published on MindBodyGreen, September 22, 2015
Many of us have had our battle with acne. Whether during our hormonally-turbulent teens, over-consumptive 20s, or as our body chemistry shifts during and after pregnancy and in later years of life, at some point we’ve been faced with a decision about how to treat irritating and unsightly blemishes.
Anti-acne products are abundant on the market, making it easy enough for us to jump to topical treatment without considering the forces at work within us that cause the breakout, and unfortunately making it all too easy to forgo consideration about the consequences of many over-the-counter and conventional treatments.
One of the most popular conventional treatments for acne is benzoyl peroxide, an antibacterial agent. While topical formulations are balanced to offer safe concentrations of this chemical compound, downsides include increased irritation of the skin leading to peeling and overdrying (often making it harder to conceal the blemish while it heals).
It’s true; any chemical, including organic and botanical chemicals, in too high concentration can irritate the skin. But the bigger concern over benzoyl peroxide is its carcinogenic effect. A study done by the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy citesconcern over benzoyl peroxide as a skin tumorpromoter due to reactive free radicals in the compound.
In addition, lotions and creams with salicylic acid, topical forms of retinol, oral antibiotics, oral retinoids, and oral treatments for hormone balance such as androgen blockers and birth control pills, only temporarily address specific problems that contribute to acne.
Taking an integrated approach through diet and lifestyle and enhancing it with beneficial plants can be as effective as any conventional treatment -- and is often more supportive and strengthening for your skin and overall health.
1. Eat well. Move often.
The most sustainable way to control breakouts is through nutrition and exercise. As illustrated, hormones play a major role. Your endocrine system (which produces your hormones) needs healthy fats, and it needs them in the right ratio. Limit your intake of omega 6s via refined vegetable oils like canola, soybean, corn, and peanut, and make sure you’re taking in adequate amounts of omega 3 fatty acids from sources like oily, cold-water fish, chia seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds. Flax is additionally helpful in healing acne because it can bind with hormone receptors and eliminate excess testosterone that may contribute to hormone imbalance.
Regular exercise will keep your lymphatic system circulating properly, allowing you to filter metabolic waste through your kidney and liver for proper detox and elimination.
2. Reduce surface bacteria.
Incorporate beneficial plant oils with antibacterial and antiseptic properties into your beauty routine. Lavender, thyme, witch hazel, and tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, all fit the bill, as do more exotic plant extracts like kigelia, an African plant that’s been used medicinally for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and skin firming properties, and babassu oil which is high in lauric acid, making it anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory to boot. Find or a create a blend so you don’t irritate your skin with too high a concentration of these potent extracts.
3. Balance oil production.
Hydration is key. If your skin doesn’t have enough moisture, it reacts by producing excess oil which is one reason why face oils and serums are helpful for oily and acne-prone skin. Squalane is a particularly absorbable form of hydration, and it’s a lipid our skin produces naturally. Look for olive-derived squalane. Also, ingredients like alpine willowherb, a sebum regulator, have been shown to reduce oil production by more than 50%.
4. Reduce inflammation.
This is a two-fold approach. First, reduce consumption of inflammatory foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed oils. Second, combat inflammation on the skin’s surface with products containing botanicals like black cumin seed oil, an anti-inflammatory that helps fade scars and dark spots, camelia sinensis or tea root extract (yes, as in drinking tea), rose which soothes skin while strengthening collagen-elastin, calendula, chamomile, and lemongrass.
5. Promote cellular renewal.
Eliminate dead skin cells with the help of products containing natural salicylates such as willow bark. Willow bark contains natural and lower concentrations of salicylic acid than over-the-counter and prescription topicals, thereby reducing risk of skin peeling and thinning. You can also promote cell turnover with gentle alpha-hydroxy acids from hibiscus and low strength glycolic acid.
Lastly, aloe vera gel can help acne-prone skin on multiple levels: it’s antibacterial, promotes cellular renewal, enhances the body’s production of hyaluronic acid, a natural lubricant that allows skin to hold moisture, contains glycoproteins that reduce inflammation, andhas been shown to speed up skin’s natural healing process. It’s no wonder this plant has been used medicinally in cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Upon hearing this, a friend recently asked me, “Why haven’t people been using aloe vera on their skin daily?! Why, indeed.
Host ofAn Organic Conversation
Health & Lifestyle Editor for Credo Beauty