotics.