Submit your skincare questions to Dr. Agnes, CEO of Herborium and natural medicine expert
Acne affects nearly half of adult women and almost a third of adult men. Acne can appear at just about any age and 75% of all people suffer from acne breakouts at some point in their lives.
Acne usually makes its first appearance during adolescence, however, we’re seeing more and more adults suffering from acne breakouts. Statistical data also confirms that the number of adults affected by acne is steadily increasing. Acne affects people of all ethnic and economic backgrounds, making it one of the most widespread and “populistic” medical conditions in the world.
So what is the reason behind both adolescent and adult acne, and what factors can make them better…or worse?
The major culprit behind acne is hormones, and specifically their imbalance and fluctuating levels. Both women and men produce testosterone and estrogen in different quantities. However, when the range of balance between testosterone and estrogen that is expected for men and women is disrupted, more testosterone and its metabolite dihydrotestosterone reaches the blood, causing an over-stimulation of the sebaceous glands. As a result, these glands start producing more sebum (skin oil) that causes the initial clogging of pores. The clogged pores support the growth of bacteria, which is the impetus for the formation of acne pustules (inflammatory pimples). The process above is also known as the acne cascade which clearly indicates a sad truth that when the formation of acne starts, it is very difficult to stop and it can only be done within our body. (Note to AcnEase® users: Make sure you’re using the right treatment for where you are in the acne cascade by clicking here.)
Let’s look into a few tips that you can easily incorporate into your daily plan to help you become acne-free.
When we are stressed, our blood sugar and insulin levels rise to mobilize the body organs to deal with the stress. This “mobilization” is a protection mechanism and while in many situations it helps us to be more efficient in dealing with stress, it also has some seriously negative impacts on our bodies. In short, stress causes a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at a cellular level, which can exacerbate acne. Since acne is one form of inflammatory disease – stress will worsen acne, sometimes quite dramatically. (Note to those with severe acne – as many of our AcnEase® users know, this can take some time to treat and our severe acne treatment? takes that into account.
It’s critical to know that during the “mobilization” of our bodies to deal with stress, several special hormones are produced to help mediate this process. Some of the most important are cortisol and other hormones released by the adrenal glands that can act as androgens (male hormones) and over-stimulate the sebaceous glands. As previously mentioned, androgens and fluctuating hormone levels will produce more skin oil, which in turn clogs the pores and… leads to an acne flare-up!
If you already have acne or just acne prone skin, it is vital that you find ways to eliminate or at least reduce physical and psychological stress that is indeed directly correlated with breakouts. Try to incorporate the following as part of your daily regimen and you should notice a difference in your skin (and overall wellbeing!):
The word inflammation is a very popular buzzword these days in the health arena because of how much damage it can do to one’s body in many different ways. When it comes to skin, obviously the old adage reigns true: what you put into your body is going to effect what you see on the outside. Inflammation is a natural response by the body in an attempt to protect itself from irritants that the body may be inclined to reject. An inflammatory response can result in those bumps that you get on your face! Therefore, keeping to an anti-inflammatory diet for acne is key to becoming acne-free. Read more about it here.
Adding protein, good fats & fiber rich foods to your diet are essential. This is also key to keeping your sugar levels from spiking, which can be detrimental to becoming acne-free. It is a good rule of thumb to try to have 20 grams of protein with each meal. This way, the protein helps to keep your sugar levels from dipping too low (resulting in cravings for sugar/carbs) and as an added bonus, your metabolism stays at an optimal level.
While sugar, chocolate and dairy may not be directly linked to acne, the way our bodies break these foods down may contribute to a spike in certain hormones, such as insulin. When hormone levels are relatively balanced, we give our sebaceous glands the best chance at producing only enough sebum necessary to do its job, hydrate and moisturize the skin, and no more.
There have been a number of articles in the news lately about milk and dairy products causing acne. Some reports describe how growth hormones, insulin and insulin-like growth factors in milk will cause acne. The statements above are blatantly wrong and create unnecessary stress as well as misinformation. The reason is simple, all these hormones are peptides or proteins that will be digested (and destroyed) in the stomach and will not reach the blood. Unfortunately, even though these issues relating to dairy products and acne are wrong, there are some concerns outlined below.
For instance, there are other types of hormones in mother’s milk (human and cow) that are naturally occurring and when consumed, can enter the blood stream. When one considers that mother’s milk is full of nutrients and factors that will help an infant (human or cow) grow, it is not unreasonable to consider that milk may contain certain hormones for example, estrogen and androgens, which may impact acne. Acne is primarily caused by an over secretion of sebum (skin oil) by the sebaceous glands. Androgen-based hormones produced by both males and females are considered the primary culprits in activating the sebaceous glands. What is not commonly discussed is that only about 2% of steroid hormones (estrogen-like and androgen-like) are free in the blood. The remainder is bound to a protein called sex hormone binding protein (SHBP). It is the free form of sex hormones that bind to their respective receptors and induce their biologic response.
Now back to dairy products. We all make our own sex hormones in our ovaries (women) and testes (males) as well as in the adrenal glands. There is a delicate balance between bound hormones and “free” hormones, which will be the candidates to activate the sebaceous glands. There are relatively low levels of the sex hormones in mother’s milk but this may be sufficient to tip the balance in free levels to those hormones and for those individuals that are acne-prone, that can contribute to acne formation. What is also interesting about milk is that it contains whey protein, which is known to stimulate insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Unlike these peptides which are in cow’s milk and destroyed in the stomach, the insulin and IGF-1 stimulated by whey protein and large spikes in sugar consumption are secreted by your own body and therefore biologically active. One of their actions is to activate the androgen receptors some of which reside on the sebaceous glands. Therefore, it is entirely possible that for some, this may be enough to put sebaceous glands “on the alert.” This slight increase may sensitize the sebaceous glands to be more reactive to fluctuations in circulating hormone levels, therefore more ready to produce more sebum thus initiating the acne cascade.
Do you want to determine if dairy is affecting your acne? If you notice that your skin looks better when you limit your dairy intake (limit does not mean eradicate), it makes sense to follow a reduced dairy diet. Remember, however, to replace the lost sources of calcium, Vitamin A and D and protein by using almond milk, and other foods such as beans and fish (preferably wild and ocean caught).
Also, a note for our AcnEase® users, you’re lucky to already be on an acne treatment with active ingredients that work to reduce the impact of fluctuating hormone levels on the sebaceous glands. In essence, AcnEase® is doing exactly that and can help tip the balance in the favor of avoiding small changes in hormone levels induced by diet. This intervention works to inhibit the negative impact of dairy on acne and thereby blocking the exacerbation of existing acne or stimulating the formation of new acne pimples.
So we want to hear from you! How do you control your hormonal acne? Do any of these tips resonate with you?