Treating acne is an inside job

The best way to treat skin problems is from the inside out. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The best way to treat skin problems is from the inside out. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Acne — what causes it and what can we do for our teens experiencing it?

During puberty, there is an increase in androgens — the male sex hormones. Both boys and girls experience a surge of these hormones. This surge increases the amount of sebum produced on the skin. Until the hormone and sebum levels balance, it can lead to breakouts and acne. So, what can we do for our teens during these vulnerable years?

Acne is the No 1 skin condition in the Western world, affecting not just millions of teenagers but an increasing number of adults.

Typically, the first thing we reach for to deal with acne is a lotion, potion or cream to apply to the skin — and in conventional medicine, doctors frequently prescribe antibiotics, retinoid medications and/or oral contraceptive pills to suppress sebum. Unfortunately, these approaches do not target the root cause of acne and can have side effects.

The best way to treat skin problems is from the inside out. Whether it’s eczema, acne or psoriasis, skin ailments are often coming from inside.

A long-term study done over 27 months found that teens in cultures who still consume a traditional diet do not get acne, therefore this shows us that hormones are not the only cause of acne — diet plays a huge role. This is a very important fact to note.

The things that are the biggest triggers for acne in the diet are:

1. Cow’s dairy. Some teenagers tolerate A2 milk better, as it doesn’t have the inflammatory A1 casein protein present, but eliminating all cow’s dairy for a short period can be a useful exercise.

2. Sugar. Starch and sugar drive insulin higher. This increases inflammation and oxidation as well as sebum production. Western diets are typically higher in refined sugar, so including more whole foods and fibres can reduce the desire for sugars. Juices, bought muesli bars, biscuits and cereals are typically very high in sugar.

3. Dysbiosis. Damage to our gut and the gut microbiome can cause a leaky gut, which leads to food sensitivities. Antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and a diet lacking in fibre and fermented foods can lead to imbalances, along with a high sugar intake. Sourdough breads, sauerkraut, kombucha and coconut yoghurt are examples of fermented foods that would be worthwhile. Following antibiotics with probiotic supplementation is important also.

So why can one person consume lots of dairy and have flawless skin and the next person only has to look at chocolate and they break out? A fundamental principle of functional medicine is biochemical and genetic individuality. Some people can tolerate things that other people can’t, some people have coeliac disease, some people don’t. A lot of it has to do with the gut, including the health of the skin.

A diet that features important nutrients like omega-3 fats, zinc, antioxidants and polyphenols to boost skin health is important. A high fibre, low-glycaemic eating plan with only naturally occurring sugars (i.e. from fruits) to help manage insulin levels and provide probiotics and prebiotics to support gut health is the aim. Zinc, evening primrose oil and vitamin supplements may also be useful. For more guidance on this, consider seeing a naturopath.

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