Acne – we’ve all heard of it, and most of us have experienced it; it is one of the most common skin conditions, traditionally associated with puberty and adolescence, but can also extend into adult years. In fact, in western societies, acne affects 79-95% of the adolescent population. In people over the age of 25, 40-54% have some degree of facial acne, and in middle age is affects 12% of women and 3% of men. It is caused by inflammation of the sebaceous glands (the glands in the skin that produce oil, or sebum) and the hair follicles. Acne causes pimples and spots to form primarily on the face, chest, back and shoulders. These range from blackheads and whiteheads to deep, inflamed, pus-filled pustules, nodules and cysts. Not only can these be painful, severe and long-lasting, but they can also lead to scarring that can affect self-esteem and confidence levels almost as much as the skin infection itself.

Prescription and western drugs used for the treatment of acne can be accompanied by serious side effects, ranging from internal organ issues, burning skin irritation, and more. Because of this, natural treatments for acne have much to offer, and can be a great alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal and natural remedies are usually gentler and less prone to side effects than synthetic drugs. Gaining a deeper understanding of how to clear skin and improve health naturally can bring about a deeper connection to the physical self and the natural world, encouraging you to understand and take charge of your health. Keep reading to learn more about natural remedies for acne and skin health.

Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Different types of medical herbs

In mainstream dermatology, it has long been claimed that diet is not related to acne and skin health in general. This ideology, however, is based on outdated, low-quality data; instead, mounting modern research supports the claim that diet can affect acne in a multitude of ways. In natural medicine, diet and internal processes of the body have an effect on the external body. Natural medicine suggests that poor digestion may lead to poor dietary intake of vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients, thereby contributing to acne. In fact, several studies have shown a correlation between acne patients and low levels of stomach acid. This suggests that the traditional use of bitter herbs and plants, which act by stimulating the digestive system and processes, could be beneficial for those experiencing acne. Natural medicine also highlights the importance of the detoxification processes within the body, and how this can impact skin health – if the liver and its detoxification and excretory functions are not working optimally, the body will attempt to compensate by eliminating toxins through other routes in the body, including the skin.

  • Burdock root is a bitter herb that improves the elimination of toxins via the liver, lymphatic system and kidneys, leading to healthy, clear skin. It also contains sulphur and B vitamins and is a natural antibiotic for skin infections.
  • Cleavers aid elimination through the kidneys, urinary and lymphatic systems. Its bitter taste supports liver and digestive health, improving the elimination of wastes and thereby leading to a clearer complexion. Externally, this plant has astringent properties, helping to cool and heal inflamed and irritated skin. For best external results, infuse the plant in water to create a herbal face wash, or apply in a compress.
  • Gotu Kola is an ancient Ayurvedic herb. It is naturally cleansing, helping to eliminate toxins through the liver and kidneys and thereby leading to clearer skin. Saponins in gotu kola beneficially affect collagen production, while the presence of asiaticoside in the plant helps to stimulate skin repair.

The preparation of herbs for use often depends on the nature of the plant. If you are using leaves or flowers which are soft and delicate, an infusion works best, such as a tea. For harder and more solid parts of the plant, such as a root, a decoction works best. This is where the plant is simmered for 15-20 minutes in a covered pan, in order to extract the therapeutic healing properties.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera has been reputed for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis, acne and eczema. This plant is soothing and cooling when applied to the skin. Scientists have discovered that the chemistry of the plant has revealed the presence of more than 200 different biologically active substances – it contains substantial amounts of antioxidants, including a-tocopherol (vitamin E), carotenoids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), flavanoids and tannins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins and enzymes.. These antioxidants help protect the skin from external stressors, such as bacteria, infection, pollution and free radical damage.

Aloe vera also contains polysaccharides – long chains of carbohydrates, the primary energy source for all life, including the major organic building block of human skin. They are responsible for the skin’s natural ability to hydrate and retain water, and are also critical for skin repair and skin renewal. Polysaccharides from Aloe promote the production of the humectant hyaluronic acid, a substance naturally produced by the body and the skin, which binds to water to help retain moisture. In this sense, hyaluronic acid acts as a ‘moisture magnet’.

Using the fresh plant sees best results. Cut the fleshy pulp and apply the gel to any inflamed, red and irritated skin to soothe, cool and hydrate, whilst also promoting skin health and renewal.

Oats

bowl of oats - healthy eating - food and drink

Oats have a long history in the treatment of a variety of skin conditions and dermatologic disorders, due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oats contain different types of phenols (or organic compounds), and it is these phenolic compounds that are responsible for the potent anti-inflammatory effect of oats, helping to soothe skin inflammation and irritation.

