Although most people associate acne with the teenage years, it can erupt at any age. Indeed, up to 8% of people who had clear skin in their youth develop acne as adults. Fortunately, there is a variety of ways to control outbreaks – no matter how old you are when they occur.

What is it?

Pimples and other skin eruptions are the hallmark of acne, a sometimes chronic condition of the face, back, chest, neck, shoulders and other areas of the body. The most common form (acne vulgaris) encompasses blackheads, whiteheads and raised red blemishes with semisolid centres. In severe cases (cystic acne), clusters of painful, fluid-filled cysts or firm, painless lumps appear beneath the skin’s surface; both can lead to unsightly permanent pitting and scarring. For teenagers especially, acne can be an embarrassing and emotionally difficult condition.

What causes it?

Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands at the base of the hairfollicles of the skin secrete too much sebum. This thick, oilysubstance is normally released from the pores to keep the skinlubricated and healthy. If the sebum backs up, it can form hard plugsthat block the pores and cause pimples. If one of these oil plugsruptures beneath the skin’s surface, a localised bacterial infectioncan develop.

Hormonal imbalances can lead to an overproduction ofsebum – a common problem during adolescence, especially in boys. Inwomen, menstrual periods or pregnancy can also create acne-producinghormonal disturbances. Other acne triggers include emotional stress,the friction or rubbing of clothing against the skin, and certainmedications, particularly steroids, contraceptives or drugs that affecthormone levels. Heredity may play a role as well.

Diet does havea role in acne, particularly foods that generate heat or acidity withinthe body. Also, specific food allergies or intolerances can causeirritation of the skin. Wheat, for example, is well documented in itsability to make acne worse. The reason for this is that wheat (andother grains) promote acidity within the body. Soft drinks, especiallydiet soft drink, are also very acidic will only make the situationworse. Do not drink soft drink (soda) as it is one of the worse foods you can eat.

We often see in the media debate about the impact that diet has on acne.Different groups with varying self interests are all very vocal inmaking sure they stay on the menu. However logic suggests that thecleaner your diet is, the cleaner you skin will be. Chocolate, fattysnacks, soft drink, chips and other highly processed foods will notleave you with a clear complexion.

What are the symptoms?

  • Hard red bumps or pus-filled lesions on the skin.
  • Red, inflamed skin with fluid-filled lumps or cysts.

Are there any natural therapies?

Vitamin A isimportant because it plays a role in controlling the over-production ofsebum, which is the root cause of acne. Because it helps to balancelevels of acne-related hormones, vitamin B6 may be useful for acne aggravated by menstrual cycles or menopause. And vitamin C boosts the immune system, helping to keep acne-causing bacteria in check. Taken with any or all of these vitamins, zinc enhances the immune function, reduces inflammation and promotes healthy hormone levels. Long-term use of zinc inhibits copper absorptionand may cause anaemia, so copper should generally be taken with zinc. It mayalso help to take zinc along with essential fatty acids: two excellentsources are flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil. Essential fatty acids help to dilute the oily sebum, reducing the likelihood of clogged pores.

What else can I do?

Did you know?

Pressing a telephone receiver too hard against your skin can cause acne to breakout above your ear or along the side of your chin.