Acne plagues teenagers and adults alike, and millions of dollars are spent on prescription and over-the-counter remedies that, unfortunately, often don’t live up to their expectations. Although pimples form from bacteria trapped in clogged pores, improving personal hygiene is seldom sufficient to cure acne. Most commercial acne treatments work at the surface to kill bacteria and open pores, but without addressing underlying causes of inflammation, even those who diligently clean their skin will still suffer painful outbreaks. Fluctuating hormones during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause also wreak havoc on the skin, and often the only advice doctors can offer is to take medications with dangerous side effects, or simply to ride it out. Thankfully, there are some natural ways to address clogged pores, bacteria, inflammation, and hormonal acne, and most of them don’t require a prescription.
1. Change your diet
Diet contributes to skin issues in several ways. Sugar and dairy products are highly inflammatory and raise insulin levels, both well recognized acne culprits. Cow’s milk contains both natural and artificial hormones which interfere with our own naturally occurring hormones. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in the human body. Peanuts contain androgens, and caffeine increases cortisol levels, both aggravating acne. Food sensitivities and allergies are also major contributors to skin outbreaks. If allergy testing does not indicate a particular food culprit, a trial elimination of the top eight allergens (eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) may reveal a problem. However, some of those same foods also possess anti-inflammatory properties and contain nutrients essential for healthy skin. Barring a sensitivity, including fatty fish and nuts in your diet can improve your complexion.
2. Spice things up
While removing offending foods can prevent acne, adding certain herbs and spices to your diet can calm existing inflammation. Turmeric is the clear leader in fighting inflammation, but many other spices such as cloves, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, rosemary, ginger, sage, garlic, and cayenne pepper, also pack considerable anti-inflammatory punch.
Modern diets are often deficient in several nutrients critical to healthy skin, which is why supplementing with things like zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, chromium, and vitamin E can help with both acne prevention and healing of existing blemishes. What’s more, bromelain is an inflammation-fighting supplement found in pineapple, and is useful for reducing swelling and redness.
4. Reduce stress
Skin is an external mirror of what is happening inside the body. Emotional and physical stress can aggravate acne, causing an inflammatory response throughout the body. Higher stress levels also stimulate the adrenal glands, which produce androgens. Androgens are male hormones which contribute to acne, particularly in women. While it is impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives, taking actions that help our body cope with existing stress, such as meditating, exercising, and getting proper rest, can lessen its consequences.
5. Change your pillowcase
Acne-causing bacteria live and multiply on our skin, and, along with skin debris, are rubbed off nightly onto sheets and pillowcases. The debris creates an abrasive surface, irritating pores and allowing bacteria to penetrate. Using a fresh pillowcase every night prevents existing bacteria from breeding and spreading on your face.
6. Grow some comfrey
Comfrey is an easy-to-grow plant well known for its healing properties. The leaves contain a chemical known as allantoin, which stimulates cell growth and repair while suppressing inflammation. It heals cuts and burns rapidly; however, it is so powerful that physicians advise against using it on deep wounds, as the outer skin may heal too quickly, trapping bacteria inside and leading to infection. Comfrey is found in many natural skin care creams, but applying a poultice of finely chopped leaves to inflamed skin after washing is all that is necessary to see immediate, visible results.
7. Wash with apple cider vinegar
Organic, unfiltered ACV contains beneficial enzymes, bacteria, pectin, and trace minerals, all of which can aid in a glowing, clear complexion. When used as an astringent, the acetic acid helps unclog pores, and its natural antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties work against new breakouts.
8. Take time for tea
Green tea extract is rich in antioxidants, which can help keep your skin clear by inhibiting oil production and reducing inflammation. Dip a washcloth in cold tea and apply as a compress to acne-prone areas.
9. Ice it
To quickly reduce the size and brightness of a pimple, press an ice cube against it for a few seconds, moving it around, taking care to not freeze the skin. After your nightly cleansing ritual, take a minute to rub a cube across your entire face. The cold will cause pores to quickly close, preventing bacteria from invading overnight.
10. Be gentle
When oil and bacteria are seen as the enemy, it is tempting to want to scour your skin clean, but this will backfire. Using harsh cleansers or aggressively scrubbing not only irritates skin, but strips away the protective oils that are designed to keep bacteria out. The skin responds to this by increasing oil production, creating a vicious cycle. Warm water, cleansers that kill bacteria, gentle exfoliation, and ointments that help skin to heal are a much more effective regimen.