Acne is a condition that plagues many people from pre-teens to older adults. It usually peaks around age 16-18 and can last for decades. Acne affects the areas rich in sebaceous glands like the face, chest, back, upper arms and occasionally the abdomen. It’s causes can be many, so it’s important to take a multi-prong approach to treating it. Let’s first look at what exactly happens in your skin to make this condition flourish.
Our bodies produce sebum to lubricate the skin. When our body produces too much sebum and dead skin cells, these two can build up and plug the hair follicles creating a clogged pore. If the clogged pore becomes infected with bacteria, inflammation results, and you see the classic red pustule. The inflammation and swelling clogs even more pores and so breakouts sometimes occur in clusters. If more severe, painful cysts form, they can last for weeks and lead to scarring. Once the infection clears, people can be left with skin discoloration that can last for 6-12 months if left untreated.
While the western treatment usually involves long term internal antibiotics, birth control, or Accutane, these treatments have unwanted side effects. Antibiotics kill off much of our “good” bacteria creating digestive problems, immune problems and chronic candida infections, and more. Accutane has been shown to cause Ulcerative Colitis and an increased incidence of Depression and Suicide. Luckily, there are effective alternatives to help Acne.
In Chinese Medicine, the body is viewed as an interconnected system and we can’t separate the health of the skin from the rest of the body. We diagnose a person based on how the skin looks, how much redness is present, how painful the cysts are, where the breakouts occur, how oily the skin is, if it’s itchy or feels hot, and how much pus is involved. We also look at a constellation of general body symptoms. How is digestion and sleep? Is there a hormone imbalance? Is there a problem with circulation? All of these factors point us to the exact cause of acne for the patient and a precise, individualized treatment.
The treatment of acne in my practice involves a thorough consultation and health history and then a diagnosis according to Chinese Medicine. The gold standard treatment is a custom blended herbal tea that a patient drinks for 3-6 months. Not doubt the tea will taste unusual but the results are worth it. Changes should be seen in the first 4 weeks, but for lasting results, it’s important to continue treating the underlying causes so the acne doesn’t return. The formula is changed over time. Results can be quicker when acupuncture is added, but it is not necessary if a patient is opposed to needles. In general, because we treat the cause of acne, it doesn’t come back after treatment has stopped. This is the beauty of Chinese Medicine.
Acne can be aggrivated by other factors including diet. Sugar and skim milk has been shown to increase the severity of acne. Eliminating these will help. It’s also important to keep the liver healthy, hormones balanced, and keep stress in check. Be gentle with your skin, and don’t pick at it. This can cause scarring which could be permanent. Over-scrubbing or using harsh products can disrupt the lipid barrier which keeps our skin healthy, so gentle cleansing and exfoliation is critical.
Acne doesn’t have to make us depressed- if we treat the root cause of the problem it really can go away for good.