Pimples en masse are called acne or officially acne vulgaris. Vulgar(is) meaning common rather than vulgar meaning uncouth. Common or uncouth, acne is better absent than present. Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands, which provide the skin’s naturally protective skin oil known as sebum, become blocked. Sebum hardens and oxidises forming a blackhead. The familiar pustule associated with acne occurs when debris collects in the sebaceous gland and a small infection occurs creating a pus filled pimple.
Fifty per cent of teenage girls and 75 per cent of teenage boys suffer from acne, however, many people suffer this ignominious condition well into their twenties and thirties. Any condition, like acne, that appears on the face can have an impact on your sense of self-esteem and, for the very sensitive, may create secondary psychological problems including social phobia, anxiety and depression.
- Most commonly found on the face, acne can occur on the shoulders, neck, throat, back and buttocks.
- Papules (small red bumps)
- Pustules (pus-filled bumps)
- Redness around the bumps
What causes it?
- Hormones – acne often occurs at the time of puberty when hormones surge through young bodies. Hormonal pimples are often blind or cystlike, lying under the surface, causing the skin to look red and painful. In women, hormonal acne is often located along the jawline and may extend to shoulders, neck and back. An outbreak prior to the menstrual period is another giveaway of hormonal hijinks. For young men, hormonal acne can be especially bad, covering the entire face, as well as chest, shoulders and back.
- Sugar – bacteria are involved in the pimple process, and bacteria (like the rest of us) just love sugar. Avoid sugar in your diet and your pimples will very likely disappear. Interestingly, acne has been called skin diabetes and may herald a problem with metabolising sugar, and possible future diabetes. Avoiding sugar is a great start to avoiding a diagnosis of diabetes down the track.
- Dairy sensitivity – although chocolate may sometimes cause an outbreak of pimples, by far the most common food culprit, apart from sugar, is dairy.
- Stress – an outbreak that occurs at or after exams or times of high emotions are most likely stress related.
- Constipation or a slow bowel transit time allows toxins from the bowel to circulate in the bloodstream and and trigger an outbreak on the surface of the skin.
Location, Location, Location
Just where your pimples are located may point to their cause. For instance, pimples on the cheeks are often the sign of a food intolerance such as dairy, whereas cyst-like pimples along line the jaw are most likely to be hormonally triggered. Hormonal outbreaks also appear on the chest, back and shoulders. Small pimples, with red surrounds grouped closely together signify a localised infection just under the skin. Removing sugar from your diet will help in addition to taking blood purifying herbs that are mentioned below. Pimples on the forehead may be due to stress, or if there is a fringe, excess sweating. Pimples on the chin reflect poor digestion or constipation.
What to do
Identifying the cause of the problem will lead to the appropriate treatment. Regardless of the cause, the general rules of skin care still apply, that is, regular cleansing and moisturising, drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet.
- If dairy products are the cause, it is most likely due to a sensitivity to casein, the protein component of milk rather than lactose (milk sugar) which usually results in tummy problems. The best way to tell if your acne is due to a dairy sensitivity is to avoid all dairy foods for one month, including milk (skim or full cream), cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter, chocolate and any processed food with added milk protein. One month is enough time to witness significant improvement. If this does not occur – happy days –– reintroduce dairy into your diet. If dairy has proved to be the problem, either continue to avoid dairy foods completely, or if you are a dairy food fan, reintroduce dairy products gradually, as is it may be a question of quantity. First dairy product to reintroduce is a good unsweetened probiotic yoghurt, half a cup daily, if this seems to be OK, then keep adding dairy foods until the first pimple appears – a sign you’ve reached your daily limit. The nutritional impact of eliminating or reducing dairy foods is not dire, after all, the majority of people on the planet have not traditionally eaten dairy products. However, if dairy is off the menu, you do need to ensure you are consuming sufficient protein and calcium from dairy free sources.
- Avoid cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and all processed foods with added sugar.
- Water. Skin needs to be hydrated, and water helps to flush toxins away, drink at least 1.2 litres and preferably 2 litres of water daily in addition to other fluids such as the herbal teas mentioned below.
- Fibre. If your acne coincides with a sluggish bowel, make sure you eat plenty of fibre. Fibre hastens transit time, taking toxins more quickly out of the body, with less time to be reabsorbed. High-fibre foods include nuts, seeds (particularly chia seeds), wholegrains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. If after adjusting your diet to include plenty of fibre and drinking at least 2 litres of water and you still suffer from constipation.
- Unless you eat prodigious amounts of chicken nuggets or other fried food, acne is unlikely to be caused by fat. In fact, the good fats found in nuts, seeds, avocadoes and olive oil are important for healthy skin and are encouraged.
- Hormonal imbalances take time to resolve. Be patient. You should notice some improvement in 4 to 6 weeks. The herb chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) is a lovely hormonal normaliser, perfect for boys, girls, men and women. Chaste tree alone is excellent, however, in a particularly nasty case, two other herbs to help include nettles and saw palmetto. Two micronutrients that assist in hormone balance include zinc and vitamin B6. Evening primrose oil contains substances that are anti-inflammatory for the skin and act to regulate hormones. Take at least 4 g daily.
