Holistically Treating Acne Inside and Out

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By Alex Fulton, CP Staff

Although it is by no means a life-threatening condition, acne can wreak mental havoc on those who suffer from it, causing emotional stress and diminished self-esteem. It is a problem that concerns a vast number of people; about 80 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 44 are affected by acne to some degree, and the American Academy of Dermatology reports that it has become the monst commonly-treated skin abnormality. Fortunately, acne is a condition that may be treated an controlled with the use of supplements, herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies. These are much more gentle and safe to use than prescription drugs and over-the-counter treatments.

Acne develops when sebum, an oily skin lubricant, is secreted faster that it can move through the pores. The excess oil allows bacteria to become trapped inside the pores, causing blackheads and whiteheads to develop. If the acne is severe, whiteheads build up, spread under the skin. and rupture, increasing the inflammation.

When considering how best to treat acne, it is important to examine its potential causes. The reason acne so often develops during puberty is that the body greatly increases the production of androgens, or male sex hormones, at this time. These androgens stimulate the secretion of sebum, and sometimes more is produced than the skin can handle. Other factors that may contribute to the development of acne include hormonal imbalance, the menstrual cycle, the use of certain drugs such as birth control pills and steroids, food allergies or nutritional imbalance, pore-clogging environmental pollutants, candidiasis (yeast) and cosmetic use. Attempting to identify which of these possible causes may be affecting your skin can go a long way in helping you decide how to go about treating the problem. There are many methods, both internal and external, of treating acne that can address specific causes.

The skin is the body's largest organ, and one of its primary functions is to eliminate toxins through sweating. When the body contains more toxins than the liver and kidneys can process, the skin takes over. The release of these toxings through the skin can disrupt its health, leading to breakouts. Taking herbs internally to facilitate the elimination of toxins can be very effective in improving the skin's integrity and bringing it into balance. Burdock root, dandelion leaves, milk thistle and red clover are all good herbs to use when treating acne because they purify the blood and/or support and cleanse the liver. Taking an herbal extract or drinking an infusion (tea) makde from these herbs can dramatically improve the body's ability to release toxins without harming the skin in the process. Results won't be immediate, but consistent use over time should make a difference.

Many women find their faces breaking out regularly at specific times each month. These flare-ups are often triggered by the release of progesterone after ovulation. Taking chaste tree berry, also known as vitex, herbal extract can help reduce premenstrual breakouts by regulating hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle. The extract should be taken each morning; as with the blood-purifying and liver-cleansing herbal remedies, it will take some time before results become apparent.

Supplements can also be effective internal weapons in the fite against acne. Acidophilus helps replenish good bacteria that may reduce breakouts, and Essential Fatty Acids such as those found in flaxseed and evening primrose oils help the skin repair tissues and dissolve fatty deposits that clog pores. Taking vitamin A can help strengthen protective skin tissue, and vitamin B complex, which is good for combating stress, is important for overall skin health. (In addition, deficiencies of B6 have been linked with acne.) Vitamin E is an antioxidant that enhances healing and tissue repair, and Zinc, an element necessary to the skin's oil-producing glands, also aids in healing and can help prevent scarring. Taking any or all of these supplements on a regular basis is a good way to combat skin problems fromthe inside. However, make sure to consult with your practitioner before you begin taking herbs or supplements, particularly if you are taking prescription medication, and interactions may occur.

In addition to treatments taken internally, many natural remedies for acne can be used externally. There are a number of essential oils and herbs that can drastically reduce the appearance of blemishes (if not make them disappear altogether). Good essential oils to use for acne include tea tree, calendula, chamomile, juniper, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, neroli, geranium and sage. Some herbs that help combat acne are lavender, yarrow, thyme, calendula, echinacea, witch hazel, goldendseal, comfrey and elder flower. Try using essential oils and herbs in a facial steam, mask or other application.

Facial steams are wonderful for treating acne because they open up the pores and allow for deep cleansing. To do a facial steam, boil 16 ounces of distilled water and pour it into a bowl. Add a handful or dried herbs or a few drops of essential oil, place your face above the bown (be careful not to get too close) and drape a towl over your head to contain the steam.Try to remain under the towel for about 20 minutes.

It is a good idea to follow up a facial steam with a mask so that you can continue the cleansing process while the pores are open. To make a mask, begin with a small amount of clay. (Community Pharmacy sells, red, white and green clay in bulk.) Mix the clay with enough water to form a paste. The ad one to three drops of the essential oil of your choice, mix everything together, and apply the mask to your face. Rinse away after about 15 minutes. If you'd prefer to purchase a pre-made mask, try Queen Helene's Mint Julep Mask which features acne-fighting sulfur, or Avalon's Clarifying Clay Mask. Another excellent product that many acne-sufferers have had success with is African Formula's Derma Gelee, a base of aloe vera gel that contains several purifying and healing herbs. You can use DermaGelee alone as a moisturizer, mix it into your current moisturizer or apply it before bed and sleep with it on your face. For spot treatment of blemishes, dab tea tree or lavender essential oil directly on the affected area, or try Burt's Parsley Blemish Stick, which has a variety of herbal ingredients that have been found to be effective in healing and preventing breakouts.

Whle there are many different things, both internally and externally, that you can do to treat acne, there are some things you should definitely try to avoid. As with virtually every thealth problem, alcohol, caffeine and smoking can exacerbate acne, so try to stay away from these things if possible (or at least use in moderation). Stress can also play a role in skin problems. So, although it is easier said than done, try to find a relaxation technique that works for you. A common mistake people make when they suffer from acne is overcleansing of teh skin; this does not help and in fact causes the sebaceous glands to produce even more oil to compensate for being stripped by cleansing. Try very hard to avoid wearing make-up, which only further clogs pores and prevents teh skin from breathing properly and releasing toxins. If you must wear make-up, choose one that is water-based. Finally, although it may be tempting, do not pick at or even touch blemishes, as doing so will most times lead to infection, spreading and scarring.

Whether you suffer from the occasional premenstrual breakout or severe acne, there are things you can do to effectively treat the problem naturally, without harsh chemicals or prescription drugs. You can take control of your skin!

For further information and fantastic recipes for skin-loving masks, moisturizers, toners and more, check out these books:

Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox

The Herbal Home Spa by Grete Breedlove

Naturally Healthy Skin by Stephanie Tourles

Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair by Dina Falconi

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