It’s happened to all of us: we might be anticipating a big social event, a vacation, or the first day of school, and, despite our best efforts, we have an uninvited guest square in the middle of our face. A huge zit. Or ten.
What does acne have to do with how well we are nourished? Plenty, as it turns out. The skin is our largest organ, and one of its jobs is to eliminate wastes and toxins through perspiration. And while it’s true that the kidneys and liver have most of the heavy lifting to do in the detox department, when they become overloaded, the skin has to pick up the slack. Acne and other skin eruptions are a signal that something in our body chemistry, lifestyle, or hygiene needs attention.
First, the external influences:
- When the skin’s pores become blocked, through daily exposure to dust, pollutants, cosmetics, and oils, the skin cannot function properly. The microbes that cause acne (which are always present on its surface) find themselves in the perfect environment for proliferation.
- Our skin sheds dead cells daily. If we are not cleansing away the dead skin cells as they slough off, this also adds to the layer of blockage between our live skin cells and the sun. Why does sunlight matter? Sunlight falling upon our skin has a natural antibacterial effect, which reduces the chances of microbial overgrowth that leads to breakouts.
The internal influences are many:
- Hormonal imbalance: Teens experience a surge in androgens (testosterone), which then increases the production of an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is made beneath the skin and has to work its way to the surface. But if sebum is produced more quickly than it can pass through congested or blocked pores, blemishes result. What if your teen years are behind you, but you are still seeing spots on your face? Fluctuations in hormone balance can happen to anyone at any age, especially in those eating animal products like meat and dairy, which are full of added synthetic hormones.
- Oral contraceptives, steroids, and some other prescription medications affect hormonal levels, making breakouts more likely.
- pH balance: (acid/alkaline balance) This is an important factor, and is largely determined by our dietary choices. Simply put, highly processed foods containing sugars, corn syrup and its derivatives, hydrogenated fats, and foods which have been stripped of fiber, vitamins and minerals through processing cause an acidic pH. Bacterial overgrowth (including those that cause blemishes) thrives in an acid environment, meaning that what we eat will be reflected in our skin. Sometimes within hours. Plant foods, which are rich in fiber, minerals that alkalize the body, and other nutrients help lower the toxic load on all body systems and do not add to the body’s synthetic hormone level.
- Stress: We all have it. Usually too much of it. And it causes a cascade of biochemical events in the body, including profound changes in hormone levels, increased inflammation, and a drop in pH into the more acidic range. Since all three of these factors cause skin changes, we should not be surprised that stress contributes directly to a drop in the skin’s quality as well as increasing the number of breakouts.
- Nutritional deficiency: (NOTE: the following is not a substitute for seeking counsel from your health care provider, and does not comprise a recommendation or medical advice.) Many of my clients find that nutritional deficiencies in Vitamin D, inadequate Vitamin C, Acidophilus or other probiotics, Vitamin A, Niacinamide, and Pantothenic Acid, as well as poor Essential Fatty Acid nutriture all contribute toward a tendency to break out.
What can you do if you see breakouts?
- Keep your skin clean. Washing twice daily with a natural, non-chemical facial product such as a coconut-based or olive oil-based soap is a good idea.
- Deal with stress: exercise is still the best stress-buster around, and taking a brisk walk costs nothing. Make a habit of getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and boost your chances of getting to sleep quickly by minimizing tv and computer time for a few hours before going to bed.
- Change your oil: the Standard American Diet is overloaded with hydrogenated fats as well as animal fats. Focus on more plant based foods, and be sure to include unheated natural fats such as nuts and avocado to satisfy your body’s need for fatty acids.
- Check your pH: most drug stores will have pH test strips. If you find that you are more acidic than you would like, increasing plant foods while minimizing processed foods, especially processed sweets, will get your pH balance back into the alkaline range. Aim for 7.3 to 7.5 as a goal.
- If you are using oral contraceptives, steroids, or other medications which you suspect are affecting your skin, consider talking to your health care provider about other options.
- Seeing a qualified nutritionist can be a great way to address possible nutritional imbalances contributing to acne.