There's no shame in being caught in a drugstore in your adult years buying products advertised for teens. Acne may be the curse of teenhood, but the pimply excess can go on for a lifetime, whether on face, chest or back. Problem is, outside of advice to scrub a lot, wash hair often and refrain from popping, picking, scratching or squeezing, there's not a lot of agreement on how to treat the condition. While dermatologists recommend various drugstore remedies and prescriptions - like benzyl peroxide, which can cause excessive dryness, cortisone creams that thin the skin, or harsh Accutane - alt-health types are more apt to suggest using tea tree oil topically while taking vitamins and herbal treatments such as flaxseed oil and calendula , echinacea or nettle tea. But the two philosophies diverge most on dietary issues. Alt practitioners see blemishes as the outside expression of inner body disharmony, while doctors believe the food focus is simply not justified by research.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"One possible cause of adult acne is hormonal issues, especially for women who have irregular periods, jawline acne or facial hair. Another common cause is moisturizers that are too rich. Make sure your makeup and sunscreen are oil-free. Neutrogena is good. We offer the birth control pill or remedies that contain benzyl peroxide. For acne on your back or chest, you can use Tersaseptic , Trisan or benzyl peroxide washes. The pill isn't for everyone, especially if women are over the age of 35 and smoke. Accutane can dry out the eyes and lips, is rarely linked to depression and works very well. Serious side effects are rare. After taking it for five months, your acne is usually gone for good. There's not a lot of scientific evidence to say things like chocolate cause acne. Some studies link dairy products to acne because they contain hormones. I don't tell my patients to abstain from eating anything."
PAUL COHEN , dermatologist, Toronto
"The first thing we look at is whether there's something in the diet. Acne around the mouth especially indicates that patients may be reacting to something they're eating. A lot of people have a reaction to dairy; it's not technically an allergy, but it is a food sensitivity. The second step is supplementing. Is their diet missing nutrients such as vitamin A , essential fatty acids and minerals like zinc ? Vitamin A and fatty acids will help thin out clogged pores. Zinc helps with skin and wound healing."
KATE RHEAUME , naturopath
"We look at the tongue to find out what causes the acne at this specific time. Acne is caused by the damp heat toxins. Some common herbs used are jin yin hua , a flower used to clear heat. Other herbs are sheng di huang as well as Chang Zhu herbal medicine, which is used to relieve itchiness. If the body has too much heat you don't want to eat something to worsen this condition, like spicy food or alcohol. Sweets and fatty foods are also bad, as well as cheese and creamy foods."
MARY WU , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, president of the Toronto School of Chinese Medicine
"A nice simple honey mask can work; honey has an antibacterial property. Drinking peppermint tea also has a cooling effect. Aloe vera gel and glycerin can be used to cleanse. To exfoliate, use simple water and baking soda . To moisten, vitamin E oil . Eating yi yi ren Chinese barley is a good internal cleanse. Green clay or herbal masks draw out impurities; ingredients like ground-up neem , sandalwood and angelica are very good."
LISA CIPPARONE , Chinese medical practitioner and natural beauty therapist, Rejuvenation Room Spa
"Acne is a result of an increase in 'pitta' or fire. If a food increases the pitta level, it should be removed. Refrain from foods that decrease liver function: no tomatoes, ketchup, chicken or fish. This is all a precaution to neutralize the acid in the body. There are Indian fruits, triphala , emblica officianalis and trillin cheula , that can detoxify your system. A person can be 75 per cent cured by eating these fruits. Some people who come (to us) have taken antibiotics, and we have to erase these toxins. Antibiotics are only a suppressive medicine. You have to keep taking them, but acne will keep flaring up when you eat the wrong food."
RAMESH MODI , Ayurvedic practitioner
"There is research linking acne to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - a condition linked to a high level of insulin resistance. For women with PCOS, losing weight and exercising , i.e., lowering insulin levels, will lessen the acne side effect of PCOS. Research studies in good peer-reviewed scientific journals don't show any connection (between food and acne). If anyone is giving definitive answers on diet, they are selling something, usually supplements. While people are awaiting research answers, it's a good idea to eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It would not be harmful to adopt that lifestyle."
ROSIE SCHWARTZ , dietician, Toronto