Acne is a very visible disorder of the skin, typified by blocked pores and pustules, redness and peeling. It is usually associated with the teenage years, but is not actually confined to any particular age group. After all, adult acne and continued hormonal acne has become more common in recent years, and it’s something that I suffer from constantly.
The symptoms of acne almost always appear on the face – forehead, chin, nose and cheeks – but the disorder can also appear on the shoulders, chest and back. In certain instances, the pustules become inflamed and even, infected. When this happens, scarring of the skin may occur. I for one have various scars and marks from years of consistent acne.
These marks do fade over time but scarred skin is not immune to further outbreaks of acne, and these further instances render the affected areas vulnerable to permanent marking. However, the majority of people who suffer from acne are usually concerned with its more immediate presence and the social embarrassment or even depression that it causes, mainly during the sensitive teenage years.
The causes of acne
Our skins are made of layers that include the visible epidermis or outer layer and the dermis or underneath layer. In this layer, sebaceous glands secrete sebum or oils that rise to the epidermis through the pores, those tiny apertures that are visible on the surface of the skin. This is a normal, physiological process that lubricates the skin and gives it its fresh and translucent appearance.
At puberty, the raised level of hormones in the bloodstream stimulate the production of sebum. In certain individuals, the pores become blocked, giving rise to that bumpy appearance that typifies acne. And this blockage renders the pores prone to inflammation, which causes the other distressing symptoms. The main culprit for this excess production of oil is a group of hormones called “androgens”, which irritate the pores into extra oil production. Because the hormones that cause it are “male”, young men are particularly prone to chronic, scarring acne, but many women also suffer from it.
Foods to avoid
Acne treatment includes scrupulous cleanliness, and constant removal of excess oil from the surface of the skin does play a role in discouraging the condition. However, it does not address the deep-down cause of acne, that is, the actual production of the oil. But researchers have identified another factor involved in the causes of this condition. Dietary experts have classified certain foods as “high glycemic”, that is, they cause the blood sugar to spike, thus stimulating the production of insulin. In turn, high insulin is associated with raised levels of androgens in the blood, which promulgates the entire distressing cycle of extra oil production, inflammation and infection of the pores.
The main dietary culprits are refined carbohydrates and certain fruit sugars, omega-6 oils and fats, and whey protein powder. From this list, it is evident that attention to diet plays a role in acne treatment, as well as an effective skincare regimen, and for severe cases, prescription medications.
- White bread and cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta and refined rice: these foods cause the definitive sugar spikes associated with irritation of the skin pores and the production of excess oils. Healthy alternatives include wholemeal breads, brown rice and unsweetened cereals.
- High-sugar fruits such as bananas and melons: although rich in vitamins, fruits like melons are associated with blood sugar spikes. Less aggravating alternatives include apples, pears and tomatoes.
- Corn oils and cooking oils: these oils are high in omega-6, which is associated with inflammation of the skin pores. However, the acne sufferer can counterbalance any harmful effects by increasing intake of foods rich in omega-3 oils, such as fish and nuts.
- Whey protein powders: these food supplements are beloved by young men who routinely take part in body building. However, experts have established that the amino acids they contain, leucine and glutamine, increase the rate of cell division and the production of insulin, which in turn promulgates the production of skin oil.
Not on this list are the foods that, for reasons experts do not understand, affect certain individuals adversely. Anyone who suspects that a food may be causing skin upsets should eliminate it from the diet for a time, to see if the condition improves. Dairy is a common one, although it hasn’t quite been proven yet.
The best thing to do is to go through a process of elimination, seeing what foods you notice and improvement with your skin when you cut out. or a spike when you consume. Remember that everyone is different – no two people react the same!