Finding a solution to something starts with figuring out the root causes behind it. That’s exactly how it goes with our bodies too.
Many of us have suffered (and continue to, now and then) with adult acne for years. The only way we can really figure out a solution is by really understanding what goes on with our bodies when we experienced outbreaks.
Speaking to a couple of dermatologists and doing my own secondary research, I could identify the following broad causes (under which perhaps more specific causes exist). When we can identify the triggers behind our outbreaks, we can understand what to eliminate or modify in our lifestyle and/or diet.
Here are some of the causes/triggers that might be the reason behind adult acne.
Hormonal imbalances & PCOS
Hormonal acne arises out of imbalances and fluctuations in hormone levels. While this is generally the most common reason for teenage acne, it does affect adults too (especially women).
This kind of acne can happen any time there is a change in the hormone levels – at puberty, menopause, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or even because of fluctuations within a cycle.
In general, hormonal acne may present as individual small pimples, blackheads, whiteheads or painful cysts which form beneath the surface of the skin.
To deal with hormonal acne, it’s a good idea to visit a gynaecologist and possibly a dermatologist too, since prescription medicine is often required to clear up serious cases of cystic acne.
On the other hand, natural treatments are often wonderful, safe, cheap solutions for treating milder cases. OTC medication may also be used.
Hormonal fluctuations can worsen acne through increased sebum (oil) production, clogged hair follicles and overall skin inflammation. So while medication may be required, an important part of the treatment is also establishing a basic skincare routine.
The following points may help:
- Washing your face with a gentle/mild cleanser twice a day
- Making sure that all makeup is off at the end of the day
- Moisturising with a suitable product daily
- Wearing sunscreen with appropriate SPF everyday
- Only using skincare and makeup products which are labelled “non-comedogenic” (do not cause acne)
Diet of Inflammatory Foods
Science has now proven that there is a demonstrable link between diet and inflammation. Certain foods worsen the inflammatory state of our body, while certain other foods are anti-inflammatory in nature.
Studies show that there is a correlation between diet and acne, so it’s important to include non-inflammatory foods in our diet and also moderate/minimise/eliminate certain other foods such as:
- Refined carbs – breads, pastas made of white flour, white rice etc
- Processed meats & conventional, grain-fed meats
- Dairy, especially cow’s milk
- Excessive alcohol
- Foods with high sugar – soda, junk food etc
- Deep fried snacks
- Artificial additives and artificial sweeteners
- Saturated fats
Dairy and other food sensitivity
Like it’s been mentioned above, acne at its root is believed to be an inflammatory disease. Determining which foods cause immune system-related inflammation can be a good starting point to heal your body from within.
While there are no comprehensive testing mechanisms, the best way forward would be to consult a doctor and eliminate potential allergens on a phase by phase basis.
Some common allergies are
- Certain nuts
- Flavour additives such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Digestion is one of the most basic processes of the body. It’s a commonly held notion in alternative medicine that an unhealthy gut is the basis for most, if not all, diseases of the human body.
Determining if your gut could be a cause for your acne is not an exact science. But say, for instance, your breakouts don’t seem to have a cyclical pattern or if they are associated with eating certain foods or perhaps they accompany periods of gastrointestinal disease/distress, these could be clear-cut signs that improper digestion is the one to blame.
Essentially, with improper digestion, the gut isn’t healthy enough to be able to effectively sort the wasteful stuff from the nutrients. There ends up being a build-up of waste in the body, and when this happens, the body seeks to eliminate it.
Now, remember the skin in the largest organ of the body and is in fact, an elimination organ. When the bad/waste stuff doesn’t leave your body because of constipation or improper/partial/incomplete digestion, the body switches over to eliminating these wastes through the skin in the form of breakouts.
(If you’d like to read a more detailed play-by-play of what exactly happens when food isn’t digested properly, you might like to read this wonderful post here.)
If you’re already getting tested for food allergies and that’s been eliminated as a cause, it’s worthwhile to take stock of your digestive habits.
Toxicity in Food or the Environment
The skin is the largest organ we have, and its main job is to protect the body. Skin is the primary barrier between us and the world around us. Being exposed to noxious pollutants and substances could be a reason for your adult acne. Research has pointed towards air pollution, specifically, as a reason for acne.
On the other hand, toxicity in the water and food we ingest may result in residual impurities in the blood. Toxins that haven’t been eliminated by the body’s digestive and primary elimination system, find their way across to the auxiliary elimination system – your skin. The skin’s job is to find a way to eliminate these toxins… and voila – acne.
While you can’t do much to clean up the air or water where you live, you can still work on purifying the air around you. Spend significant time in nature by taking breaks and visiting reserves or forests near you. Get house plants that are efficient in purifying air or invest in an air purifier. You can even use a diffuser with a solution of filtered water and organic essential oils (or herbs) such as eucalyptus, lavender and thyme.
Another thing that’s in your hands is to strengthen your digestive system so that residual toxins never have to reach your skin. Taking care of your kidneys and liver is a great start as well as incorporating good digestive habits.
Poor Immune System Functioning
A weakened immune system leaves you much more susceptible to different kinds of bacteria. These bacteria easily invade your skin leaving you with breakouts. Research suggests a strong connection between white blood cells (WBCs) and acne – not only are WBCs essential in treating acne, they also play an important role in modulating hormone levels. Any disturbance in the functioning of the immune system leaves us much more vulnerable to diseases and disorders, and acne is no exception.
There are certain medications whose side effects may include acne or other acne-like skin conditions. This includes certain types of androgenic steroids, corticosteroids, anti-convulsants, lithium etc. Although such side effects are not common, they do happen and if you have been advised medication for any ailment, it’s worth checking with your doctor if it can cause acne or acne-like side effects.
…in other words – stress! While scientists are still figuring out the mechanism by which stress causes acne, it’s an established fact that stress is a major contributing factor towards acne. It is believed that stress may cause an upswing in sebum production; this sebum then traps bacteria and dead skin cells, clogging pores and causing acne. Stress also depresses your immune system and so, has an indirect effect on acne.
The take-home here is that stress should be managed effectively so that it doesn’t negatively impact your well-being.
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep on a consistent basis is a very important process for the body to heal and restore itself mentally and physically. Cell turnover reportedly happens 60% faster when asleep, and your skin would stand to benefit from this. Besides this, a lack of sleep also dehydrates skin and leaves it looking dull. Indirectly, sleeping less leaves your body under stress and well as leaves your immunity low, both of which are independent factors behind acne.
In any case, there are some universal good habits and lifestyle changes we can all make to help us in our journeys towards good health – physically, mentally and spiritually. Many, if not all of these, could help with acne issues as well.