- Blood purifying herbs. In the tradition of natural medicine, skin is seen as one of the major organs of detoxification alongside the liver, bowels, lungs and kidneys. Any affliction of the skin, including acne, is a signal that the body needs help with detoxifying. A group of herbs with special affinity for the skin are known as blood purifiers, alteratives and depuratives and have been used for centuries. These herbs include clivers, yellow dock, calendula, burdock, sarsaparilla, dandelion and echinacea. Usually taken in a combination of two and more, these herbs can be taken in extract, tincture, tablet or tea form, however, for skin conditions, a water-based tea is preferred. Drink at least 3 cups daily. When cooled this tisane makes a fine toner or sray to apply after cleansing, and before applying moisturiser.
- Vitamin A and zinc. This vitamin and mineral combination is excellent for the skin. Vitamin A has an important role in the maintenance of healthy epithelial cells, the cells that line the body inside and out. Zinc is used by hundreds of enzymes, including those that regulate hormones and sugar metabolism. Zinc is also important for healing. The two micronutrients are often found together in skin-focused supplements.
- If sugar is the culprit, and you have eliminated sugar from your diet (as you must) and you still experience sweet cravings, then take a tablet that contains a combination of zinc, gymnema and chromium with each meal.
- Cleanse and moisturise. A common misconception among acne sufferers is that skin should be squeaky clean, the squeakier the better. In fact, the skin actually likes to have a slightly oily protective covering and produces sebum for this purpose. If the outer layers of the skin become dry, more sebum is produced to compensate for this, adding to the pimply problem. Wash the skin with a mild cleanser. If you wish, this cleansing can be followed with a toning wash of a cold tea of the blood purifying herbs mentioned above. Then use a light, low-allergen moisturiser perhaps containing aloe vera, calendula or tea tree. The best anti-pimple program will not work unless you follow a regular routine of cleansing and moisturising the skin.
- Tea tree oil or gel applied directly on to the pimple helps to reduce reddening and further infection. Tea tree oil helps skin regenerate and has antibacterial properties, making it an excellent ingredient in any cleanser, gel or moisturiser in your acne treatment program.
- A little sunshine and sea water can work miracles.
- Don’t pick! Beauty therapists suggest you leave squeezing to them rather than attempt this potentially disfiguring procedure yourself. Try a course of facials as a start on clearing the skin and while you’re there ask about basic skin care. This is particularly pertinent to boys and men who may lack skin care knowledge. Generally, maintaining good personal hygiene is also a great way to prevent break-outs. Picking, scratching and touching spreads infection and will contribute to scarring. Desist.
- From an emotional perspective, acne may represent inner conflicts and disharmony. If you feel this applies to you, speak to a friend or try counselling to help understand and resolve these internal difficulties.
- The Bach flower, Crab Apple is particularly good if you feel embarrassed or ashamed of your skin.
The following blend will have a calming, soothing, cleansing and purifying effect on the skin. It can be used in a blend of 20 ml Calendula and 10 ml Rosehip base oils – pressed onto a cleansed face of an evening. Can also be mixed into 30 g of an unscented cream base and used each morning on a cleansed face.
- 4 drops of lemon-scented tea tree – analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and bactericidal.
- 5 drops of lavender – has regenerative and soothing effects on irritated or damaged skin, along with being antibacterial.
- 2 drops of cypress – astringent and an antiseptic.
- 4 drops of sandalwood – antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial.
For a deep cleansing face mask – reduce the number of drops of essential oils by half and add to a paste of green clay. For spot treatment use 2 drops lavender and 1 drop lemon-scented tea tree and use cotton bud to apply directly to the spot/s in question. Lymphatic drainage facial massage will greatly assist in cleansing/ purifying and decongesting the skin.
At a glance
- Dairy foods may be the cause of your pimples so avoid things like milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter, chocolate and processed foods that contain milk protein. Try this for a month to see if there is any improvement.
- Sugar can be a culprit and cutting out cakes, biscuits, soft drinks will help to clear up your skin.
- Water, lots of it to flush away toxins. Aim to drink 2 litres a day.
- Include lots of high-fibre foods such as nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes and fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Minimise the bad fat in your diet such as deep-fried and fatty foods but make sure you have the good fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. The good fats are beneficial for your skin.
- The herb chaste tree works well for hormonal acne. In more severe cases of acne adding nettles and saw palmetto can help.
- Take zinc, vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil supplements to strengthen your skin. Combining Vitamin A with zinc is an excellent vitamin and mineral combination for the skin.
- Acne can be a sign that your body is not detoxifying. Traditional blood purifying herms such as clivers, calendula, yellow dock burdock, sarsaparilla, dandelion and echinacea come to the rescue – choose three or more to be taken in tablet, extract or tea.
- Adopt a daily practice of cleansing and moisturising. Choose gentle low allergy skin products.
- Dab a drop of tea tree gel or neat oil onto any spots as they appear.
- Live near the beach? Splash some sea water onto your face and body, and soak up (a few) rays.
- Don’t pick! Treat yourself to a monthly facial.