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Naturopathic Acne Treatment

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Acne is a common skin condition that affects nearly 10% of the population worldwide.1Tan JK, Bhate K. A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne. Br J Dermatol. 2015;172 Suppl 1:3-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.13462 Research shows the hardest-hit group is teenage boys, but acne can develop at any age. Persistent acne can be frustrating, and there is often an emotional toll. People with acne have reported issues with self-image, self-esteem, the ability to make friends, and finding jobs, as well as anxiety and depression.2Hassan J, Grogan S, Clark-Carter D, Richards H, Yates VM. The individual health burden of acne: appearance-related distress in male and female adolescents and adults with back, chest and facial acne. J Health Psychol. 2009;14(8):1105-1118. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105309342470 Naturopathic therapies for acne can be beneficial not only for the skin but also for overall health and wellness.

How Does Acne Form?

Our skin has tiny sebaceous glands that naturally secrete sebum (an oily substance) into the hair follicles. Sebum normally flows up the hair shaft and onto the skin, where it lubricates the skin and hair. However, when hair follicles become blocked with sebum and dead skin cells, acne may form. Inflammation in the area occurs alongside excessive keratin and normal bacteria that become trapped, which can further plug the hair follicle. When this inflammatory process is up and running, it can be difficult to stop. 

What Causes Acne?

Acne can have many contributing factors. Acne-prone skin runs in families, so heredity is one difficult-to-control aspect. Other causes include shifts in hormones, such as reaching adolescence (when androgen hormones kick in and trigger the growth of sebaceous glands). However, adults can also have persistent or severe acne. Starting or stopping oral contraceptives to taking certain medications can also cause acne. Other contributing factors include exposing the skin to heavy oils or pore-clogging cosmetics. For some, an unfavorable climate, high humidity, or temperature change can alter skin’s pH balance. Increased sweating and oil production may lead to breakouts.

Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
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Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
Find an ND

How Do Naturopathic Doctors Treat Acne?

A naturopathic doctor (ND) will look for the root cause of acne. Knowing when acne first became a problem, what makes it better or worse, and which conventional and natural treatments a patient has previously tried all inform the treatment plan.

Skincare products on round wooden stand

An ND will also work to understand your acne in the context of your overall health. This may include a review of the digestive, urinary, and respiratory systems. Your doctor will want to run lab work to help determine how each system is working. They may also run specialty lab work to assess digestion and nutritional status, as these can contribute to acne.

Expect questions about your overall lifestyle, work, and home, the main stressors in your life, and how you handle that stress. Do you exercise? What do you do to relax? Naturopathic doctors treat the whole person. This approach allows for a clearer understanding of the factors that led to acne and is essential for developing an effective personalized treatment plan.

Eating for Skin Health

Sliced fruits and vegetables on plates

Diet is often the first step in acne treatment. In several studies of populations around the world, there is simply no acne. In these populations, there is limited influence of a Western diet, meaning no refined foods, very low sugar content, no processed foods, no fast food, limited dairy, and lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish. Your ND has extensive training in therapeutic nutrition and will work with you to identify a diet that will help address current breakouts and prevent future flares.

For most patients, this includes a whole-food diet full of vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, fish,3Di Landro A, Cazzaniga S, Parazzini F, et al. Family history, body mass index, selected dietary factors, menstrual history, and risk of moderate to severe acne in adolescents and young adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67(6):1129-1135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2012.02.018 and other lean protein. They will likely suggest limitations on processed foods, refined sugars, trans fats, fried food, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and for many people, dairy,4Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 9;10(8):1049. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10081049. PMID: 30096883; PMCID: PMC6115795. as it can cause flare-ups.

Caring for the Microbiome

Recommendations beyond that are specifically based on your biochemical individuality and overall health. This may also include a discussion on how to enhance the diversity and robustness of your microbiome, which is known to be an important component in acne treatment.5Lee YB, Byun EJ, Kim HS. Potential role of the microbiome in acne: a comprehensive review. J Clin Med. 2019 Jul 7;8(7):987. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8070987. PMID: 31284694; PMCID: PMC6678709. When working properly, our gut health contributes to healthy skin.

