The first step in addressing zits is to figure out the cause. Zits don't "just happen." There is always a reason. The most common causes of acne include:
- Hormonal imbalances: Most zits in the teenage years are caused by an excess of either testosterone or estrogen. The belief used to be that acne was only caused by excess testosterone, but more recent studies proved an excess of either hormone can cause acne. The fact our food system is now overloaded with foods containing growth hormones and other synthetic hormones has a lot to do with this, as does the excessive use of highly-estrogenic soy that is included in almost all processed foods. I'm often amazed that people who eliminate soy from their diet often report that their skin becomes clear as a result.
Women often get zits on their chin as a normal part of PMS. These zits are definitely caused by hormonal changes. Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome often frequently experience acne as a result of the hormone imbalances it creates. If you have consistent acne, it is wise to get a saliva hormone test to check the levels of your reproductive hormones and identify any imbalances. Frequent zits often disappear once hormonal imbalances are corrected.
- Food allergies and sensitivities: I know personally that eating a food that I'm allergic to will cause a fairly large zit (or zits) to form within three days. The skin is a huge detoxification organ, so when we expose ourselves to foods our body considers toxic, the body may use the skin to eliminate some of those toxins. I know many people with food allergies who report their only symptom is that they get zits. They have little or no digestive disturbance, but know they've been exposed to an allergen when they develop a zit. Even a mild sensitivity to a food will increase inflammation in the body and decrease immunity, making it more difficult for the body to naturally resist the factors that cause a pimple to form.
On a related side note, there is a lot of conflicting evidence both pro and con about dairy products causing acne. The American Academy of Dermatology has now done three studies that conclusively proved there IS a link between acne and dairy. My clinical experience is that 9 out of 10 people's acne greatly diminishes or disappears when they eliminate dairy. My own daughter had horrible acne and refused to believe this point for years. When she finally tried eliminating dairy, her skin completely, totally cleared within a week and a half. She doesn't have a dairy allergy that we're aware of, but her skin made it very clear that dairy is not a good option for her. Why does dairy contribute to acne? Mainly because it is so hard to digest. Let's face it, we're not cows, so our bodies have a very difficult time digesting and absorbing milk intended to be drunk by baby cows. The result is that the body tries to eliminate the toxins in the milk through the skin. Unfortunately, mainstream milk and dairy products are loaded with growth hormones that negatively impact our own hormone balance, causing a the skin to produce excess acne-causing sebum. Dairy is also known to be one of the most inflammatory foods in our diet. Any food that increases inflammation will only worsen acne symptoms.
- Comedogenic facial products (even some used to combat acne): Comedogenic is used to refer to products that are irritating and which block the skin's pores, thereby causing acne. Mineral oil is one of the worst oils possible for the skin, yet it is used frequently because it's cheap. (Mineral oil is a petroleum byproduct that is discarded during the production of fuel oils. Not a good choice to put on your skin, anyway.) Many of the most commonly used skincare ingredients are comedogenic, and many anti-acne products contain quite a few of these ingredients. Your best option is to use products from companies such as Aubrey Organics, Pangea Organics, Burt's Bees and other chemical-free companies.
- Prescription medications: A well-known side effect of steroids (both prescription and black market) is acne. Other prescription medications that may cause acne include anti-convulsant medications (such as Lithium), prescription iodides and bromides. (Supplemental iodine is not related to prescription iodides and is not known to cause acne.)
- Reduced liver function: It is a well known fact that many skin problems originate in the liver. The primary function of the liver is to eliminate toxins. If its function is reduced, the body resorts to eliminating toxins through the skin. My favorite herb for improving liver function and reducing skin issues is Burdock Root. Burdock Root is known to cleanse the liver and to target the skin to assist with healing. Although Burdock Root works well, other supplements known to improve liver function often result in clearer skin. Milk Thistle is another one of my favorites.
- Over-washing of the skin: Excess use of soaps and drying anti-acne cleansers can actually make acne worse by overdrying the skin and causing it to produce more and more sebum. (Most pimples are caused when the skin produces excess sebum. Sebum is intended to protect the skin, but it can harbor bacteria and can cause pimples when the skin produces more than is needed.)
- Eat a healthy diet: (You knew that was coming.) Good skin happens from the inside out. Clear, healthy skin requires a healthy diet. Period. Eating a healthy diet loaded with vegetables and fruits, whole foods, and void of excess sugars, processed foods and refined grains boosts the immunity and has a very anti-inflammatory effect on tissues. If your immune system is working at 100%, your body will often be able to very naturally eliminate the bacteria that cause pimples and acne. Obviously, a healthy diet does not include hydrogenated oils, processed foods, or excessive carbohydrates and fats. As I stated above, many people find their acne disappears once they eliminate dairy from their diet. One of my favorite books on naturally eliminating acne is: The Acne Cure. It is worth reading if you suffer from acne!
- Don't squeeze: We've all done it ... squeezed a zit because we believe it will go away faster if we do. That is, sadly, a myth. The problem with squeezing a zit is that it has the potential to push the bacteria deeper into the skin. The other problem squeezing creates is that it creates an open sore that is wide open to bacteria in the air and environment. Squeezing may also cause scarring, and nobody wants that. Your best bet is to use the topical remedies I mention below and to be very, very patient.
- Use topical antibacterials: One of my favorite remedies to speed the healing of a pimple is Tea Tree Essential Oil. Tea Tree oil is one of the most antibacterial chemicals known, but it has the added benefit of being known to stimulate the skin to heal itself. It works well. I also find that a drop of CellFood morning and evening has an amazing effect. CellFood is a powerful oxygenator that can be used internally and externally. I use it straight when I have a zit, but I recommend blending one drop of CellFood with one drop of purified water. It is a powerful antibacterial that also stimulates the skin to heal itself.
- Use Goldenseal and probiotics internally: Goldenseal is a natural herb with powerful antibacterial properties. I use it to help pimples go away faster. (Do not use more than 10 days in a row.) For more information on how amazing Goldenseal is, please read my blog post, The Wonders of Goldenseal. Using oral probiotics will also boost the body's own immunity and help the body heal pimples faster.