I doubt anybody needs me to go into detail about what acne is. Unfortunately it strikes right when we’re most emotionally vulnerable (during adolescence), although some people struggle with it well into adulthood. Even more unfortunate, resistant cases are notoriously difficult to treat, because root causes can be so diverse and multifaceted.
CAUSES OF ACNE
Certain drugs can cause acne, including steroids and certain birth control pills, among others. Hormone fluctuations are frequently the culprit as well, of course; particularly estrogen dominance. Deficiency in essential fatty acids (like O3 and O6) can contribute too, as can food sensitivities. The Western Diet is a HUGE factor (click here for more on this), and it’s also possible your thyroid could be the culprit. Naturopathic treatments of course depend on the cause.
- Topical antibacterial medications such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid work by killing the bacteria causing the pimple and drying out the infected pore. These are available over the counter, or in prescription form for more severe cases.
- Oral and topical antibiotics may be moderately to very effective for some patients.
- If your acne that flares at that time of the month, certain birth control pills may offer relief. Some doctors prescribe spironolactone instead. Spironolactone is a diuretic (pill that makes you pee) with hormonal activity.
- For more severe cases, topical tretinoin and oral isotretinoin (Retin-A) are available as well. Retin-A is pretty nasty as far as side effects go, though, and it’s so dangerous in pregnancy that menstruating women are required by law to have pregnancy tests regularly. Your doctor will also need to monitor your liver pretty closely.
- Some cosmetic procedures can also yield great results for getting rid of acne scars – especiallyphotodynamic therapy.
From a naturopathic perspective, many of these treatments are considered suppressive. That means toxic waste products that were otherwise escaping through the skin instead get shoved deeper into the body and cause damage elsewhere.
That said, it’s a cost/benefit analysis – a lot of teens may think the suppression is worth it, as long as these treatments get rid of their acne (and certainly, emotional trauma isn’t good for your health either!).
But is there a better way?
THE NATUROPATHIC APPROACH
Yep, there sure is. And, for those who have exhausted the traditional treatments and still haven’t gotten relief, there are other avenues to try.
- Clean up your diet. (I always start there.) The SAD (Standard American Diet) is high in processed foods full of bad oils that throw off the O3/O6 ratio at best, and cause a lot of other problems long-term too. At this stage we’ll also assess whether you’ve got any food sensitivities contributing to your acne and get rid of those.
- Clean up your gut and your liver. It’s an open secret in the naturopathic world that the gut and the skin are intimately connected. Toxins (from our diet and our chemically-laden environment) are designed to get out through our primary escape routes. For solid waste, the major escape route is the gut. But a long-term inflammatory diet can set you up for poor enzyme function and an imbalance in gut flora. Poor digestive function can mean that food doesn’t get broken down properly, creating even more toxic accumulation that the already overworked liver then has to clean up. The result? Those toxins can’t get out through the primary escape route (the gut). So instead they try to get out through the “fire escape”… which is often the skin.
- Balance your hormones. There are several ways we might go about this. Hormone balancing may be a larger or smaller issue depending on the patient, and it may be necessary to draw labs in some cases. But often avoidance of dairy (or at least sticking to organic which doesn’t have added hormones), some easy home remedies and a few key botanical and nutritional supplements (lovingly referred to as “magic pills” by a few of my patients) will do the job nicely.
- Treat the symptoms. Retin-A is actually an analog of Vitamin A, and so I often prescribe the nutritional version at very high doses, which is far less dangerous but still contraindicated in pregnancy and should only be done under the care of a health care professional. Of course, we’ll also assess mineral status for some other important nutrients for skin repair, and there are an assortment of natural topical remedies that work well for some patients. Finally, our clinic also offers LED light therapy, which has antibacterial properties and can work well in really stubborn cases.
MY SUITE OF ANTI-ACNE PRODUCTS
Click on each product for a description and dosing recommendation.