Acne (Acne vulgaris): Teenage and Adult Acne
As you probably already know, 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.
So if you're currently have some un welcomed zits, you're not alone. What is surprising, though, is that despite the fact that millions of people will suffer from acne-generated scars, only 11% will seek medical advice or treatment of some type for their acne.
So, 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) - The area in the skin where sebaceous glands and associated hair follicles are found.
These are located over most of the body, and 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 surface of your skin, commonly called a pore.
These follicles, or pores are lined with cells called keratinocytes, which are cells that synthesize keratin and are found in your skin, hair, and nails.
So what does this anatomy lesion have to do with acne?
I'm glad you asked...
Acne results when a collection of dried sebum, dead skin cells (keratinocytes), and bacteria clog your 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. And that's how acne lesions develop.
But, not all acne pimples are the same or equally severe, which is why acne has been classified into types 1-4 with 1 the least and 4 the most sever:
- comedonal, comedopapular, papular, papulopustular, pustular, and
- “cystic” or nodular (even nodular-cystic) (Shalita, 2004).
Don't worry too much about this classification, it only helps dermatologists to categorise your particular case. What is actually more important to understand is the process of how acne lesions form and progress so that intervention can be put in place.
So let's quickly look at the process...
Process of formation of Acne lesions:
The blocked sebum-filled hair follicle promotes overgrowth of the bacteria know by its scientific name as: Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). These bacteria are normally present in the hair follicle. They break down the sebum into substances that irritate the skin.
The resulting inflammation and infection produce those unwanted acne pimples. If the infection worsens, an abscess may form, which may rupture into the skin, creating even more inflammation (Merck, 2003). This can lead to more severe forms of acne.
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).
Now that we understand what acne is, how and where it develops and the different forms it can take, let's look at some of the possible causes of acne.
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 a result of inherited genes). Researchers believe that the tendency to develop acne can be inherited from parents. Certain drugs, including androgens and lithium, are also known to cause acne. Greasy cosmetics may alter the cells of the follicles and make them stick together, producing a plug.
What about diet? I hear you ask? Well, scientist are beginning to look into the connection between acne and diet (Wolf, et al., 2004) and have found that the prevalence of acne is lower in rural, non industrialized societies than in modernized Western populations.
Several observations and case reports suggest that acne can develop in groups when a high–glycemic index (GI-index) diet is adopted (Wolf, et al., 2004).
So, genetics, hormones and diet would appear to be the primary factors involved in the development of acne, or lack thereof. But are there others?
Other 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
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.
So Everybody Gets Acne?
Well, no, but most people of almost all races and ages do get acne to a greater or lesser extent. It is however 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 doctor of Chinese medicine.
Treating your skin:
First and foremost it is important to address the skin's health. The approach will change to some extent, depending on whether there are currently acne lesions to be dealt with or not. If the skin is clear and there are no acne lesions, a sound daily skin care regime is the first and one of the most important steps in maintaining the health of the skin. [NB: You should still continue with your daily skin care regime even during an acne flare, however, you would not use a loffah on the areas where there are acne spots.]
However, using a loofah on a daily basis to reduce the amount of dead skin cells is the first step, where there are no acne lesions, followed by a daily skin care regime consisting of cleansing, toning and moisturising.
This is a vital part of treating your acne naturally, that is to prevent and reduce the factors that may lead to a acne flare.
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) where the acne lesions are and possibly the system for normal skin on the remaining areas of your face and neck.
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 (see Potentially Toxic Ingredients) 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 - and you do not want that.
Apart from following 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 blood circulation and new cell growth - DO NOT USE a loofah and an exfoliant on the same day. Doing this is likely to over stimulate your skin and may lead to increased oil production by the sebaceous glands - so be careful.
Using Herbs and Essential Oils
In mild to moderate cases of acne, using a topical mix of Eucalyptus oil combined with Echinacea purpurea (Green plant) 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 oil 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.
