Skin Problems and Solutions

Acne: Overview And Its Treatment
Acne occurs when pores on the surface of the skin become clogged. Each pore has a follicle, which contains an oil (sebaceous) gland - and, some, a hair. In healthy skin, the oil glands produce the right amount of sebum to help lubricate the skin and dead skin cells are naturally sloughed off the skin surface, then replaced with new ones. In acne, however, the dead skin cells around the follicles do not shed properly, and the result is that the follicles become clogged with whiteheads, which turn into blackheads as they reach the surface and become oxidised, then - if bacteria are present - into spots.
Because the main acne sufferers were teenagers, with boys in the majority, it used to be thought that the cause was an excess of the male hormone testosterone, which stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. While this is clearly one trigger, oily skin is not the only trigger and, in fact, African-origin skin, which is very rich in sebum, suffers much less from acne. Increasingly, dermatologists are seeing adults, mainly women, with acne - but, confusingly, they have dry, sensitive skin. As Dr Nicholas Perricone explains in his book The Acne Prescription, new wisdom holds that, in this second group, acne begins with inflammation. This occurs at the cellular level, rather than being the result of a blocked pore which comes into contact with bacteria, then becomes inflamed.
When we're stressed or eat poorly, we put our bodies under oxidative stress. Our cells then produce pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. One particular cytokine, Interleukin-1, has been shown to the make the skin cells (keratinocytes) sticky. In consequence, dead skin cells don't get exfoliated properly; they build up in the follicle, the pore becomes clogged and infected, and the result is acne.
The solution for both groups of sufferers can be holistic and reflects much of what has been shown to be successful with all sufferers of skin problems.
* Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
* Take supplements to control inflammation
* Drink plenty of still, pure water
* Get 7-8 hours sleep a night
* Minimize stress and learn how to control what you can't avoid
* Treat existing acne lesions with anti-inflammatory topical creams/lotions
* Conventional medication may be useful in the short term for severe cases and can prevent scarring
Natural prescription
Taking vitamins A and D, and zinc often helps acne sufferers by stimulating healthy new cells. Zinc (choose zinc picolinate, which is well absorbed by the body) heals skin tissue and has hormone-modulating properties.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids balance the inflammatory agent prostaglandin 2, and help with other functions.
Many acne sufferers in their teens and twenties have benefited from using a safe and effective Ayurvedic supplement called Tejaswini, which contains herbs that are believed to cleanse the bloodstream of the hormone metabolites of testosterone.
A topical cream (ActivClear), which contains tea tree, vitamin A and extracts of the herb tribulus, helps to reduce sebum production wherever it is applied.
To keep blood sugar stable (which helps prevent an inflammatory response), eat three small meals and two snacks a day.
Eat a low-Gl diet, with oily fish and other protein (eg, chicken, turkey, soy products and occasionally beef) at every main meal, plus fresh vegetables, salads and fruit, chopped nuts and ground flaxseeds, yogurt and olive oil. Avocados are a good source of beneficial nutrients.
Antioxidants are also anti-inflammatory, according to Dr Nicholas Perricone, since oxidative stress is one key cause of inflammation. So, in addition to your antioxidant-rich veg and fruit, that means you can eat a little, very dark chocolate (aim for 85 per cent cocoa solids), as chocolate is very high in antioxidants.
Try green tea or chicory, instead of coffee, to maintain stable blood sugar levels and help prevent the inflammatory cascade.
Cutting out cow's milk - substituting soy, almond, oat or rice milk - may help acne sufferers. It's thought that the pregnancy and growth-enhancing hormones in milk -which comes mostly from cows that are simultaneously lactating and pregnant - may affect some people. Skimmed milk seems to cause the most problems; drinking organic milk isn't likely to make a difference, as it still comes from lactating and pregnant cows.
Meditation, yoga and prayer all reduce stress.
Complementary and alternative therapies
Although specific research data is very limited, a study of acne patients showed that they tended to value CAM (eg, homeopathy, naturopathy, western herbalism and reflexology) over orthodox therapies, because they thought it was more effective, had fewer side effects (drugs such as the contraceptive pill Dianette and Roaccutane have been linked to severe depression and suicidal thoughts) and they had a greater sense of control, which all helped them feel less anxious about their condition.
I would always suggest trying natural therapies first, but acne scarring can be lifelong - and the psychological damage can be profound - so some people may need to take prescribed medication to get it under control.
Open pores
Pores are the opening at the top of follicles. The size of the pore depends mainly on how dilated the follicle is; if it's clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, the follicle will be comparatively fat, and so will the pore. A nice clean narrow follicle will lead into a normal-sized pore. The received wisdom is that if you have open or large pores, you can't change them... But, certainly, applying ice cubes - or some people swear by cucumber juice or skin tonic - can help, on a temporary basis. And I've heard several say that their previously large pores have closed over time with the application of clay-based masks. Interestingly, several women with large pores gave up moisturizer and found the problem got worse; when they re-started, their open pores significantly improved.
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