Acne is one of the most stressful skin conditions anyone can have at any age. PCOS can cause acne to persist well beyond our teenage years, which can lead to low self confidence, depression, anxiety and social inhibition. Many will feel embarrassed, judged and even worthless. Most advice seems to focus on endless topical treatments and when we can’t get rid of acne despite trying every treatment, skin care regime and salon under the sun, we blame ourselves or our ‘hormones’. We are told we aren’t washing enough, washing too much or just need to take ‘the pill’. The problem is that none of these things address the underlying causes.
What causes acne?
There are 3 steps to creating acne. First we need a blocked pore. This can then be colonised by bacteria, which leads to inflammation and pus.
1. Blocked pores
Pores get blocked due to:
a) Excess sebum (oil). This is caused by excess androgen production from the ovaries and adrenal glands – the androgens stimulate the oil glands in the skin.
b) Hypercornification. This is a fancy word for the excess proliferation of the skin cells that line your pore. The excess dead skin cells mix with sebum, causing the pore to become blocked (known as a comedone or blackhead). Hypercornifcation is also thought to be caused by excess androgen production.
One of the driving factors behind excess androgen production is insulin. Insulin is stimulated by sugar, refined carbohyrates and most dairy products. Excess insulin is worsened by insulin resistance, which is a driving factor in PCOS.
Blackheads and blocked pores are annoying enough but, even worse, blocked pores turn into pimples when infection and inflammation occur.
Infection is usually caused by a bacteria called Propionbacterium acnes. Contrary to popular belief, infection is not caused by being ‘dirty’ or lack of washing. P.acnes is a normal bacteria that lives on everyones skin. It feeds off sebum and loves living in pores. The problem is, when there is excess sebum, P.acnes gets a little out of control. It gets trapped in the blocked pores and proliferates, causing the pore to rupture.
Inflammation always follows a P.acnes party. Your immune system is triggered to come and clean up the mess left by P.acnes. Inflammation (swelling and redness) is actually part of this process.
The real solution to acne
Changing your diet by far has the biggest effect on acne. This is how you can lower insulin and androgens. If there is only one thing you do, it should be to follow a low sugar, low carbohydrate, low dairy, low inflammatory diet:
- Steer clear of pastries, cakes, pasta, milkshakes, lollies, fluffy white bread, alcohol and fast food.
- Use dairy as a condiment rather than a meal and choose mainly organic, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, buffalo milk and Jersey cow milk products – these stimulate the least insulin response.
- Always fill half your plate with a variety of colourful non-starchy veggies – greens,tomatoes, radishes, capsicum, cabbage, celery, carrot, onion, baked eggplant, roasted cauliflower and mushrooms. Make your veggies more interesting by sprinkling them with lightly toasted nuts and goats feta, or tossing them in spices before roasting.
- Aim to fill the rest of your plate with quality protein such as fish, lean meats, eggs and starchy plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, pumpkin, corn and sweet potato (the starchy foods also contain some protein so vegetarians will get their protein from these).
- Remember to also include healthy fats from fish, olive oil, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, coconut oil, organic butter, coconut milk and ghee. These actually help to balance oil production in the skin, rather than increase it as one might expect.
2. Skin care
Although the secret to clearing acne is not about how much you wash your face, there are some topical treatments that prevent pores from clogging, decrease inflammation and reduce scarring. The best thing is, it is really very simple & cheap to care for acne-prone skin. So you can do away with all the expensive gimmicks and get back to basics:
Step 1 – Cleanse
Cleanse morning and evening with therapeutic strength Manuka honey (16+ UMF or 400+ MGO).
- Take a small amount (just enough to cover your face thinly)
- Rub it together in your fingertips and apply all over face, under chin and onto your neck if you get acne there.
- Leave on for up to 20 minutes if possible. For example, apply it as soon as you get up and leave it on while preparing some brekky or having a cup of tea. If you can’t do this every time it doesn’t matter, still wash your face with the Manuka and leave on for a few minutes or whatever you can.
WHY: The unique manuka factor (UMF) found in manuka honey is a powerful antibacterial that helps to clean up any excess proliferation of bacteria in your pores. The hyrogen peroxide found in manuka honey helps to clear dead skin cells from pores, so that they don’t become clogged. It also improves scarring and promotes oxygen and blood flow, which accelerates the healing process. Additionally manuka honey is a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants.
Step 2 – Tone
Tone morning and evening with vitamin B3 powder dissolved in purified water. The vitamin B3 should make up 2.5% of the solution.
- Place B3 powder and water in a spray bottle
- Spray face & neck once or twice so that all areas are covered
- Gently rub in with a cotton pad or your fingertips
- Let soak in for a minute or so before the next step
WHY: vitamin B3 dissolves sebum and dead skin cells in pores, eliminating blackheads and preventing pores from clogging. Bonus: it also decelerates the aging process.
Step 3 – Moisturise
Moisturise morning and evening with pure organic jojoba oil
- Take a few drops in your palm and rub together with other palm (careful not to spill any)
- Apply to face and neck and massage gently into your pores
- It usually soaks in quite fast (just don’t use too much, 3-6 drops is heaps)
- If you feel it is too oily, rinse your face with water and gently pat dry with a clean towel – your face should still feel moisturised but not oily
WHY: jojoba oil is truly a wax not an oil, and it gets down inside your pore where it dissolves sebum and prevents pores from clogging. It is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, preventing acne infection.
What if I wear make up?
If you wear make up Manuka won’t get this off so you need to remove it with something. Make up can be removed using jojoba oil or another non-toxic make-up remover. Simply change the order that you do things in the evenings if you wear make-up.
- Take a 5-10 drops of jojoba oil (or other make-up remover) and apply to face & neck
- Massage gently
- Wipe off with a cotton pad
- Rinse with warm water and continue with toning (Step 2)
- Apply 3-5 drops of jojoba if your skin feels dry at this point
- Apply manuka honey as a spot treatment on pimples and leave on for up to 20 minutes, or overnight