Speaking from personal experience, acne is one of the most traumatic conditions a teenager (or adult) can experience. When I see a teen with acne I want to “educate” the parents as to correct nutrition and health maintenance.
Acne begins in adolescence as the sebaceous glands (oil glands) of the skin begin to be more active. Sometimes this oil combines with dead skin cells and clogs the openings of the pores shut so the sebum (oil) cannot escape. Many microscopic organisms thrive quite nicely on oils, so any that are trapped in this pocket of oil reproduce and cause inflammation. The gland continues to produce oil, and this back-log of oil can cause the gland to rupture. This is often the cause of the large acne sores that many teenagers suffer with. Acne is most commonly found on the face, and more severe cases can spread to the neck, back, shoulders, and chest. Whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples are all more mild forms of acne, while the more extreme cases create large cysts under the surface of the skin.
Medical wisdom tells us that diet has absolutely nothing to do with the integrity of the skin. This is, in my opinion, complete and utter nonsense. “Natural healers” recognize the fact that what goes in must come out…and it will come out through the bowel, kidneys, lungs, mucous membranes, and skin.
Holistic treatment for acne begins with sitting on ones’ hands. “Popping ,” “picking ,” “squeezing ,” or otherwise traumatizing “zits” serves only one real purpose and that is to inflame them more (which can lead to spreading the infection, pain, and scarring).
Medical doctors recommend a variety of drugs to control acne. Among these are broad spectrum antibiotics like tetracycline and erythromycin which serve to upset the acid-alkaline balance and destroy friendly bacteria in the system resulting in systemic yeast infections. Probably the most scary prescription is isotretinoin or Accutane. Accutane is an extremely high dose of synthetic vitamin A. This drug reduces the size and activity of the sebaceous glands. The precautions that go with Accutane are frightening. Women must avoid getting pregnant while on the drug (usually a minimum of 20 weeks) and for an extended period of time after finishing this course of treatment. Accutane can cause severe deformities in the baby. Breastfeeding moms must also avoid using this drug as it will be passed through the milk and could harm the baby.
So, what would an herbalist do for acne? The first step is to clean up the diet. Eliminate all junk food and refined food. The diet should be a mild food diet. Once the diet has been changed for the better one can expect the acne to actually get worse for a time as the toxins begin to be moved out through any available channel including the skin.
The “mild food diet” would include foods such as unlimited quantities of vegetables (fresh, frozen, or lightly steamed, including sprouts), fruit (fresh or frozen), whole grains (no breads, only whole grains cooked as one would cook rice), nuts (no peanuts), and seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower). Foods to be avoided include all dairy products, all animal flesh products, peanuts, eggs,refined foods, soft drinks, white flour, white sugar and salt.
This eating style will allow the body to begin cleansing with the help, instead of the hindrance, of food.
I recently found my high school graduation photo proofs. They were a painful reminder of how awful my skin was when I was 18 in spite of taking the antibiotics and using the creams prescribed by my dermatologist. My skin cleared spontaneously when I left home to go to the university and suddenly could not afford the chocolate bars, soda pop, and junk food I had eaten liberally at home.
It is also possible that individuals may have specific foods which cause their acne to flair.
For more stubborn or severe cases, an actual juice fast/cleanse may be necessary to get the
Supplements that can be helpful in acne are many and varied. I usually recommend a bowel tonic (like LB-X or CS) with a bit of a cleansing booster like Nature’s Three or Psyllium Hulls Combination. These herbs get the bowel moving on a regular basis, allowing it to flush out toxins and garbage regularly instead of being re-absorbed into the system.
Beyond that, I often go to a blood purifying formula. BP is a nice one, as is Red Clover Blend liquid. Once the bowel is moving regularly, these blood purifying formulae help the blood dump its toxins appropriately, thus keeping them away from the skin.
Sometimes P-X, PS II, or Blessed Thistle and Red Raspberry need to be used in conjunction with the bowel tonic and blood purifying herbs. These extra formulas work with the endocrine system, promoting a healthy hormonal balance (which may be helpful if the person is a teenager going through the “normal” teen-age mood swings). Each of these formulae can be used with males or females.
Vitamin A (organic) can also be used to clear the skin. Taken internally, a dose of up to 50,000 IU’ s. per day can be used by most people for several months without causing any problems.
It is important to keep the skin clean. Warm (not hot), clear water is the best skin cleanser available. Chemicals will only further upset the delicate balance of oils that the skin needs to stay healthy. If a moisturizer is needed, pau d’ arco lotion, rubbed in well, is lovely. (Don’t use pau d’ arco lotion if you are allergic to lanolin.)
Sunshine (not a sun lamp) can also help by naturally drying out a little of the excess natural oils that are on the skin.
For blemishes and sores that are large or particularly uncomfortable, Pau d’arco lotion can be used. To use pau d’arco lotion for specific blemishes, put a drop of the lotion on a band-aid and apply the dressing to the “spot.” Do this only at night (when no one else can see you) and repeat every night
as needed. For smaller blemishes (the size commonly found on the face) two to four nights of this treatment usually will dry up the blemishes, leaving a slight dry patch that can be “glued down” with pau d’arco lotion. This therapy avoids the “neon sign” appearance of blemishes that happens after they have been squeezed. For larger sores, like what is usually found on the back, shoulders, and chest, the same treatment can be used. Larger bandages, slightly more pau d’ arco lotion, and a longer treatment time will be needed. One may also need help applying and removing the dressings. These dressings may be done 24 hours per day, changing them twice every 24 hours.
Acne need not be a problem for anyone. A healthy diet, some herbal support, and a positive attitude will go a long way to clearing up this common skin problem.