I first met Kelly, a college student, at my clinic when she was at a breaking point in her physical and mental health. Only months earlier, she'd been a socialite, successful in school, and active in her community. Then, she developed a medical condition and withdrew completely — she quit her beloved soccer, her grades suffered, and she became combative with friends and her parents. Kelly's life had been turned upside down. You might be wondering what her diagnosis was, and it's probably not what you think.
Kelly was suffering from acne.
Acne: More than skin deep
This week is Acne Awareness week and it's a good reminder that acne is not only a common condition that affects millions of Canadians, it can trigger more serious complications. At the milder end of the spectrum, acne can be a monthly annoyance that causes minor stress and encourages us to shell out big bucks for quick fixes. In the case of more severe acne, however, this medical condition has been associated with social anxiety, lowered self-esteem and withdrawal from sports. Scarier still, research has shown that problem acne increases one's likelihood of suffering depressive symptoms and even attempting suicide.
When it comes to acne, be honest with yourself about how your skin is affecting your quality of life, your mood, your social interactions — and importantly, how it might be impacting any teenagers who live amongst you (they're at highest risk for acne, and any social anxieties can have a profound effect on them). And finally, be aware of the many effective treatments that exist.
Take stock. Then take notes.
Whether you gravitate toward a more natural approach, or prefer prescriptions from your physician, here are some natural and pharmaceutical remedies for almost every skin type.
1. Adopt an effective skin cleansing routine. Use a soap-free cleanser such as Spectrogel or Cetaphil morning and night, and following times of heavy perspiration. Wash makeup brushes at least weekly with antibacterial soap. Incorporate an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and even out skin tone. Finally, use a daily moisturizer that is non-comedogenic (means it won't clog pores). Tip: look for one with an SPF for sun protection which will help fight signs of aging. If you're dealt the common, yet cruel, hand of adult acne, you're probably already sun-aware. If you're in your early years, this will help you from worrying about sun spots and wrinkles down the road.
2. Treat acne from the inside-out. Eating a clean diet not only keeps you healthy on the inside, it radiates outward. Don't worry — there's not much evidence to support a ban on chocolate or occasional french fries. But, interestingly, studies have shown links between acne and high glycemic-index foods, such as white breads, cereals, cakes and crackers. (Skipping these foods can also lower your risk of diabetes and improve cholesterol). Finally, diets high in dairy (particularly skim milk) have been linked to worsened acne. It's important that you eat a balanced diet, but consider a food diary and if you notice a particular trigger for your acne, you may want to get those nutrients elsewhere.
3. Start with over-the-counter remedies. Mild acne? Try over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide (BP), available in 2.5-five per cent strength. Or find a wash such as Benzagel that includes your daily dose of BP. This medication exfoliates skin and kills acne bacteria. Prefer a more natural approach? Tea tree oil gel has been shown in studies to decrease acne compared to placebo; when sized up against benzoyl peroxide in treating mild to moderate acne, it worked just as well, with better tolerance for some.
4. Up your game (and look younger, too). In addition to benzoyl peroxide, doctors often prescribe topical retinoids. Retinoids regenerate skin, unclog pores and reduce inflammation. They can be combined with benzoyl peroxide for maximum acne-fighting effect in a two-in-one product such as Tactupump, available with a doctor's prescription. Want to get started on your own? Find an over-the-counter cream or serum with the active ingredient Retinol, and use with your favourite BP product. Bonus? These can also treat signs of skin aging such as wrinkles and sun spots.
5. Work with your doctor. You've mastered the daily skin cleansing routine, and combined benzoyl peroxide with a topical retinol, but your skin's still not to your liking. See your doctor. There are loads of other treatment options available. A birth control pill such can help acne that's hormone-related; topical or oral antibiotics can kill more bothersome acne bacteria. Need the big guns? Accutane, an oral retinoic acid which is used in severe or scarring acne, can help almost all patients find skin bliss.
If you suffer from acne, you're in good company with millions of other Canadians who have this medical condition; so remember you're not alone. And lots of help is out there. So, whether you work with your naturopath, your pharmacist or your doctor, don't suffer acne in silence.
General information is not medical advice. The general information provided is for informational purposes only and is not professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or care, nor is it intended to be a substitute therefore. Always consult with your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet, or fitness program.