Q: My teenager is really troubled by her acne. We don't want to treat this with hormones or antibiotics. Any ideas?
A: Most acne is caused by a difficulty in clearing excess testosterone from the body. So if you have acne issues, avoid eating high-testosterone foods—anything that contains milk, beef, pork, or other sources of mammal fat. Testosterone directly stimulates production of sebum (oil) in special glands in the skin. These glands are below the skin’s surface, and move their moisturizing oil out to the surface through pores. Too much oil production clogs the pores, which sets up a situation where bacteria from the surface also get trapped in the pores. This oil/bug brew can then grow and fester into a pimple.
Next, consider the role of sugar. Eating sugary baked goods spikes blood glucose, which in turn causes the pancreas to release insulin, the chemical responsible for transporting glucose into the cells where it can then be utilized to create energy. Glucose is the fundamental nutrient for energy—all food ultimately becomes glucose. But straight-up sugar is a disaster because it causes wildly fluctuating blood glucose and insulin levels.
There are all sorts of ways to get your blood sugar to go up, but only one way to bring it back down. That’s with insulin. So insulin is critically important, but over-production creates significant problems. For example, insulin binds with an important regulatory hormone called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Tying up SHBG drastically interferes with the body’s ability to clear excess testosterone. And excess testosterone leads to acne.
It should come as no surprise, then, that ice cream and other sugary dairy products are some of the worst foods you can eat if you have an acne problem. They provide the double whammy of testosterone-delivering mammalian fat and blood-glucose-spiking sugar. Other foods that are bad for acne include anything deep fried and cheap chocolate.
Beyond those broad categories, different foods produce acne flare-ups in different people, so you need to figure out the specifics for your body. Try a two-week detox diet consisting of non-glycemic fruits such as apples, berries, or grapefruit in the morning, and simple meals featuring mostly steamed or raw non-root vegetables, plus wild-caught fish, legumes, or free-range eggs for lunch and dinner. (Some people don’t do well with eggs, but in general, free-range or certified organic eggs are an excellent complete food.) After two weeks, reintroduce your favorite foods one at a time in three-day intervals. See how your skin responds. Sometimes it takes up to 72 hours for a telling pimple to emerge.
Helpful supplements for acne include:
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) at a dosage of 400—600 mg per day. This herb is more famous for reducing large, boggy prostates in men, but it can also be brilliant for acne as it helps clear testosterone.
Full-spectrum probiotics can also help a lot, especially if you have a history of antibiotic use.
Fish oil is crucial for overall skin integrity. It’s also one of the most effective anti-inflammatory nutrients available.
Zinc (30—50 mg daily) is a co-factor in 75—80 percent of all cell repair mechanisms—including those for skin.
For a quick fix, high doses of Vitamin A (50,000—150,000 IUs daily for a week or more) work well, but women who are considering pregnancy should keep levels to 25,000 IUs daily.
A tincture of half Burdock (Arctium lappa, well know for clearing skin conditions) and half Echinacea (an antimicrobial) works well for some. This blend can be taken internally (2 dropperfuls, twice daily) and also applied topically as an astringent after cleaning.
Keep It Clean
Your basic skin care routine should include opening the pores with a warm washcloth, then cleansing the face with a very gentle soap once or twice daily. A light scrubbing agent is okay, but avoid harsher exfoliants such as ground peach pits. Wash off your face with warm water, then splash it with very cold water as a tonic. You can also use an astringent tonic, and finish with a moisturizer. But remember that the more ingredients a product has, the less likely it is to actually be good for your skin. Beware chemical ingredients with multisyllabic names. Ultimately, the best way to care for your skin is to clean it with hot water, chase with cold water, then apply a moisturizer so natural you’d be willing to eat it such as cocoa butter or sesame oil.
If your facial skin is mostly oily, a clay mask weekly, or even daily, will help keep the shine down and draw out pimples. I like the green “French” clay—quite inexpensive and effective. Just make a thin paste with about 1/4 tsp. of clay and 10—12 drops of water in the palm of your hand. Spread lightly over the trouble areas and allow to dry completely before washing off.
If your skin tends to be drier except in certain oily trouble spots, an oil facial sounds radical, but can work wonders. Take 1/8 cup of virgin olive oil and 1/8 cup of castor oil, mix, and place a light layer all over your face. Cover with a steaming hot, damp washcloth, reheat, and repeat several times. Then wipe away the residual oil. Next morning, the improvement can be dramatic.
Finally, The Clear Skin Diet by Alan Logan is a useful resource. Also, for teens, if you read progressive health magazines like this one, you already understand the value of choosing good foods and avoiding junk. Take a natural lifestyle to heart—live it—and most of you will have beautiful skin once your hormonal transition has completely settled down.
Have a health question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and write "Ask the Naturopath" in the subject line.