What is Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become blocked by oil and dead skin cells. Oil is naturally produced by the skin but there is an over production in Acne sufferers. Spots most commonly appear on your face, neck, chest, back and shoulders. It can be distressing and annoyingly persistent; acne lesions heal slowly, and when one begins to resolve, others seem to crop up.
Acne appears more commonly at certain times in our lives and the following factors can trigger or aggravate the skin to produce the familiar lesions:
- Hormones. Androgens are hormones that increase in boys and girls during puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. Hormonal changes related to pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives can also affect sebum production.
- Certain medications. Drugs containing corticosteroids, androgens or lithium are known to cause acne.
- Diet. Studies indicate that certain dietary factors, including dairy products and carbohydrate-rich foods — such as white bread, pasta and cakes/biscuits, which increase blood sugar — may trigger acne.
Contrary to what some people think, the following factors have little effect on acne:
- Greasy foods and chocolate have proved to have little or no effect on the development of acne.
- Dirty skin. Acne isn’t caused by dirt. In fact, scrubbing the skin too hard or cleansing with harsh soaps or chemicals, irritates the skin and can make acne worse. Simple cleansing of the skin to remove excess oil and dead skin cells is all that’s required.
Who is affected?
Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults. About 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 will be affected by acne. Acne is most common between the ages of 14 and 17 in girls, and between 16 and 19 in boys.
Most people have acne on and off for several years before their symptoms start to improve as they get older. Acne usually disappears when a person is in their twenties. In some cases, acne can continue into adult life. About 5% of women and 1% of men have acne over the age of 25.
Depending on the severity of the acne, there are various treatments to try, some can be bought over the counter, others require a trip to your GP or even a Dermatologist.
- Benzoyl peroxide: can be bought over the counter as a cream or gel in different strengths, it works in two ways; it helps prevent dead skin from clogging pores and it kills the bacteria on the skin that can cause blocked follicles to become infected. Can cause skin dryness and sensitivity.
- Topical retinoids: work by reducing the production of sebum while preventing dead skin cells from blocking pores. Tretinoin and adapalene are topical retinoids used to treat acne. Can cause mild skin irritation.
- Topical antibiotics: help kill the bacteria on the skin that can infect plugged hair follicles. They are available as a lotion or gel that is applied once or twice a day. A six- to eight-week course is usually recommended. After this, treatment is usually stopped as there is a risk that the bacteria on your face could become resistant to the antibiotics. This could make your acne worse and cause additional infections.
- Azelaic acid: is often used as an alternative treatment for acne, if the side effects of benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids are particularly irritating or painful. Azelaic acid works by getting rid of dead skin and killing bacteria. It is available as a cream or gel and is usually applied twice a day (or once a day if your skin is particularly sensitive).
- Antibiotic tablets: (oral antibiotics) are usually used in combination with a topical treatment to treat more severe acne. In most cases, a class of antibiotics called tetracyclines is prescribed, unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnant or breastfeeding women are usually advised to take an antibiotic called erythromycin, which is known to be safer to use. It will usually take about six weeks before you notice an improvement in your acne. Depending on how well you react to the treatment, a course of oral antibiotics can last four to six months.
- Hormonal therapies: can often benefit women with acne, especially if their acne is associated with hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome. If you don’t already use it, your GP may recommended that you start taking the combined oral contraceptive pill, even if you are not sexually active. This combined pill can often help improve acne in women.
- Non-pharmaceutical treatments: Several treatments for acne do not involve medication. These include:
-comedone extractor – a small pen-shaped instrument that can be used to clean out blackheads and whiteheads.
– chemical peels – where a chemical solution is applied to the face, causing the skin to peel off and new skin to replace it.
-photodynamic therapy – where light is applied to the skin in an attempt to improve the symptoms of acne.
There is some evidence (see below) to suggest that a Low GI diet can help with Acne. This means eating a diet with a low glycaemic index which can help to reduce the over production of androgens. When we eat high glycaemic foods (like white bread, pasta, sugar) there is a sudden spike of insulin produced, it is thought that this can increase the production of androgens and ultimately lead to Acne. There seems to be an increase in Acne for all age groups which would suggest that diet is having more of an effect than in the past.
The Channel 4 programme, “The Food Hospital”, tried a low GI diet with an 18 year old male patient, Adam, suffering from Acne. This was having a detrimental affect on his confidence in social situations and making him very stessed. They found that following a low GI diet resulted in a considerable reduction in his Acne and a massive improvement in the quality of his life. The recommended diet for Adam consisted of 25% protein, 45% carbohydrates and 30% fat. Features of the diet included choosing wholegrain versions of pasta and rice; eating more protein and lots of vegetables; and decreasing sugar and saturated fat.
See the before and after footage of Adam at the Food Hospital on Channel 4’s website.
See also “Detox Yourself”.
A study published in a 2001 edition of “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention,” looked at the influence of diet on the production of excess androgens — a risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer. Led by Italian researchers at the Instituto Nazionale Tumori, the study looked at the effects of a diet rich in low-glycemic foods versus a diet rich in high-glycemic foods. The Glycemic Index ranks foods on a scale of one to 100 based on how quickly they raise blood sugar and insulin levels. The women ate specially prepared meals and the group following the low glycemic diet experienced a 20 percent drop in androgens compared to 7 percent in the control group.
For a great anti-acne diet, look no further than “Detox Yourself”.
Do you have any Acne treatments that have worked for you?