In the U.S., millions of men and women struggle with acne breakouts. A study from the American Academy of Dermatology found that acne affects more than 50 percent of women between the ages of 20–29, and more than 25 percent of women between the ages of 40–49. The study also surmised that, compared to men, a disproportionate number of adult women are affected.
The skin is our largest organ, impacted by various factors, including lifestyle and hormones. Acne is a disease that affects the skin’s oil glands, causing inflammation, blocked pores, and pimples. The condition can be worsened by factors such as use of progestogen-only contraceptive pills, the natural hormonal shifts associated with menstruation and pregnancy, and certain medications. Thankfully, there are tried-and-true tips and methods that offer healing—soothing natural remedies that don’t just minimize symptoms, but diminish causes as well.
Stress has been proven to impact hormonal balance, which in turn affects the skin. While it might not seem like a quick enough fix, embracing a simple breath practice can do wonders for cultivating calm and staving off the stress and anxiety that can influence breakouts. A foundational practice such as alternate nostril breathing is a great way to build resilience for a lifetime of balance and stress reduction.
What we eat has an impact on our skin. Studies have shown that when we cut high-glycemic foods (carbs such as those found in white foods—wheat, rice, potatoes—sugars) symptoms can decrease. When we’re rushing or overtired, we tend to resort to comfort carbs that are easier to grab on the go. Plan for these moments by preparing healthy snacks—vegetable sticks and hummus/bean dip, a handful of low-sodium nuts, or an apple are great easy foods to pack for the day. When planning meals, be sure to include cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. These vegetables offer fiber, phytochemicals, and are packed with nutrients, especially Vitamin A, which is a powerful defense against acne and sebum production.
Erin Casperson, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant and Kripalu Yoga Teacher, says that, from an Ayurvedic point of view, acne signifies an excess of pitta (heat) in the digestive system. “The pitta-aggravating foods to avoid are ones that are acidic/sour, overly salted, overly fatty, and overly heating: processed salty foods, fried foods, fermented foods, cheese, alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. Choose fresh vegetables, whole grains, sweet fruits, legumes, lean meats, and water (at room temperature),” says Casperson.
Research demonstrates that healthy intestinal flora plays a big part in our overall wellness. New findings suggest that the health of the gut flora can also affect acne, meaning probiotics can be a solid internal intervention for dealing with the causes of acne. “The probiotics will line the gut and create a healthy, sealed barrier that prevents inflammation that can trigger acne or rosacea,” according to Whitney P. Bowe, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.
4. Tea tree oil
Tea tree essential oil has been found effective in treating acne, but use caution. This oil needs to be prepared and used properly. Use a store-bought preparation if you’re unsure about quantities or reactions, in order to prevent topical irritation. There is a fairly high incidence of allergic reaction with tea tree oil, so one must tread carefully. That being said, many find it effective. Janet Zand, a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and author, says, “There are recipes online for dilution and use of tea tree oil, but it can be too drying, so start slowly and test to see what works for you.”
Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to reduce inflammation, and this can ameliorate acne symptoms. This nutrient can be found in supplements or in foods such as wild fish (particularly salmon), avocado, and walnuts.
This calming herb has been used for centuries to soothe digestive distress, insomnia, and anxiety. There are DIY applications for chamomile uses online, or you can buy a pre-made formula. Suki brand carries a blue chamomile balancing oil that has been known to stop breakouts once they start. This is a soothing anti-inflammatory with an aroma eases the nerves. Zand notes, “Chamomile is a soothing, non-irritating herb for treating acne. Combine with calendula if you tend to have redness, as both of these are anti-inflammatory.”
7. Don’t touch
When we squeeze, poke, and prod, we add days to the lifespan of an outbreak. Our urge is often to try to get rid of something right away but sometimes, poking and pushing only makes things worse. If you have an irritation, do what you can to let it be. Acne, and especially cystic acne—a painful variety of under-the-surface dermal inflammation—can be increased and spread by squeezing. Resist the urge and sometimes pimples will shrink without getting worse.
8. Ayurvedic skin treatments
Face Scrub: Try this recipe for a homemade face scrub containing Ayurvedic herbs that will cool down excess heat in the skin.
1 cup chickpea flower
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon neem powder
1 tablespoon brahmi powder
1 tablespoon hibiscus powder
1 tablespoon triphila powder
Combine all ingredients. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of the powder in the palm of the hand with a small amount of water until it makes a paste. Gently massage the paste into the skin for 1-2 minutes twice a day. Avoid the delicate eye area.
Mask: to use the mix as a mask, mix 1 tablespoon with water and gently massage into the skin. Leave on until the paste dries. Rinse with cool water. Again, avoid the delicate eye area.
Face Oil: Mix a teaspoon of brahmi with a tablespoon of coconut oil and massage your face with the mixture in the show. Afterward, gently pat dry with a towel. Says Casperson, “The Western method of treating acne is to dry out the skin. It is counterintuitive to use oils, but it works. Take it from someone who has had acne her whole life: oiling my skin actually made my acne goes away. For good.”