Cheat Sheet – Acne

When I turned 40, I experienced adult onset acne – along with food allergies.
Out of nowhere. I mention this because it is increasingly obvious that the same is happening to a lot of women. I had near-perfect skin for 40 years and then suddenly, a face full of red, angry cysts. My GP put me straight on antibiotics and I, in my desperation, took them unquestioningly.

Once I realised that the acne was more than likely hormonal, here to stay and that the antibiotics were doing me no favours, I decided to fix it myself. And I more or less have. The reason I am giving you so much background is because you need to do the same for your skin.

There is no magical ‘cure’ for acne. There are different types, yes, but no one-dose-fits-all cure. So do read the below – but bear in mind that acne is different for everyone. You may have one type – or 3 types.
You need to know your skin, your body, your state of mind, your ‘system’ inside out to truly see results.

Types/causes of acne:

  • Hormones – just starting periods, just finishing periods, perimenopause, menopause, for boys – raging androgen can cause over-production of oil, slow shedding of dead skin cells, increases in the mount of androgen in your system – all creating the perfect breeding ground for acne
  • Bacteria – Propionibacterium Acnes is the bacteria that gives our friend its name – all it needs is the perfect environment to spread
  • Inflammation – illness, foods, stress – a system fighting illness is inflamed on its own, add medication and you are doubling your potential problems, foods can cause inflammation (especially food allergies) and stress always causes inflammation – again, all breeding grounds for acne
  • Sensitivities – allergies, reactions to products, reactions to foods/environment

Looking at the above you may see where your skin fits in – and why antibiotics just don’t work for some people.

Myths and Old Wives Tales:

It seems that once something has been said in a glossy mag, heard on tv – or both – it becomes the Law. Sad but true. And not helpful to those of us with real problems that we want to fix.

  • Acne is caused by dirty skin. Not true. There is a massive difference between bacteria and dirt. Over-washing your face destroys the acid mantle that protects your skin, makes an alkaline environment, makes your acne worse and your skin a dry, dull, sore breeding ground.
  • You can ‘dry up’ spots. Not true. A spot is a mixture of oil, inflammation, bacteria and dead skin cells. No water in that list. All you are doing is drying the surrounding area in the hope that it will make the spot look smaller. What it actually does it put the spot on its own ‘look at ME’ platform.
  • You can use toothpaste or nappy cream to spot-treat acne.
    A one-off spot may have its redness taken down – temporarily – by applying one of the above. If acne could be fixed by Oral-B or Sudocrem all of our problems would be solved.
    Dude. Stop putting toothpaste and bum cream on your face.

Things that may help:

Below are some of the things that have helped me, friends, clients and readers of my blog. It is not a definitive list and is only suggestions.
They may not work for you; they may work brilliantly – unfortunately there is no perfect recipe. If you are on serious medication speak to your consultant before supplementing.

