Back to Nature: Home Remedies for Acne
Acne. This four-letter word is typically associated with teenage growing pains; however, according to the Acne Resource Center Online, acne affects 25 percent of all men and 50 percent of all women at some point during their adult lives. Sadly, men and women, adults and teenagers alike are fighting a constant battle of the bumps. And for many of us, this particular enemy has proven more difficult to pin down than the Illuminati.
The first thing we find out when we start looking for a cure for acne is that there are different types of acne and that various factors can contribute to its development. Furthermore, health care professionals tend to disagree on what may or may not lead to acne. While most believe that hormonal imbalances can and do play a major role, many disagree as to whether diet can influence acne. Accordingly, even the most popular conventional treatments for acne – including topical antibacterial medications, Retin-A®, Differin®, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and Accutane® - work well for some acne sufferers and poorly or not at all for others. This may be why more and more people are turning to holistic or otherwise natural methods of treating acne.
Traditional healing practices, including Ayurveda and aboriginal medicine, work with nature and the body's natural rhythms to treat acne and the underlying imbalances that may be the root cause of acne.
Fight Fire with Fire
Like treats like. This traditional homeopathic principle was popularized by skin care guru Dr. Rudolf Hauschka. Although applying oils to oily or acneic skin may seem counterintuitive, many natural skin care regimens, including that of Dr. Hauschka, are products of this fight-fire-with-fire mentality. The underlying concept is that, by applying small amounts of oil to oil-rich skin, the skin will actually slow down its production—or, rather, its overproduction—of sebum.
Jojoba oil is one of the most popular oils for balancing oily skin. According to herbalist and nutritional consultant Brigitte Mars, author of Beauty by Nature, jojoba oil is not really an oil at all, but a plant wax that is remarkably similar to our own sebum. Furthermore, jojoba oil can help to dissolve pore-clogging excess sebum while moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Kukui nut oil, which has been used in Hawaii over the past few hundreds of years for a variety of purposes, is another nutrient-rich oil that may benefit those of us with acne or simply oily skin. This easily absorbed oil is a good source of anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids.
Be a Flower Child
Many skin care practitioners recommend adding essential oils to jojoba, kukui, and other "carrier" oils to enhance their healing properties. Used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to treat infections, wounds, bites, and a number of other skin diseases and concerns, lavender is a favored flower among herbal healers. In Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-healing for Everyone, Dr. Linda Page recommends lavender for the treatment of acne, as well as other botanicals, such as geranium and calendula, that can soothe inflamed skin and fight acne-causing bacteria.
Many acne sufferers have also found relief from tea tree oil. Long used by the Australian aboriginals for the treatment of cuts, burns, and other skin abrasions, tea tree oil has steadily been gaining in popularity in the United States and Europe over the past few decades. In 1990, The Medical Journal of Australia published a study that compared the efficacy of a 5-percent tea tree oil solution with that of a 5-percent concentration of benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. The tea tree oil, though slower to take effect than the benzoyl peroxide, led to marked improvement in the reduction of acne lesions after three months. Moreover, the participants who used the tea tree oil experienced a lower incidence of side effects such as irritation and dryness than those who used benzoyl peroxide.
Lose Your Imbalance
Ayurveda is a multifaceted medicinal tradition going back at least six thousand years that transcends the physiological into the cosmological, metallurgical, sociological, and beyond. In Ayurveda, there are three basic mind/body types called doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each is a combination of two elements. Lively Vata is made up of space and air, determined Pitta is composed of fire and water, and easy-going Kapha combines water and earth. If an imbalance occurs within one or more of the doshas, the mind or body may suffer from mental or physical ailments.
According to Swami Sadashiva Tirtha—author of The Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention, and Longevity—acne can be caused by a doshic disparity. Specifically, Tirtha refers to an imbalance of Pitta. In Ayurveda, it is important to treat both the symptom and the cause. Tirtha therefore recommends following a diet designed to reduce the excess fire element of Pitta. Fire-increasing foods to avoid include spicy foods, fried foods, onions, garlic, and red peppers. Foods that have a cooling effect can also be used to pacify a fiery Pitta. Fruits such as pears and mangoes can be helpful, as can coconut and coconut milk.
Like Tirtha, author and macrobiotic chef Christina Pirello believes that acne can result from an imbalance within the body. Acne, Pirello says in her guide to clear skin, Glow, can be a way for the body to rid itself of toxic buildup. She recommends a change in diet to one rich in vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
Think Zinc (and Mega Omegas)
Achieving the right balance of vitamins and minerals may be one of the keys to attaining a clear, healthy complexion naturally. Celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone includes essential fatty acids (EFAs) and zinc in his Clear Skin Prescription. According to Dr. Perricone, those with acne have a lower amount of linoleic acid in their sebum than those who are not burdened by the condition. Linoleic acid, found in omega-6 fatty acid, is necessary to maintaining proper membrane function. Low levels of omega-3 may also be related to the development of acne. This anti-inflammatory EFA helps to fight leukotrienes, the presence of which is associated with certain skin disorders. Pumpkin seed oil is rich in both of these fatty acids with a composition of 15-percent linolenic acid (omega-3) and 42-percent linoleic acid (omega-6).
Zinc, which possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, aids in the growth of new skin cells. Tori Hudson, N.D., a naturopathic physician and professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, recommends taking 30 to 45 milligrams of zinc daily. However, pregnant women and nursing mothers, warns Dr. Perricone, should limit their zinc supplements to 15 milligrams per day to avoid any adverse affects on the baby. Also, because higher doses of zinc may cause stomach upset, zinc supplements should be taken with food.
Many of us don't realize that alternative healing methods should be exercised with caution. Just because something is natural does not mean that it is harmless. Even essential oils may cause contact dermatitis in some individuals and may be contraindicated during pregnancy. When starting any acne program, then, it is advisable to consult a certified medical professional.
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