Ask the Doctor is a monthly Q&A series written by the naturopathic doctors of the NaturoMedica naturopathic medical clinic at Grand Ridge Plaza.
Dear Dr. Wada,
My daughter is 12 and has started to get acne breakouts, which do not seem to be getting any better with topical creams. I am worried, as I suffered from severe acne as a teenager. Are there any natural remedies you recommend?
Kate in Issaquah
As anyone who has been through it knows, acne as an adolescent can leave lasting physical and mental scars. Acne occurs at a higher rate and intensity in western countries and the problem appears to be getting worse. Caused by an overgrowth of bacteria on the skin, combined with increases in sebum production, acne now affects approximately 80 percent of teenagers.
Many of the young people I see at NaturoMedica are already using topical or oral medications to control their acne symptoms. Topical and systemic antibiotics kill the bacteria (as well other good and bad bacteria) that are responsible for acne lesions, but do not address the cause as to why the lesions are occurring in the first place. Treating the cause of disease rather than just the symptoms can help not only eliminate acne but prevent it from coming back in the future. Below are just a few of the lifestyle changes anyone can implement to see a reduction in acne breakouts.
1. Eliminate foods that cause a spike in insulin to help control oil production. These include:
- Flour products (bread, cereal, pasta, baked goods)
- White rice and corn
We now live in a country where the “norm” is for young people, especially teenagers, to eat a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. Food items such as candy, soda, chips, baked goods and fast food—staples in many teenagers’ diets (at least they were in mine!)—increase the body’s insulin and insulin growth factor, which in turn influence the secretion of sex hormones leading to oil/sebum production and cell growth.
In order to keep insulin levels stable, it is important to eat the right foods. A diet high in lean animal protein and organic fruits and vegetables helps keep insulin levels more stable and allows the liver to more effectively detoxify the surge of hormones that accompany puberty. I advise patients to replace grain-based carbohydrates with vegetable carbohydrates until acne symptoms are controlled.
2. Drink more water. Take your body weight and divide it in half. Aim to drink that many ounces of purified water each day.
While water intake alone will not affect sebum production, increasing water intake will help encourage detoxification of cellular waste. When our bodies are not sufficiently hydrated the skin is used more as an organ of detoxification, which changes the pH of the skin and allows acne-causing bacteria to thrive.
3. Control Stress and get more sleep:
- Sleep eight hours per night
- Control stress with yoga, meditation and herbs
Studies show that acne symptoms flare when individuals are under the most stress. Teenagers face an increasing number of stressors today compared to just 10 years ago, and many teens are also chronically sleep deprived. These factors combine to increase stress hormones and decrease the immune response. Increases in stress hormones can impact sex hormones like testosterone and lead to a worsening of acne symptoms.
I advise controlling stress with yoga, meditation and herbal remedies such as Ashwaganda. Sleep is also important; try to get a minimum of eight hours per night, consistently going to bed at the same time each night.
Start with these simple lifestyle changes and I am confident your daughter will see a reduction in acne breakouts. I would also recommend taking your daughter to a medical esthetician to assist skin healing and repair, and to speed up the healing process and prevent scarring.
Dr. Lisa Wada is a naturopathic physician at NaturoMedica, a full-service naturopathic medical clinic at Grand Ridge Plaza that is home to seven licensed naturopathic physicians. The clinic offers naturopathic healthcare, acupuncture and IV (intravenous) therapy. Visit www.naturomedica.com or call 425-557-8900 to learn more.
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