Coping with adult acne

Acne is associated with teenage years and can be the most traumatic condition at the most traumatic time in life.

Those suffering from adult acne need to take a long, hard look at their lifestyle
- Kathryn Borg

Generally, it is blamed upon hormones, genetic links and part of growing up. Hormones are raging in all teenagers; everyone is going through a growing-up phase, so what makes one person suffer while another just looks on and gives thanks it isn’t them?

More bewildering is why adults develop acne. Again it can be put down to hormonal changes, family history, and added to by lifestyle and stress. Acne is thought to affect up to 25 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women at some point in their adult life.

Acne covers everybody, from ordinary people through to celebrities and superstars. Cameron Diaz, Victoria Beckham and Katy Perry are examples of those who have fought against acne in their adult years.

Another question is why a larger proportion of women suffer than men. A registered homeopath and herbalist believes the most common reason is the presence of ovarian cysts. These are usually linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The symptoms of PCOS are usually abnormal hairiness, infertility, irregular periods, weight gain and sometimes depression and lethargy. However, this is not the only reason and it is still not fully understood.

The usual prescriptions for acne in adults is almost the same as for teenagers; using a topical cream containing retinoids, taking antibiotics, or retinoids. Sometimes for women oral contraceptives are recommended. Over the decades some of these medications have been proven to come with serious side-effects, especially the retinoids. Therefore sufferers and practitioners alike are always looking for more natural treatments that reduce the acne without harming the body.

I have found a range of natural treatments, all of which could work. However, it is worth remembering that one should look at lifestyle and stress before beginning any treatment. If a healthy diet, plenty of water and exercise and a reduction in stress are all tried for at least three months, it will be a positive start.

The latest acne research from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK suggests that thyme may be better at fighting spots than the standard prescription preparations. The researchers tested thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures on the acne causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes in the laboratory.

They found that while all three could kill the bacteria after five minutes of exposure the thyme tincture was the most effective. In addition, thyme’s anti-bacteria effect was more potent than that of the standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide (the active ingredient in many acnecreams and gels).

Other treatments included tea tree oil, which is derived from the Australian myrtle tree and another natural anti-bacterial that proved, in trials, to be just as effective as benzoyl peroxide (Med. J. Aust., 1990). Ayurvedic herbs were trialled against the antibiotic tetracycline in 20people with cystic acne.

After three months of twice-daily treatments, both treatment groups saw a similar, significant reduction in spots. However guggul (the Ayurvedic herb) outperformed tetracycline on those who had particularly oily faces (J. Dermatol., 1994).

In other studies, topical and oral Ayurvedic herbal extracts, including aloe vera, turmeric and others, were all found to be successful in combating acne (J. Ethnopharmacol., 2001).

Although the general view is that diet has nothing to do with acne, growing evidence (finally) is suggesting that food does contribute. As crazy as it sounds, some practitioners do not see the link unless they see proof.

However foods with high glycaemic load, such as processed snacks, refined sugar and baked products may promote or exacerbate acne (Curtis, 2011). In one study, acne sufferers followed a low glycaemic diet for three months and saw a significant improvement in symptoms compared with the control group (Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 2007).

Other evidence looks at dairy foods such as cow’s milk (Skin Therapy Lett., 2010). An elimination diet may be the best way of determining which foods affect your particular ‘brand’ of acne. However, it should be carried out for a prolonged length of time – at least three months.

There are many more natural options, too many to explore in detail, but studies have looked at the successful efficacy of zinc supplements, folic acid, selenium, chromium and omega-three fatty acids.

Therapies which have been researched have included blue light therapy, which is believed to destroy acne causing bacteria, biofeedback and cognitive imagery. This is a mind-body technique which is used to combat stress and has proved successful providing the sufferer continued to use it.

Hypnotherapy has been used since ancient times to treat a variety of skin conditions and may have a role to play in easing acne. Some types of acne can be associated with depression and anxiety, which is where this particular therapy is proving successful. Finally, various forms of acupuncture have been found to help acne. One type was successful in 96 per cent of cases (J. Tradit. Chin. Med., 2008).

Ultimately, a quick fix is not the answer in the long term. Those suffering from adult acne need to take a long, hard look at their lifestyle and begin a process to change it with the help of some therapies. All of which will take time but may result in a total elimination of this traumatic condition.

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