  • Avoid mineral oils when cleansing. Natural oils are better for the skin.
  • Avoid too much alcohol in products. A ‘tingle’ is ok. A ‘burning’ is not. Products where the main ingredient listed is alcohol will dry out the surface of your skin, destroy the acid mantle and make the perfect breeding ground. However: alcohol is sometimes a necessary evil for suspending things like glycolic acid in a solution – where they would normally not work as well. Acids are the exception.
  • Avoid soaps and foaming washes. These break down the acid mantle of your skin (think armour) and make your skin a 10 on the 1-10 acid/alkaline scale. Remember litmus paper from science classes? Again – the perfect breeding ground.
  • Don’t pick red cysts. A whitehead can be popped in the correct manner, a cyst is going nowhere and will always, always prevail if you battle it. And then it will scar, just to teach you who is boss.
  • Don’t completely strip your skin of oil and moisture. An acne skin that sticks solely to foaming cleansers and oil-free products is nearly always – always – reddened with inflammation and sensitivity. Thus, making more work for yourself.
  • Treat your skin gently and with respect. You know what I mean. Abusing it with harsh products and getting angry with it – like it’s a different person – will make it worse. Your skin belongs to you. Don’t try and disown it when it needs you.
  • Cleanse with good quality oils and balm cleansers. There is absolutely no reason to avoid oil when you have acne. Mineral oil, avoid? Yes. Good, light, plant-derived oils? – no. They don’t clog pores; they nourish the skin you are now pledging to take care of, and they do not break you out. Cheap, nasty, mineral oil used in heavy formulations may break you out when you are cleansing, not good oils. Check labels. Avoid paraffin, paraffin liquidum, mineral oil in ingredient listings.
  • Use topical exfoliants. Acids used topically help alleviate blocked pores, dead skin cells, trapped hair follicles and reduce your acid mantle to the lower end of the scale – usually around a 3/4 – which is in layman’s terms, strengthening your first line of defence to the acne. Think glycolic, lactic and salicylic.
  • You can use products like benzoyl peroxide, found in spot treatments, to topically treat bad acne spots. It can penetrate the pore and kill off the bacteria specific to acne, but I prefer the acids in the step above. Sulfur is more commonly used, but a word of warning – in my experience, both can be drying to the skin in high %s. Go easy.
  • Hydrate your skin and consider that it might need oil in places. You can have acne in areas and be really dry/dehydrated in others.
  • Consider supplementation. Probiotics are a must. Especially if you are on anti-biotics. Your skin is the first place to show anything going on in the gut. Keep your stomach/intestines as strong as possible. Go for the highest dosage you can find – and remember with probiotics – they degrade very quickly so if it says 2 billion on the packet – by the time it gets through processing, packaging, delivery and shelf it could have gone down to 1 billion – literally halved. I always take double the RDA.
  • I have no doubt in my mind that consuming large quantities of fish oil has saved my face. And it’s not just me. People I know have had the same response. It works for acne OR psoriasis and eczema – so if you have any of those – or all – I would definitely recommend. I take anything between 3000 and 10,000mg a day depending on the day, my skin and circumstances. If you are vegetarian you can use flax.
  • Avoid moisturisers with good quality, heavy shea butter. Yes, it’s natural but it’s harder than most oils for the skin to break down and thus tends to clogs pores and give you nice whiteheads.
    Buy moisturisers with water as the main ingredient for day. You can use appropriate oils and balms at night.

Unfortunately there really is no definitive list of foods that cause acne.
There is however, awareness of foods that cause inflammation in the system (and therefore the skin) and would thus best be avoided:

  • Sugar
    The worst. And it’s in everything. Avoid fizzy drinks, fruit juice, pastries, condiments such as ketchup, salad cream, brown sauce and steak sauce. Get into the habit of reading labels. Fructose, sucrose, maltose, golden syrup, dextrose – all sugar.
  • White foods
    Everyone laughs when I say it – but Mother Nature made very little white. Avoid white foods. They have, for the most part, been completely bastardized buy the food industry. Bread, pasta, cereals, sugar and cakes – if they are white – they are not real food. Think how fast your car would break down if you used ‘petrol substitute’.
  • Red Meat
    Red meat is medically proven to cause inflammation. Not just of the skin – it has been linked to cancer, heart disease, obesity and most inflammatory diseases. This includes beef, lamb, venison, veal, pork and all of the subdivisions such as bacon, sausage, sandwich meat, salami etc..
    If you eat red meat, try and cut back and eat the best organic quality available. It is less likely to be loaded with hormones that aggravate your acne.
    Eat white meat or fish – especially oily fish like salmon. If you eat meat, ideally it should swim or fly.
  • Dairy
    We are the only species that drinks the milk of another species. It’s not natural and you don’t need it. But again, it’s in everything. Dairy contains hormones that can alter our endocrine system and contribute to acne. That sadly obviously includes cheese. If you eat/drink dairy go for organic full fat.
  • Fried foods/bad fats
    Avoid all margarines, corn oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, trans fats and hydrogenated oils. This obviously means by association you avoid crisps, chips (French fries for US readers) and deep fried anything. Use olive or macadamia oil.

A word on antibiotics. 
If you are taking them and they haven’t ‘done anything’ – something I hear a lot – I would consider stopping taking them (in the appropriate manner).
They are bad for your system, cause stomach problems and make you massively susceptible to severe sun damage. Some GPs insist on giving out repeat prescriptions for skins that are not responding to them because they don’t know any better and won’t recommend you to a specialist dermatologist.
If your acne is really bad – ask for a referral to a hospital consultant/specialist unit. You may not get it unless it is visibly bad, a few hormonal spots once a month, while causing you to break out the heavy duty concealer – is not on a par with the suffering of people with the severest cases.
Ask for that referral – and if you don’t get one – pay to see a dermatologist!