New figures have come out from the American Academy of Dermatology stating that they have seen a large increase of adult acne, roughly 55% of people over the age of 25 have reported having issues in some form. Welcome to the wonderful world of #wrinklesandpimples.
While there is no magic cure-all, I would say there are two definitive camps that have emerged
with pretty different approaches. Neither side thinks much of the other camp but I’m a conciliatory person by nature so perhaps we can mine both sides for some common ground… Eastern medicine, holistic nurturing soul that you are meet Western medicine, your more clinical friend.
If I had to boil down the approaches of the two camps in a reductive way- I’d say Eastern practices tend to view adult acne as an issue of inflammation. It mainly views acne as a symptom of a larger disorder. In Ayurvedic medicine, the practice is based on understanding what a person’s main constitutive element is (i.e. their dosha) and correcting imbalances. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a similar theory about the importance of balance. They also believe in face mapping- i.e. symptoms like acne can reveal an underlying disorder in the body depending one where it occurs on the face. Western Medicine acknowledges that there may be different hormonal imbalances in the body but ultimately controlling acne is about controlling sebum (the body’s natural oil) and the main bacteria related to acne P. Acnes. * Editor’s note: Adult acne related to rosacea is treated differently by Western physicians, although Easter practitioners also consider it an inflammatory response.
Neither side thinks much of the other camp but I’m a conciliatory person by nature so perhaps we can mine both sides for some common ground… Eastern medicine, holistic nurturing soul that you are meet Western medicine, your more clinical friend. Both camps therefore have pretty different approaches but I don’t see why they can’t each offer up some solutions that we can incorporate into our everyday regimen. So with that in mind, here are some of my suggestions…
Feeling the Oil?
Western medicine was pretty clear about it’s distaste for oil, which brought about the advent of the oil-free marketing claim ubiquitously found on cosmetics from the 1990’s and on. If our natural sebum was enemy #1 then adding more oil from cosmetics was aiding and abetting a known criminal. The same hatred of oils and fat led to the era of fat free in food and a lot of Western physicians are starting to rethink that. If Dr. Oz can let us have our 2% milk, our olive oil and egg yolks back, maybe they can start to acknowledge that a little fat so to speak on the bathroom counter might be ok too. I’ve come round to incorporated high quality pure oils. From an Eastern medicine view-point, they are rich in various kinds of minerals and vitamins and are helpful from an anti-inflammatory point of view. They also claim that they help regulate sebum production but not overly stripping the skin.
My recommendation: If you are timid and need to dip your toe in the proverbial pool, try adding a pure oil like Macadamia, grapeseed or even olive oil into your cleansing routine. I use the Kaia dry Tapioca powder with a blend of oils to cleanse every day.
Are you Pro or Anti-Oxidant?
Most Eastern practitioners have a beef with typical acne ingredients like benzoyl peroxide. They view them as harsh and drying. It’s true that a lot of prescription strength acne medications can be like Napalm for the face and create a lot of dryness and irritation. From an Eastern point of view, they can also promote your body’s immune-response. This potentially aggravates the inflammatory quality of acne,-making it a viscous cycle. A recent study however might shed some light on a path forward. The study shows that pro-oxidant classed ingredients like benzoyl peroxide are very effective at killing bacteria like P. Agnes but they are also cyto-toxic (i.e. irritating). However, when you combine it with inflammation fight anti-oxidants like Resveratrol, the bacterial killing effect was potentiated and the cytotoxicity was mediated. In other words, it was more effective and better tolerated….I think I see a friendship developing.
My recommendation: Our H20 Hydration has 2% Resveratrol in it. We often recommend it to most people to directly combine it or layer with their prescription strength retinoid to make it more tolerable. We’ll now start recommending it with benzoyl peroxide now too! I also like natural extracts as spot treatments due to their bacteria killing abilities. I’ve been using pure Neem Oil as a spot treatment (warning, it smells a little!). I alternate between Neem Oil and my benzoyl peroxide for any misbehaving spots. It’s not an exact science, I’m never 100% sure about which one will seem to work better at that particular moment so I just play around with them both.
Does Diet matter?
Do you remember the question of whether pizza and chocolate would give teens acne? It was certainly a mother’s truism back in the 80’s and 90’s. Physicians have since revealed the tie between diet and acne or clear complexions in general to be a myth but Eastern practitioner would say there absolutely is a link. In Ayurvedic medicine, inflammatory acne is generally seen as an imbalance of the dosha Pitta or heat. This is the type of imbalance that generally is a very reactive body type and normally is prescribed what would be a ‘cooling’ diet. In other words, they are cautioned against eating oily, spicy, fried, salty or sour foods. Those who suffer from rosacea acknowledge that certain foods are triggers for them so it’s not unheard of to link diet to skin conditions.
My recommendation: Ayurvedic diets based on your dosha are not always intuitive so you would need to consult experts if you wanted to go down that path. Certainly, no Western physician would argue that a diet low in processed foods but high in anti-oxidant rich food is beneficial for us all.
Do I need to Detox?
Detox is a bit of a dirty word in the Western medical world for its overuse, overly broad implications and sometimes dangerous methods that are invoked in its name. Many physicians also question the need for anything other than our own natural lymphatic system for removing daily toxins from our bodies. I would argue that perhaps we’ve begun to throw an increased amount of daily assaults on our systems than before. From stress, to pollution, to poor quality of food, to extensive amounts of medication, I think it’s reasonable to do some mild and very gentle forms of detox in the same ways that we do regular tune-ups of our cars engine and oil filters.
My recommendation: I would avoid any programs that have you restricting food intake and subsisting on reduced calorie intakes. I personally like the Glisodin system that includes their Detox and then Lymphatic products. They are supplements that do not replace food. They also use natural actives like broccoli seeds or dandelion root so they are not aggressive in their approach. I recently completed the Lymphatic 15 day program. During the 15 days, I noticed an increased break-out in the area of my lower cheeks. That does give credence to the Traditional Chinese Medicine idea of face mapping since that area on the face corresponds with your colon. By the end of the 15 days, my skin had cleared completely and my under-eye circles looked moderately better.
If we want to talk about a truly integrative and holistic approach to any number of skin conditions- it would make sense that we drop our preconcpetions about what absolutely works and does not work and consider all viewpoints. I would argue that no system has found a perfect solution on its own, so a little détente and friendship might just do the trick.