Over the last couple of days we have been receiving many questions regarding the treatment of acne, and how we went about/would go about treating it now. First of all, focusing on the external treatment of acne does not get to the root of the problem. This is also one of the major differences between holistic and conventional medicine. Conventional medicine treats the symptoms, while Holistic medicine looks at the whole and attempts to fix the “why” when an issue is occurring. Both branches of medicine are useful, but I find it is best to have a balance of each.
Acne is almost always a sign of imbalance within the body, (there are exceptions) and there is usually one of four main factors that come into play here.
Food sensitivity: Food sensitivities are a very common culprit when it comes to acne. Dairy and/or gluten are especially notorious for aggravating acne in people with sensitivities, and it is often the only observable symptom. If you suspect a food sensitivity may be the cause, cutting suspected foods out one at a time and observing if you notice any improvement in your skin is a good way to go about testing that theory. Most people who have food-related acne should start seeing a significant difference within a few days of cutting the responsible food out. Although dairy and gluten are the most common food-related causes of acne, other foods may be responsible as well.
Hormonal Imbalance: Some of you now know that a hormone imbalance was the cause of mine and my sister’s cystic acne out-breaks. Our testosterone levels were higher than they should have been, and unbalanced androgen levels (male dominant hormones) are notorious for causing acne. This is the reason why many boys experiencing puberty tend to develop fairly serious acne. You have probably also heard of (or experienced) birth control pills being used to control acne in women, or teenaged girls. My sister and I took a type of birth control during our late teenaged years specifically for this reason- to treat our mild teenage acne. However, when we stopped taking the synthetic hormones our bodies didn’t know how to balance themselves out, and so began- much to our dismay- our battle with cystic acne. In terms of balancing hormones in a natural or herbal sense, there are many ways to go about it. There are a number of herbs whose constituents help the body ease back into hormonal homeostasis. The one we personally used was called “Saw Palmetto” which worked by gradually lowering and balancing our androgen levels. There are also other herbs, such as red clover and vitex that help maintain the balance of female hormones. Taking these herbs as a tea or tincture can help your acne immensely, but it will take time. Herbs are not a quick fix, but they are effective if used correctly. Keep in mind some herbs can interact with medications or are not suitable for those with certain conditions. Therefore you should always talk to a knowledgeable source before taking any herbs for medicinal purposes.
One last thing to note when it comes to hormonal imbalances; there are conditions, such as PCOS (Poly cystic ovarian syndrome), that throw the system out of balance and can cause severe cystic acne- so getting checked for underlying conditions by your doctor or healthcare practitioner is very important in treating your skin as well.
Congestion of Kidneys and/or digestive tract: along with our bowels, our skin can also be used as an exit point for toxins and waste. If one elimination route is backed up, the body needs to find other ways to remove the waste. This can result in the formation of acne as the skin tries to push waste material out through the skin. This is one of the reasons drinking a lot of water is so important when it comes to your skins health, it helps to keep your digestive system moving. Other ways to make sure you maintain optimum digestive health is by eating lots of fibre (fruits, veggies, whole grains) and drinking teas made with herbs that are gently cleansing (burdock, dandelion) and/or that gently stimulate peristalsis of the intestines and optimize digestion (ginger,yarrow).
Sluggish Lymphatic system: Ah our good ol’ lymph nodes. This is a seriously under rated body system, not only is it responsible for proper immune function, it also plays a part in removing waste from the body. The lymphatic system is essentially the transport system for white blood cells- our biggest baddest immune warriors. If the lymphatic system becomes sluggish our immune system becomes impaired, and once again waste needs to find another route out of the body. Both of these problems can result in, or worsen, acne. Some ways to help get your lymphatic system circulating properly include increasing water intake, increasing your consumption of fruits and veggies and decreasing processed white foods, dry-brushing before showering, and massages. Some herbs that are tonic for the lymphatic system include astragalus, golden seal and Echinacea, and they can be taken in tea or tincture form. If your lymph system isn’t functioning at its peak some other symptoms you may experience include fatigue, weight gain, chronic colds or flu, etc.
Other notes on treating acne:
Acne can be aggravated by dry skin, so the more stripping cleansers and “oil free’ products you use on your skin, the worse it can get. Healthy skin is moisture rich, so applying cold pressed oils topically can actually help alleviate acne. They are anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and highly adored by your skin. Water, as mentioned above, is also essential. The more water/tea we drink in a day the more radiant our skin looks.
With all of this being said, everyone is different and what worked for us may not for others. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to every rule and our goal here is to encourage anyone suffering with acne to look past the surface as you travel your own path to healing.
With love, light and plenty of wonder
Sam and Meg