It’s estimated that nearly 85 percent of all people have acne at some point in their lives, making acne the most common skin disorder. While the cause of it is unknown, several potential triggers have been individuated and should be avoided in order to prevent breakouts. Unfortunately, no two cases of acne are the same. What may work for one person, may not for another. Overcoming acne is a process of trial and error that may require dietary restrictions, supplementation of certain nutrients, a proper skincare regimen, and some lifestyle adjustments.
Studies like this one from 2012 have suggested that eating foods with a high glycemic index (GI) can not only aggravate acne, but can trigger it as well. Dr. Jennifer Burris looked at the diet of 248 young adults and found that people who ate more sugars, dairy products, and unhealthy fats were more likely to develop acne. The reason this happens is that eating foods with a high glycemic index causes a spike in blood glucose levels, which leads to an increase in sebum production and, consequently, clogged pores. A 2007 study from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, has concluded that a low glycemic diet may decrease acne lesion counts.
Unfortunately for those of us who love dairy products (that would include me! I love cheese, especially mozzarella and burrata), a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology noted that dairy products, particularly skim milk, have been positively associated with acne flare-ups, possibly due to the presence of hormones in the milk. Try to lower your intake of dairy to determine if this improves your skin. Some people may be able to tolerate small amounts of dairy products without incurring flare-ups, but others still may not see any improvements after cutting dairy out completely.
3. Trans Fat
As with dairy, trans fat (hydrogenated oils) can negatively impact our skin because they promote inflammation. A lab study showed that supplementing the diet of lab rats with trans fat increased the vulnerability of their skin to diseases cause by UV radiation. On the other hand, the study showed that the supplementation of fish oils can be beneficial and offer some protection against UV-induced oxidative damage.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
Consider supplementing your diet with high-quality fish oils. According to research, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid present in fish oil), has been shown to inhibit the production of an inflammatory chemical called leukotriene B4 (LTB4), which leads to significant improvement in acne prone skin. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include wild Alaskan salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
While acne is typically triggered by internal factors, such as those I mentioned above, a good skincare regimen can make a huge difference in preventing and treating breakouts as well as preventing scars.
1. Cleanse, twice a day, every day.
Since oil dissolves oil, oil-based cleansers are great for removing excess sebum (as well as dirt, dead cells, and bacteria) without breaking down the acid mantle of the skin. The acid mantle is a thin, acidic film that protects the outer layer of the skin. Environmental factors and harsh cleansers can lead to disruptions in the acid mantle. Cleansing the skin properly is very important because it helps to keep hair follicles clear of debris. After cleansing and rinsing off your skin, make sure to pat dry with a soft towel, instead of rubbing.
2. Do not squeeze pimples. Ever.
I know, the temptation is great, but squeezing pimples can spread the infection to the surrounding tissue and lead to scarring.
3. Use only gentle cleansing products and do not scrub your skin.
Do not use harsh cleansers that make your skin feel squeaky clean, such as most foaming cleansers. When your skin feels squeaky clean and tight, it usually means that the acid mantle has been compromised and is more susceptible to bacterial infection. Do not use physical exfoliators (scrubbing products), as these can irritate the skin, making blemishes more inflamed and worsening the acne.
Effective Natural Ingredients for Topical Use
Calendula is one of the safest and most effective anti-inflammatory ingredients available in nature due to its flavonoid content (quercetin and rutin). Studies suggest that calendula promotes wound healing, even on acute/chronic wounds.
Apply a few drops of calendula oil on damp skin after cleansing to moisturize, soothe, and promote the healing of your skin.
Tea tree oil is a potent antiseptic ingredient. A comparative study has shown that tea tree oil is as effective as Benzoyl peroxide in reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions with the benefit of causing fewer side effects.
Manuka honey has significant antibacterial and wound-healing properties. When compared to any other variety of honey, Manuka has a high concentration of antioxidant phenols that inhibit bacterial growth. Try a Manuka honey face mask a few times a week to gently speed up the healing of blemishes.
Get some quality sleep. Lack of sleep can alter our hormonal levels and cause persistent psychological distress, which may exacerbate acne by increasing sebum production. Be sure to sleep a sufficient amount of hours (usually between 7-8).
Exercise. Just like lack of sleep, exercise can affect hormone production. However, moderate exercising does so in a beneficial way, increasing circulation that delivers more oxygen to skin cells and carries cellular wastes away.
Photo credits: Lilly Wallace
More from Lilly Wallace