Take action against adult acne

Spots don’t discriminate — we all get them. But if your teenage years are behind you and you still suffer from more than the odd breakout, there may be an underlying cause.

If you suffer from adult acne, ask your doctor to conduct some hormonal tests. One of the most common hormonal imbalances that can induce acne is an increased sensitivity to, or raised level of, testosterone and/or androgens. Polycystic ovarian syndrome may also be involved in androgen imbalances as well as insulin and blood-sugar imbalances.

If your acne worsens mid-cycle or around your period, an oestrogen/progesterone imbalance may be to blame. Nearly half of all women experience acne at these times, with women over 30 experiencing it more frequently than women under 20. Ask your healthcare practitioner to test these levels to determine their ratio. The typical picture will be one of oestrogen dominance.

“Herbal medicine such as chaste tree and peonia, and nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6, can help to raise progesterone levels to be more balanced with the oestrogen,” says naturopath Alison Cassar. “You can reduce oestrogen levels by improving liver detoxification with foods and nutrients as well as limiting your exposure to non-organic dairy and meats.”


Manage stress. Managing stress and taking herbal medicine and nutrients that help to lower and control cortisol (the stress hormone) can help to keep acne under control. Vitamin B5 has also been shown to reduce acne and oily skin by regulating cortisol levels, while omega-3s can help regulate stress hormones.

Change your diet. Poor diet choices and food sensitivities may be the cause of adult acne rather than hormonal imbalances. The clue is in the type of spot you have: fine red pimples or whiteheads on the face, neck and chest are usually caused by food reactions; large pimples and cysts are generally hormonal.

The first step to treating adult acne is to identify any food sensitivities via an elimination diet. Wheat, dairy, sugar and fatty deep-fried or creamy foods are the usual suspects although, if your first acne flare-up appeared in your late 20s, salicylates and amines could be possible causes. Eating low-GI, anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy veg and taking sugar-metabolising nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, calcium and zinc can all help, as will avoiding dairy. Studies show dairy raises insulin levels, clogs the lymphatics and congests the liver.

Consider a detox. Your skin is often the first place to show when the liver is congested, as wastes and toxins are pushed out via the skin. A detox can spring-clean your liver and elimination organs and greatly improve your skin. While you
may get breakouts during a cleanse, this usually subsides once toxins have been flushed out. Avoid alcohol, coffee and fried foods during a detox.

Improve lymphatic flow. Lymphatic fluid rests just below the skin so, when the lymphatic system is sluggish or unable to rid itself of toxins, the skin suffers. To improve lymphatic flow, drink at least two litres of filtered room-temperature water daily. Dry-brushing the skin daily for 1–2 minutes before a shower will also help, as will walking, jogging, swimming and cycling.


1. Spot masks. Green, white or pink cosmetic clay draws impurities from the skin. Or, crush a garlic clove in some water, apply the liquid to individual spots and leave on for five minutes.

2. Use zinc oxide. A brilliant anti-inflammatory, zinc oxide quickly calms angry spots. Ask your chemist for a cream and use on spots nightly.

3. Don’t over-wash your skin. Alkaline soaps, foaming cleansers and hot water can dry out your skin, triggering your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Use a gentle, non-foaming pH-balanced cleanser morning and night.

4. Try an oil cleanse. Oil-based cleansers and undiluted oils dissolve sebum and naturally clean skin. They also teach skin to reduce its own oil production and help reduce skin oiliness over time. The key is not to leave oil on your face.

5. Exfoliate! Dead skin cells can block oil-gland openings, so gently exfoliate your skin 2–3 times a week. Ground oatmeal is cheap, gentle, effective and can help control blackheads.

6. Steam your face. Steaming opens pores, removes blockages and promotes detoxification. Half-fill a bowl with boiled filtered water, then add 2–3 drops of essential oil mixed into a teaspoon of carrier oil. Place your face over the bowl and cover your head with a towel so the steam doesn’t escape. Keeping your face at least 20cm away from the water, steam for 5 minutes. Follow with gentle exfoliation and a cleansing clay mask. Repeat 2–3 times a week.

7. Whole-body steaming. Infrared or wet saunas are a great way to eliminate wastes and toxins. For the best results, stay in the sauna for at least 15 minutes, then rinse under a shower and go back in for another 15 minutes. Avoid if you’re pregnant, unwell or on heart medication.

8. Use a low-oil moisturiser. If your skin is dry on the surface yet oily underneath, over-washing may be to blame. Wash skin morning and night to allow the oil to flow to the skin’s surface.

9. Use anti-bacterial cleansers regularly. These can topically help to heal your acne.

10. Avoid touching your face. The bacteria on your hands can increase the chance of infection. Keep your hands in your pockets!

Note: Before taking any supplements, please contact your natural health practitioner.
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