Adolescent boys are the most likely acne candidates as male hormones surge through their bodies, stimulating sebaceous glands. A combination of increased sebum production, plugged hair follicles and the normal colony of bacteria that reside nearby creates an ideal environment for acne. Warning: young males or adult women plagued with chronic, unresponsive acne should get tested for hormonal abnormalities.
While a multitude of factors aggravate or cause acne, the best place to start is diet. According to William Rosenberg, MD and Betty Kirk in an editorial written several years ago for the Archives of Dermatology, physicians see far too many acne patients. "Many have come to regard (acne)... as just another inevitable fact of life. We believe that it is not--that it is probably another result of a diet that is too high in calories for our sedentary habits, too rich in fat, salt and refined carbohydrates, and too poor in vegetable fiber."
Avoiding refined carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour, for acne is more than good health sense. Glucose tolerance tests, a blood test that measures how well one handles sugar and other carbohydrates, differs between acne and clear-skinned individuals. While the standard oral glucose tolerance test is normal in most acne patients, skin glucose tolerance tests may not be. For this reason, sticking to complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and whole grains can help clear up pimples. Large quantities of sugar are also immune suppressing and may contribute to other skin disorders.
Commercial dairy products, which contain hormones that might exacerbate the androgenic or male hormone influence, should be replaced with organic milk or soy-based beverages, yogurt and cheeses. In addition, fatty foods, products that contain trans fatty acids like margarine and hydrogenated oils, and high iodine foods (contaminated dairy foods from iodophor-disinfected pipes and containers, and iodine fed to cows as a foot rot prevention; iodates added to bakery products; fish; seaweed) should be eliminated. There's some evidence that a high protein diet is helpful. Because many commercial meats are laden with hormones, try eating organic beef or poultry, or incorporate beans, legumes, grains and other plant protein sources.
The skin depends on several nutrients to keep it healthy. The antioxidants including vitamin E, vitamin A and selenium, are occasionally useful for acne. Vitamin E also regulates vitamin A, a nutrient that's been used in very high doses to treat acne. I don't suggest using megadoses of vitamin A as a initial acne therapy; definitely don't try it on your own. If you decide you want to try this vitamin in large amounts, do so only after trying more benign therapies. And even then, see your doctor. As a precautionary note, the symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include headache, fatigue, emotional liability, muscle and joint pain, chapped lips and dry skin.
Zinc has been used successfully to treat acne, particularly when a deficiency is present. Any time you take supplemental doses of this mineral, do so for only three months unless under professional nutritional guidance. Excessive zinc can disrupt copper levels in your body.
Other simple measures you can take for acne include a judicious amount of sunlight each day and gentle washing with calendula soap. Vigorous or excessive scrubbing doesn't cleanse your skin, it irritates it and aggravates acne. Try soothing blemished skin with an occasional bentonite clay mask.