By Sophia Hussain
From rosacea and dermatitis to acne and psoriasis, it seems skin problems are more prevalent than ever these days. No one is sure why, but it seems that there may be links to modern diets, chemicals and toxins in the environment, as well as genetic factors.
Often, the prescribed cures only offer temporary relief, or come with side effects: for example, steroids can thin the skin, and Retinol prescribed for acne can cause depression, so it’s not surprising that more and more people are turning to natural cures and remedies, and several companies are producing organic balms for common skin problems.
One of the most common skin complaints is acne, a skin disease that involves the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. It’s not dangerous of course, but it can be unsightly, and can also leave scars.
Causes of Acne
Nobody is completely sure what causes acne, but many experts believe the primary cause is a rise in androgen levels, which rise during puberty and when other hormonal changes go on in the body. Rising androgen levels make the oil glands under your skin grow; the enlarged gland produces more oil. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls in your pores, causing bacteria to grow.
Some studies indicate that acne could also be genetic; some medications that contain androgen and lithium may cause acne, and toxic, greasy cosmetics could also play a role, as well as these situations:
- Menstrual cycle – girls and women with acne tend to get it worse one or two weeks before their menstrual period arrives. This is probably due to hormonal changes that take place. Some people say they eat more chocolate during this time and wonder whether there may be a connection. However, experts believe the worsening acne is not due to chocolate, but rather to hormonal changes
- Anxiety and stress – mental stress can affect your levels of some hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn can make acne worse. Again, stress can make some people binge-eat. Experts believe the culprits are most likely the hormone levels, rather than the binge-eating
- Hot and humid climates – when it is hot and humid we sweat more. This can make the acne worse
- Greasy hair – some hair products are very greasy and might have the same effect as oil based makeup. Hair products with cocoa butter or coconut butter are examples
- Squeezing the pimples – if you try to squeeze pimples your acne is more likely to get worse, plus you risk scarring.
There are plenty of common chemical OTC products you can buy to stem acne, such as:
- Benzoyl PeroxideThis kills bacteria and slows down your glands’ production of oil. This white crystalline peroxide is used in bleaching and causes free radical reactions. It works as a peeling agent, accelerating skin turnover and clearing pores, which in turn reduces the bacterial count in the affected area.
- Salicylic AcidSalicylic Acid helps break down blackheads and whiteheads, also reduces shedding of cells which line the follicles of the oil glands, effective in treating inflammation and swelling. Salicylic acid is a white crystalline substance which is also used as a fungicide, or in making aspirin or dyes or perfumes. It causes the epidermis to shed skin more easily, prevents pores from becoming blocked while at the same time allowing room for new cells to grow. It is commonly added to shampoos used for treating dandruff.
- SulfurSulfur helps break down blackheads and whiteheads. Sulfur, in its native form, is a yellow crystalline solid and has been used for centuries for treating acne, psoriasis and eczema, but no one is sure how sulfur works to do this; what we do know is that elemental sulfur is a mild reducing and antibacterial agent.
- Retin-AA favourite with beauticians, Retin-A helps unplug blocked pores. It contains Tretinoin, a form of vitamin A, also known as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). Tretinoin is also used as a chemical peel.
- Azelaic AcidAzelaic Acid strengthens cells that line the follicles, stops oil eruptions, reduces bacteria growth. It is a saturated dicarboxylic acid found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. Azelaic acid also mops up free radicals, which reduces inflammation. It is useful for patients with darker skin who have dark patches on their face (melasma), or whose acne spots leave persistent brown marks.
While the solutions above are derived from nature, there are some more toxic alternatives that doctors sometimes prescribe. We would recommend avoiding these–they may clear up your skin, but they could have long term effects on your endocrine system, liver and over time, some can actually damage your skin too.
This is a crystalline phenol and comes from various resins that help destroy blackheads and whiteheads. Resorcinol is also used for treating dandruff, eczema and psoriasis, but can thin the skin with continued use.
When an acne cyst becomes severely inflamed, there is a high risk of rupturing, which can result in a scar. Your dermatologist may inject a diluted corticosteroid to lower the inflammation, speed up healing and prevent scarring, which is fine to do once in a blue moon, but frequent use of this method will damage your skin.
This is a strong oral retinoid, used for the treatment of severe cystic acne, as well as severe acne that has not responded to other medications and treatments. This has several harsh side effects you should be aware of before trying it.
Oral antibiotics are frequently prescribed for patients with severe acne and some patients with moderate acne too, which we think is a bad idea: the aim of such oral antibiotics is to lower the population of bacterium commonly found on the skin, but as with any antibiotic, they will also kill the good bacteria in your gut, leading to other issues. Plus, over time, the P. acnes bacteria that is being targeted can become resistant to the antibiotic and yet another, stronger antibiotic will be needed–but that’s not all. The more you take antibiotics, the more resistant your system becomes to them, so sure, they may work for acne, but if you get a serious infection, you’re putting yourself at risk of not recovering quickly.
The majority of women with acne find that taking certain oral contraceptives clears it up. Oral contraceptives suppress the overactive gland and are commonly used as long-term treatments for acne in women. If a woman has a blood-clotting disorder, smokes, has a history of migraines, or is over 35, there are some serious risks to be considered, and we would say that unless you are also using these to avoid pregnancy, oral contraceptives bring far more other health risks than are worth it.
Colloidal silver is one of the most powerful bacteria killers you can get, and Virgo Terra has a fabulous range of skincare products that use this. Their Purifying Cleansing Gel for oily skin promises to kill the bacteria behind acne, whilst cleansing the skin without stripping it. As the effects of nanoparticles on the human body are not yet known, it’s essential that you avoid any product with nanoparticles of silver–this one is guaranteed safe.
Stop Spots by Ami Iyök is an organic anti-acne elixir containing aloe vera and lemon peel oil which, which both acts as an astringent to slow down the production of excess sebum. Apply two or three times a day until the spots have vanished.
This innovative spot preventer contains natural ingredients including cotton, beets, and pine resin. Anna is Clear was designed specifically to prevent pimples. Their patented star ingredient is cultivated in northern Germany: it’s rye ferment, which normalizes the Propionibacterium that causes acne.
This potent, skin friendly, organic anti-bacterial and anti-fungal lotion helps fight infection and promotes speedy healing. It is light, non-greasy and contains a highly concentrated blend of aloe vera, healing herbs and essential oils. Has shown excellent results in treating acne, (alongside Odylique Lemon & Tea Tree Purifying Wash), spots, minor wounds & burns, stings, bites, nappy rash, athlete’s foot and other yeast infections.
If the first four solutions aren’t strong enough, this one is bound to be! This at-home light therapy attempts to help prevent the everyday “zits” that many people get that are inflamed and red. Smaller acne lesions such as non-inflamed whiteheads and blackheads, as well as severe acne lesions such as cysts and nodules tend to respond more poorly.
Light therapy should be performed twice per day, and uses blue and sometimes blue + red light. When blue light reaches the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin, it can help excite porphyrins, which are compounds inside acne bacteria. When activated by light, these porphyrins kill the bacteria from the inside out. Red light penetrates deeper and may help reduce inflammation and improve healing. Certain light spectrums may also inhibit sebum (skin oil) production and lessen inflammation. Exactly how light therapy exerts its effects is still not understood, but many acne suffers attest to the effectiveness of this device, which can be used in conjunction with other natural acne therapies such as those above.