When pimples do rupture, use the Echinacea neat on the area over the ruptured pimple to help disinfect the area and reduce the potential infection of other skin tissues.
Treating more severe forms of acne may require 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.
Wolf, R. Matz, H and Orion, E. (2004) Acne and diet.
Clinics in Dermatology, Volume 22, Issue 5, Pages 387-393.
For other references used, click on word(s) in brackets to go directly to the source information.
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Why We Should use Natural, Eco-friendly Skin and Personal Care Products
Increasingly, more and more of us are realising and taking advantage of the benefits of using natural, eco-friendly skin and personal care products.
But why does the use of environmentally friendly products benefit our health?
What has sustainable use of natural resources got to do with the quality of skin and personal care products and why should we care?
These are just some of the questions the thinking pubic is asking. In this article, we’ll look at these and other issues. We’ll examine why using skin and personal care products that are utilising ingredients grown on farms that employ environmentally friendly, organic growing methods is advantageous to our own health as well as the environment we are living in.
So, why is it good for your own health to use products that utilise ingredients that have been organically grown in an eco-friendly manner?
There are several reasons why using products such as natural skin care products, which utilise organically grown ingredients is good for our health and the environment.
Firstly, farmers growing organic produce do not generally utilise any pesticides or herbicides on their crops. They also do not use synthetic or artificial fertilisers to nourish and reconstitute their soil. That means, that the produce grown has not had the opportunity to absorb any of these potentially harmful chemicals into its makeup.
In turn, that means, you the consumer of the end product, are not absorbing or ingesting these chemicals. Considering the information becoming available on the potential harm of some of the chemicals currently contained in many of the skin and personal care products available in the market place, that’s good news for our overall health.
In addition, the environment benefits from these organic and eco-friendly farming methods, in that rain, which can leach fertilisers from the soil as well as wash off pesticides and herbicides deposited on plant material, does not end up in our rivers, where it can potentially pollute our water ways and promote the growth of blue-green algae (Picture right).
Secondly, organic produce, grown in an eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable manner, utilise less natural resources and provide more long-term viability of the product.
Not having to use crop dusters, for example, saves petrol, oil, and other natural resources that would otherwise be required. I’m sure you could think of many more such examples, however, the key message here is that organic produce, grown in an eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable manner is a safe, effective way to grow produce, which does not make the same high demands on natural resources as other farming methods.
Does it therefore not stand to reason that using natural skin care products, or other products for that matter, that contain organically grown ingredients pose less of a health risk? Does it not make sense to use products that utilise produce from farmers who are concerned about our environment and actively reduce their demand on natural resources?
I’m sure you will agree that we, the consumers, need to look at these issues and make our own, considered choices. We need to do this not just for our own health’s sake, but also for the sake of our natural environment.
Why organic, eco-friendly farming methods are good for our environment?
Well, we covered much of the reasons farmers should consider moving to organic, environmentally friendly methods above, however, it’s not just because our health benefits from using products which contain organically grown ingredients, but the strain that conventional agrochemical farming practices place on our environment is increasingly becoming unsustainable. That means, the result of not properly managing our natural resources is starting to become very obvious. Lack of water, in Australia, and the world over, is beginning to take its toll.
According to Reuters News Service, a contingency plan prepared for the Australian government said unless water catchments across the country received heavy and widespread rainfalls before mid-May '07, allocations for irrigators and environmental river flows would be stopped. The basin covers an area the size of France and Spain and accounts for 41 percent of Australia's agriculture.
Not only does this spell disaster for many Australian farmers, this will result in low quality, high priced fruits and vegetables on the supermarket shelves in the coming months.
This is not an exercise in attributing blame and there are daily segments on TV on how we can all adopt more sustainable methods of using water and other natural resources to reduce the pressures on our natural environment. If all of us implement just some of these hints and tips, we will conserve our natural environment, which ultimately will benefit our general health.
