Acne: What is Acne, Why do you get it, and How to control it?

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Article: Acne

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Acne affects tens of millions of people world-wide. Statistically, 85% of teenagers are likely to suffer from acne outbreaks between the ages 12 to 24. Acne will cause scaring in 25% of these people. According to the American Dermatologists Association, 25% of adults suffer from acne. 60 million Americans experience acne at some point in their lives. 20 million Americans are likely to suffer from acne-generated scars, but only 11% of all acne sufferers seek medical advice or treatment of some type for their acne.

Acne - The How, Why and What to do about your Acne




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What Is Acne?

Acne is described as a disorder of the skin, resulting from the action of hormones and other substances on the skin's oil producing glands (sebaceous glands) and hair follicles. These factors result in plugged or blocked pores and outbreaks of lesions commonly referred to as pimples or zits.

Acne usually occurs on the face, neck, back, chest, and/or shoulders and even though acne is usually not a serious health threat, it can be a source of significant emotional distress, especially in teenagers.

How Does Acne Develop?

Acne is described as a disease of the pilosebaceous units (PSUs). Found over most of the body, these units (PSUs) consist of a sebaceous gland connected to a canal, called a follicle, that contains a fine hair. The sebaceous glands produce oil (also called sebum) which normally travels via hair follicles to the skin surface (UMM, 2006), commonly called a pore. These follicles, or pores are lined with cells called keratinocytes (NIAMS, 2006.)

Acne results when a collection of dried sebum, dead skin cells (keratinocytes), and bacteria clog the hair follicles, partially or totally blocking the sebum from leaving through the pores. If the blockage is incomplete, a blackhead (open comedone) develops; if the blockage is complete, a whitehead (closed comedone) develops. More severe cases of acne may result is cysts.

Acne has officially been classified into types I–IV:

  1. inflammatory
  2. non-inflammatory,
  3. comedonal, comedopapular, papular, papulopustular, pustular, and
  4. “cystic” or nodular (even nodular-cystic) (Shalita, 2004).

Process of formation of Acne lesions:

The blocked sebum-filled hair follicle promotes overgrowth of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) , which are normally present in the hair follicle. These bacteria break down the sebum into substances that irritate the skin. The resulting inflammation and infection produce the skin eruptions that are commonly known as acne pimples. If the infection worsens, an abscess may form, which may rupture into the skin, creating even more inflammation (Merck, 2003).

More severe forms of Acne include:

  • Papules - inflamed lesions that usually appear as small, pink bumps on the skin and can be tender to the touch
  • Pustules (pimples) - papules topped by white or yellow pus-filled lesions that may be red at the base
  • Nodules - large, painful, solid lesions that are lodged deep within the skin
  • Cysts - deep, painful, pus-filled lesions that can cause scarring (MedLine Plus).

What Causes Acne?

The exact cause of acne is unknown, but orthodox medical theory believes that acne results from several related factors. One important factor is an increase in male hormones called androgens. These androgens increase in both boys and girls during puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce more sebum. In Women, hormonal changes related to menstruation, pregnancy or starting or stopping birth control pills might also cause acne.

Another factor is heredity or genetics. Researchers believe that the tendency to develop acne can be inherited from parents. Certain drugs, including androgens and lithium, are known to cause acne. Greasy cosmetics may alter the cells of the follicles and make them stick together, producing a plug.

Factors That Can Make Acne Worse

Factors that can cause an acne flare include:

  • Changing hormone levels in adolescent girls and adult women 2 to 7 days before their menstrual period starts
  • Oil from skin care products such as heavy moisturizers or cosmetics, or grease encountered in the work environment (for example, a kitchen with fry vats; mechanical workshops, etc.)
  • Pressure from sports helmets or equipment, backpacks, tight collars, or tight sports uniforms
  • Environmental irritants, such as pollution and high humidity
  • Squeezing or picking at blemishes
  • Hard scrubbing of the skin
  • Stress.

Myths About the Causes of Acne

There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on the development and course of acne in most people. That said, many people swear that if they indulge in chocolate or greasy foods, they will breakout in acne within a couple of days - the key is to ensure eating predominantly fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid alcohol and highly processed foods as much as possible.

Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne; however, blackheads and other acne lesions are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn't cause acne either, although research suggests that for people who have acne, stress can make it worse.

Who Gets Acne?

People of all races and ages get acne. It is most common in adolescents and young adults. An estimated 80 percent of all people between the ages of 11 and 30 have acne outbreaks at some point. For most people, acne tends to go away by the time they reach their thirties; however, some people in their forties and fifties continue to have this skin problem. Women entering menopause may also experience outbreaks of acne associated with the changing hormone levels.

How to Treat Acne using Natural Medicine

Unlike the orthodox approach to acne, alternative medicine views this condition as a natural process of changes in the body’s physiology, especially around puberty and later on in life during menopause. However, just because it is a natural process, does not mean that it is untreatable and non-responsive to appropriate treatment.

In severe cases, it is best for the affected individual to seek professional advice from a qualified herbalist, naturopath or practitioner of Chinese medicine.

ProductsIn any case, a good skin care regime is a vital contributor to healthy, acne free skin. A daily skin care regime consists of cleansing, toning and moisturising is a vital part of treating your acne naturally. Because acne is usually associated with oily skin, you should use a natural skin care system for oily skin (click on picture for more details).

Using skin care products that do not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients will help your skin to regain its healthy state without running the risk of absorbing potentially harmful substances from non-natural type skin care products. Some of the ingredients used in non-natural skin care products are known to irritate the skin and can actually make your acne worse. Make sure that all the ingredients in your skin care products are as natural as possible to avoid irritating your skin further.

In addition, DO NOT USE commercially available soap on your facial skin or any other part of your body where you have acne. Firstly, this is because most soap will dry out your skin and while you think this is a good thing, it is not, because this will stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum and all you’ll achieve is to promote oily skin.

In addition to this daily regime, the acne sufferer should also use a facial clay mask on a regular basis - 2-3 times per week is a good start. Also, using an exfoliant lotion or gel is another excellent way to remove dead skin cells and stimulate new cell growth.

In mild to moderate cases of acne, using a topical mix of Eucalyptus oil combined with Echinacea purpurea extract (50/50) will provide an excellent topical treatment for infected pimples. Echinacea is a great herb to treat almost any skin condition and the Eucalyptus will provide strong disinfectant properties to eliminate bacteria and other microbes at the site of the pimples.

What ever you do, DO NOT squeeze your acne pimples. Most of the time all this will achieve is to cause pain and if the pimple ruptures, you are most likely going to infect other areas of nearby skin, resulting in new pimples. Use your mask and exfoliant to draw the pimples to the surface and you will most likely find that they will open by themselves. This will also reduce the risk of causing scaring.

Treating more severe forms of acne requires a medical approach. That is you will need to take herbs internally to help clear your skin of the toxins associated with acne. Herbs such as Yellow Dock, Burdock, Echinacea, Red Clover and others are strongly indicated in cases of severe acne. However, you must consult a qualified herbalist who will prescribe the right combination and dose for your particular circumstances. You will also need to drink an increased amount of water to help your skin and kidneys to flush out these toxins from your system and especially from your skin.

You should also pay attention to what you eat. Eating processed foods will not be of benefit to you, however, increasing raw foods, especially increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet will provide your body with increased nutrients that will support your skin and help the body eliminate the toxins. Omega 3, 6 and 9 should also feature strongly in your food intake. These are found in fish oils from fish such as Salmon, Tuna, and Sardines as well as lean red meats and some vegetables (See ‘Food for Your Skin’).

Acne is treatable naturally and usually you don’t have to undergo extreme forms of treatment. A good, daily skin care regime combined with an exfoliant and the regular use of a natural, deep cleansing facial clay mask, will help you get your acne under control. In severe cases, you’ll need to add the knowledge and experience of a qualified herbalist or doctor of Chinese medicine to your skin care regime and eat more wholesome foods.



Shalita, A.R. (2004) Acne: Clinical presentations. Clinics in Dermatology, Volume 22, Issue 5 , Pages 385-386.

For other references used, click on word(s) in brackets to go directly to the source information.

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