All the causes of acne are still not entirely known, but there is very good evidence for fingering some culprits.
What we do know is that nearly 10% of people globally struggle with acne. It seems to arrive at the worst possible time in our lives, while we are finding out about who we are. As teens it is socially mortifying because appearance is so important, and as adults, we feel acute embarrassment because we’re not supposed to still get zits.
Lindi Scheffers, National Training Manager at Skin Renewal, explains: "Think of the skin as the body’s dashboard. When a light flashes on the car’s dashboard, it’s a warning that something needs attention. Similarly, when the skin reacts with acne or pimples, it is telling us that something in the body is not well."
Cause 1: Our hormones
Changes in our hormone balance during our teens, pregnancy, perimenopause, when on some forms of contraceptives, going off oral contraceptives, or under conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), our production of sebum (oil) goes into overdrive … and can bring on acne.
The bad news is that adult acne seems to be on the rise, and it affects women far more than men – thanks to hormones. A recent feature revealed that in the USA, 35% of women now have adult acne.
You can usually spot hormonal acne – it is usually deep, cystic and sensitive to the touch, usually appears on the jaw, neck and chin area and tends to be a stubborn, ongoing issue. It should not be confused with the random acne breakouts that pop up around the mouth and jawline once a month just before your period. These deep lesions can lead to bad scarring and post-inflammatory pigmentation.
Take action by seeing a skin-care therapist and doctor for treatment!
Cause 2: Stress
This is related to hormones, but it deserves its own highlight. It’s a no-brainer that hormones, stress and acne are intertwined.
There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that stress causes acne, and several studies have shown that stress ups production of oil, but it’s not yet known exactly how it works.
It’s commonly thought that the release of adrenaline during stress stimulates the production of androgens – "male" hormones in both men and women – which causes an increased production of sebum (oil) which, in turn, causes acne.
This could cause increased oil production, stimulate micro-comedones (blackheads), and so on.
We’re working harder, sleeping less, and living highly pressurised lives.
Cause 3: Our diet
The old myth of chocolate causing pimples was not accurate, but not entirely off the mark. It depends on what you eat. High-glycaemic foods raise your glucose levels, which spike production of a growth factor that triggers breakouts.
You know the drill: Ditch the junk food for a diet of fresh, homemade food, rich in antioxidant-loaded vegetables and low GI fruit, good quality protein etc. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea are the new best thing because they are packed with probiotics, which are, you guessed it, also good for your skin’s health.
Excess iodine can also trigger acne, so perhaps you should ease off on the sushi.
Cause 4: Medication
Certain medications, such as anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, some immunosuppressants and TB drugs, are linked to acne. Do some research and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about this.
Cause 5: Gut health
This is really a combination of causes three and four. In the case of patients who rely on medication and often find themselves on antibiotics, pain medication, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamines, it is quite common for the gut to take a pounding. The combination of poor diet and chronic use of medication affects stomach acid levels and also disrupts the balance of "good vs. bad" bacteria in the stomach and the gut.
When these two factors are out of whack, we gravely affect the immune system. 70 to 80% of our body’s immunity originates in the gut! When the gut is out of balance, we call this “dysbiosis”.
The best treatment is to tackle the problem from within. Use active medicinal skin care to normalise oil production, reduce blocked pores and prevent the formation of acne.
Skin-care therapists also have a role to play. Besides decongesting and soothing facials, microdermabrasion and skin peels also help.
When looking at adult acne, it needs to be treated holistically because of stress. Try aromatherapy and reiki massage and stress-relieving, meditative activities such as yoga or Tai Chi.
Dermatologists, cosmetics scientists and drug companies are constantly working on new treatments to deal with this life-affecting problem, and there is good news on the horizon, maybe even an anti-acne vaccine.
To find out more about acne and how to best deal with it, visit Skin Renewal.