Switching to natural skin and personal care products, which contain at least some organically grown ingredients, is an eco-friendly step in helping our environment, which will also help our own health.
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You are concerned with the amount of toxins your body is subjected to, right? Of course, that’s why you look for and purchase products that do not contain artificial colours, synthetic fragrances or substances that are not intrinsically natural.
You’re even willing to pay more for such products because you are under the impression that paying a little more will ensure you don’t subject your body to anything that may harm it...
Unfortunately you could be seriously mistaken. The fact is that while many manufacturers of skin care products have been marketing their range of goods as being Natural, the truth is that only a very small percentage of the ingredients contained in these products are in fact natural. But...
Even worse, most of these so called natural skin care products contain several potentially toxic ingredients such as EDTA, Formaldehyde, and many, many more, which scientists tell us, could result in serious health issues.
Fancy that, and you are not told, but expected to know what all the names and numbers on the label mean - sure...
Unless you’re a cosmetic chemist, chances are you have no idea and just belief that because the product is called natural those numbers and almost impossible to read names, are just codes for natural substances... Well, why wouldn’t you? After all surely a product can’t be called natural if it’s not? Can it?
Yes, it can.
There are currently no registrations that stop a manufacturer from calling a skin care product natural or even organic as long as the product contains at least one natural, active ingredient and considering that organic actually refers to carbon, as long as one of the ingredients contains carbon atoms (eg: crud oil) they can even call it an organic skin care product. (They cannot call it certified organic however. That’s entirely different and we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of that in a later article.)
To get back to natural skin care products and their level of ‘naturalness’; imagine you are standing at the counter of a department store looking at the offers of different creams, lotions and are wondering how on earth you are going to choose your next moisturiser.
You ask the 18 year old sales assistant behind the counter about the ingredients in the moisturiser you're considering, but she doesn’t know and also does not have a degree in chemistry - so you look at the label, you try to read the names, think of whether you have heard or read something, anything, good or bad about any of these ingredients, and finally you give up, open the sample jar, have a smell, rub some onto your skin and after considering whether or not this feels and smells good you buy it.
You come home and that night there’s a current affair program on TV and guess what? The topic is toxic ingredients used in skin care products.
You prick up your ears and pay close attention to what these ingredients are - you get you’re new moisturiser out and with a magnifying glass you look to see if any of those ingredients are in your ‘natural’ skin care product ...
Yep, they’re all there, the EDTA, the parabens, the formaldehyde, and all the others that where listed - you feel ripped off.
Well, you can become a cosmetic chemist... No, maybe not; You can make your own truly natural skin care products - no, too messy, don’t have the knowledge or the time; or you can think outside the box...
Natural therapy clinics, herbalists, people who practice alternative medicine and hold the belief that natural ingredients are superior and safer to use than synthetic or modified ones. Look for companies that are run by Herbalists, Naturopaths, Medical Aromatherapists, because chances are good that they would produce natural products that hold true to their philosophy and training.
Good questions, most are almost invisible, and the reasons for this are quite simple - firstly, these 'companies' are primarily run by only a hand full of people who are not high-powered business executives with degrees in business. Secondly, they usually do not make the products for the mass market but for their patients, friends and relatives - word of mouth is usually their best and only form of marketing.
Take Wildcrafted Herbal Products for example, up until recently Wildcrafted did not do any advertising, actually, we still don't, and we have no formal marketing campaign. All we do to promote our business is send out Newsletters to those of you who have requested them, and keep upgrading and expanding our web site.
The key part to all this is that there are a few companies, usually small, not well-known companies that do make great 100% natural skin care products. You need to go looking for them, because like Wildcrafted Herbal Products™, most do not have the big advertising and marketing budgets of the department store brands. But thinking outside the box and looking around is well worth your time and effort if you really want to keep toxic substances in your life to a minimum and are looking to use pure 100% natural skin care products.