Action on acne


“I can’t believe I’m in my 30s and I still get acne,” a friend complained.

Right? When you get past your teens you’re supposed to leave the zits behind, but we all get them from time to time, even as adults.

Acne can range from mild to very severe, and can be slightly uncomfortable or extremely painful. Self-consciousness about acne can have damaging psychological effects.

Causes vary, and some people are just unlucky. Hormones are a factor. When I was taking the hormone DHEA for fertility issues, I developed painful acne around my hairline. It stopped when I went off the drug.

Severe cystic acne is still treated with Accutane (isotretinoin) in Canada but has been withdrawn from the U.S. market due to lawsuits claiming it caused inflammatory bowel disease. Isotretinoin has a lot of known side effects, including birth defects, but it’s unclear whether IBD is one. Nonetheless, many say it’s changed their lives for the better, and it is still available in the States under other names.

Dermatologists say not to pop zits, but just try to resist.

What the experts say

“The herb chaste tree berry works very well. It’s a good hormone balancer. Take 1 teaspoon of the tincture every morning in a little bit of water. Or combine in equal parts for a really nice tea stinging nettle leaf, red clover, burdock root and dandelion root. Use 1 teaspoon of the blend in a cup of boiled water three or four times a day.

Topically, sponge over the face 1 or 2 drops of pure lavender oil on a warm, wet face cloth. You could also make a strong tea from the flowers, strain it and use it as a natural facial toner. A batch keeps in the fridge for a week. A little tea tree, lavender or geranium oil can be dabbed on more severe spots.”

CELINA AINSWORTH, herbalist, Toronto

“There can be many factors behind acne, but it’s usually heat and dampness. We make a customized formula to clear heat and dampness.

We use herbs that tend to be bitter. These could include Herba taraxaci (dandelion) and Poriae cocos. A formula might contain as many as 15 ingredients. Diet could have an effect as well, but some people who have incredibly clean diets still suffer from acne. Avoid dairy and greasy and sugary foods.”

FRANCIS ROCK, Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto

“Acne is caused by many factors, including blockage of pores, hormones – especially androgens – increased oil production and inflammation.

It’s a myth that greasy, oily foods and ‘dirty’ skin cause acne. Dietary factors are often blamed, but there’s little hard evidence for this. Some researchers have found that milk, especially skim milk, can worsen acne. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for general as well as skin health.

There are many excellent treatments available: topical creams and gels, oral antibiotics, oral contraceptive pills, Accutane – a safe medication if used by an experienced physician for the right patient – and chemical peels. The approach your doctor takes depends on your age, sex, type of acne, how long it has been a problem, if the acne is inflammatory and other things.”

ERIC GOLDSTEIN, dermatologist, Toronto

“Typically, acne results from excess sebum production that plugs hair follicles, which can become infected.

It’s linked to compromised digestion, including low stomach acid, and made worse by food sensitivities – in particular to milk, butter, cheese, etc. Removing these foods can help improve skin and prevent outbreaks. If stomach acid is low, bitter herbs or betaine HCl can improve levels and repair skin. Boosting vitamin A and zinc levels is important to decrease sebum production, as well as supporting liver function and balancing blood sugar.

Milk thistle can help clear up acne by supporting liver function. The mineral chromium can help balance blood sugar in those prone to hypo- or hyperglycemia. You can assess testosterone and DHEAs levels, which can contribute to acne formation if elevated, though lab testing. Herbs like saw palmetto and Paeonia root can balance androgen hormones like testosterone.”

TARA ANDRESEN, naturopath, Toronto

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