A functioning microbiome supports effective digestion, immunity, hormonal balance, fertility, clear thinking, and even moods. Probiotics may contribute to improved skin health.

Anti-Acne Supplements

Supplements are another consideration. There are many botanical medicines that may have a positive impact on acne treatment.6Nasri H, Bahmani M, Shahinfard N, Moradi Nafchi A, Saberianpour S, Rafieian Kopaei M. Medicinal plants for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a review of recent evidences. Jundishapur J Microbiol. 2015 Nov 21;8(11):e25580. https://doi.org/10.5812/jjm.25580. PMID: 26862380; PMCID: PMC4740760. Your naturopathic doctor will help you decide on the most effective options for anti-inflammation, anti-infection, and anti-androgenic for hormone balance. Nutritional supplements, like zinc,7Sardana K, Garg VK. An observational study of methionine-bound zinc with antioxidants for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. Dermatol Ther. 2010;23(4):411-418. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1529-8019.2010.01342.x Vitamin C, and probiotics, may be recommended to address acne’s underlying causes.

Minimizing Stress

Ginan Al-Baiati
Ginan Al-Baiati worked with a naturopathic doctor to find relief from persistent acne.

Addressing stress is also a key part of the treatment for acne, which is why exercise, mindfulness meditation, talk therapy, creative expression, and/or community involvement can help. Essential oils may also be beneficial. For instance, lavender essential oil may soothe anxiety,8Malcolm BJ, Tallian K. Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? Ment Health Clin. 2018 Mar 26;7(4):147-155. https://doi.org/10.9740/mhc.2017.07.147. PMID: 29955514; PMCID: PMC6007527. which might help minimize acne as part of a bigger treatment plan.

Ongoing stress may disturb gut health. Being mindful of your microbiome and working to create a robust and diverse internal environment is an area well worth your time and effort.

A Clear Plan of Action

Above all, you can expect a naturopathic doctor to create a plan of action, along with your input and direction. Many patients have found clearer skin and a general improvement in overall health with naturopathic acne treatment.

Footnotes

  • 1
    Tan JK, Bhate K. A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne. Br J Dermatol. 2015;172 Suppl 1:3-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.13462
  • 2
    Hassan J, Grogan S, Clark-Carter D, Richards H, Yates VM. The individual health burden of acne: appearance-related distress in male and female adolescents and adults with back, chest and facial acne. J Health Psychol. 2009;14(8):1105-1118. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105309342470
  • 3
    Di Landro A, Cazzaniga S, Parazzini F, et al. Family history, body mass index, selected dietary factors, menstrual history, and risk of moderate to severe acne in adolescents and young adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67(6):1129-1135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2012.02.018
  • 4
    Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 9;10(8):1049. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10081049. PMID: 30096883; PMCID: PMC6115795.
  • 5
    Lee YB, Byun EJ, Kim HS. Potential role of the microbiome in acne: a comprehensive review. J Clin Med. 2019 Jul 7;8(7):987. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8070987. PMID: 31284694; PMCID: PMC6678709.
  • 6
    Nasri H, Bahmani M, Shahinfard N, Moradi Nafchi A, Saberianpour S, Rafieian Kopaei M. Medicinal plants for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a review of recent evidences. Jundishapur J Microbiol. 2015 Nov 21;8(11):e25580. https://doi.org/10.5812/jjm.25580. PMID: 26862380; PMCID: PMC4740760.
  • 7
    Sardana K, Garg VK. An observational study of methionine-bound zinc with antioxidants for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. Dermatol Ther. 2010;23(4):411-418. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1529-8019.2010.01342.x
  • 8
    Malcolm BJ, Tallian K. Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? Ment Health Clin. 2018 Mar 26;7(4):147-155. https://doi.org/10.9740/mhc.2017.07.147. PMID: 29955514; PMCID: PMC6007527.

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

Guest Author

Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP

Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

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