What is acne? Acne is a common skin condition caused by oils that get trapped in the pores forming “whiteheads” or “blackheads,” which can subsequently become infected and inflamed resulting in pimples or cysts. Because they contain the highest concentration of oil glands, the face, neck, chest, shoulders, and back are usually the most affected areas of the body. Acne ranges in development from very mild to extremely severe. Although generally not dangerous, it can cause scarring and emotional trauma.
Common acne usually affects people in their teen years, with three out of four developing symptoms. Although both sexes develop acne, boys tend to have more severe, longer-lasting acne. While teens are the most affected group, acne is also common in people in their 20s and can even occur in children or people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
What causes acne?
Statistics suggest that heredity (family history) is a strong predisposing factor in the development of acne. The major physiological factors contributing to the formation of acne are: overactive oil glands, blocked skin pores, activity of normal skin bacteria and overgrowth of fungal organisms, diet, hormonal stimulation of the oil glands, and inflammation.
Overactive oil glandsOil glands (or sebaceous glands) produce sebum that flows to the surface of the skin through canals containing a hair follicle; sebum is produced to lubricate the hair follicles and the surrounding skin. Oil glands are stimulated to produce sebum by androgens (hormones produced by both men and women). Puberty, stress, and hormonal shifts can cause the body to produce more androgens and subsequently more oil.
Blocked skin pores
If oil cannot flow through the follicular canal and out of the pore due to blockage, it becomes trapped and builds up within the pore. Such blockage is caused by skin cells that have been shed, but bunch together at the pore for unknown reasons. People with acne tend to produce more dead skin cells, but do not shed them properly. A simple blocked pore will manifest as a whitehead or blackhead.
Activity of normal skin bacteria
The bacterium P. acnes is a healthy, normal part of the skin surface; it prevents harmful bacteria from entering the skin. Although it is not the cause of acne, it can play a role in making it worse. When oil becomes trapped, P. acnes grows in the blocked pore ultimately resulting in inflammation and pimple formation.
In the case of acne, the body’s immune system works to rid itself of bacteria or irritating substances in the pores. Inflammation is characterized by redness, swelling, warmth, and discomfort. Once infection and inflammation have taken hold the problem can become deeper than a pimple and pustules, nodules, and/or cysts can develop in the pores.
Things that can additionally stimulate the above processes include oily cosmetics, comedogenic skin care or hair care products, nutritional deficiencies, Candida overgrowth, certain drugs such as steroids and estrogen medications, and friction or pressure as caused by clothing, helmets, phones, etc. In some people, food sensitivities may also play a contributing role. Most over-the-counter and prescription medications for acne such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, antibiotics, and retinoids address one or more of the root causes discussed above in a non-curative fashion.
- Emotional stress
- Food Sensitivities
- Hormonal Fluctuation or Imbalance
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Poor Diet
- Poor digestion and detoxification
Dr. Stengler’s Solutions
- Balance hormone levels with herbal and/or bio-identical hormone therapies.
- Nutritional Status – Improve the diet by identifying food sensitivities with in-office testing and inflammatory foods that trigger acne.
- Supplement with nutrients and supplements shown to improve acne such as zinc, vitamin A, and guggul.
- Use natural topical anti-acne agents such as tea tree oil and vitamin C.
- Improve digestion and elimination.
- Treat systemic fungal overgrowth that contributes to acne.
STUDY: Impact of Low Glycemic Diet on Acne
A study in the American Journal of clinical Nutrition confirmed the benefits of a low glycemic diet for improving acne vulgaris. A low glycemic diet means the foods are less likely to increase glucose and insulin levels. The twelve week study involved forty-three male acne patients aged 15-25 years of age. The participants were put on a low-glycemic-load diet composed of 25% energy from protein and 45% from low-glycemic-index carbohydrates while the control group was on a typical American carbohydrate rich diet. Acne lesion counts and severity were assessed during monthly visits, and insulin sensitivity was measured at baseline and at 12 weeks. Researchers found the total lesion counts had decreased by 22 whereas the control group had a decrease of approximately 12. Also, the low glycemic load diet group had a greater improvement in insulin sensitivity. (Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):107-15.)