Oats are a great source of a variety of key vitamins and minerals. These include B complex vitamins, which are essential for cell growth, development, and overall functioning. As our skin is constantly regenerating, B complex vitamins offer serious benefits for the skin. Oats are high in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. They also contain proteins, fats and minerals, all essential for skin health, repair and regeneration. Oats also help protect the skin against harmful ultraviolent rays and light.

A great way to incorporate oats into an acne skincare regime (other than eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, of course) is to wash your face with the soothing milk, produced when oats are soaked in water. To do this, take a cotton muslin cloth, adding some rolled oats to the centre. Fold the edges of the cloth around the oats to make a bag, and tie securely. Place the oat bag in a bowl of warm water, and allow to soak and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Once infused, the water should have a milky look to it. Use this water to gently wash and clean inflamed and sore skin.

Making a soothing oat face mask is also a fantastic way to naturally and gently cleanse and exfoliate acne-prone skin. Combine oats with honey and lemon – two amazing ingredients for acne due to the high contents of antibacterial, antioxidant and oil balancing properties. Apply the mixture to your face and leave for 10 minutes, rinsing off with warm water.

Carrier Oils

Woman holding essential oil on white background

For many, the idea of putting oil on acne-prone skin is enough to send them running for the hills. However, applying oil to oily skin is one of the best ways to neutralise and balance the overproduction of sebum. There are a wide range of plant, seed and vegetable oils that are skin-regenerating, helping to promote healing and minimize scarring.

  • Rosehip seed oil is a source of skin-nourishing fatty acids, renowned for its soothing anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. It is a source of trans-retinoic acid, a form of vitamin A, which is great to heal acne-prone skin. Vitamin A stimulates fibroblasts, the cells responsible for producing collagen and developing tissue that keeps skin firm and healthy at the deepest layer. Rosehip helps to balance the production of oil in the skin, whilst toning and minimizing pores. Rosehip seed oil also can help reduce acne scarring.
  • Grapeseed oil is a lightweight, inexpensive and odourless oil, high in antioxidants and very nourishing for the skin. It has good emolient properties and a gentle toning effect, helping to cleanse skin without stripping. Grapeseed’s astringent properties help to balance oily and blemish-prone skin, refreshing the complexion and reducing redness.
  • Flaxseed oil – rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a powerful anti-inflammatory that reduces the redness and soreness of acne-prone skin.
  • Sunflower seed oil is high in vitamin E, which repairs and protects skin. The carotenoids in the oil are excellent for cleansing and moisturizing acne-prone skin, whilst also helping to reduce scarring and smooth the complexion. It also contains omega-6 linoleic acid, which calms skin inflammation and helps to generate new skin cells.

Essential Oils

Essential oils 4 different bottles

Essential oils harness the medicinal properties of plants in a highly concentrated form. They can help calm acne-prone skin by clearing infection and reducing inflammation. At the same time, essential oils can have a positive mental affect, reducing the stress and anxiety that often accompanies skin conditions such as acne.

Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways to bring about healing. Inhaling essential oils is the quickest way to absorb them into the body, directly affecting the brain. Steam inhalation and facial steaming is a great way to use essential oils to heal acne and inflammatory skin conditions, opening and cleansing pores deeply without the need for extractions. Diluted essential oils can be absorbed into the bloodstream via application to the skin. Once in the bloodstream, the oils travel around the body through the circulatory system. It is important to note that some essential oils, applied neat to the skin, can cause irritation, as they are so highly concentrated – it is best to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before applying to the skin.

  • Cedarwood essential oil has an impressive range of benefits, being antiseptic and astringent. The astringent properties of this oil balances the over-production of sebum that leads to the clogging of pores. This helps to balance the skin and tone the complexion, whilst also healing infections and skin eruptions.
  • The constituents in thyme essential oil have been studied and shown to be more effective than benzoyl peroxide (the ingredient in most acne creams and washes) at killing propionibacterium, an acne-causing bacteria.
  • Palmarosa essential oil comes from a wild grass native to India. It hydrates and balances, and by stimulating cell regeneration and controlling the production of sebum, it helps keep skin supple, elastic and healthy. It also has antiseptic properties that are specifically active against the bacteria that causes acne.
  • Geranium essential oil is highly balancing, with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits. It is cooling when applied on the skin, helping to soothe and calm. Combining geranium and palmarosa essential oils helps to naturally reduce the amount of sebum produced by the skin’s oil glands. Mixing these essential oils with skin-conditioning base oils helps to nourish and tone the skin, helping to calm and minimise breakouts.

Conclusion

Overall, it can be seen that herbal and natural medicine has much to offer to improve our ability to deal with the various complex issues acne brings about. Natural remedies can overcome the limitations of pharmaceutical treatments for acne, such as increased rates of antibiotic resistance to acne-causing bacterium. This, along with other concerns at the effectiveness of mainstream medicine to tackle acne, suggests there is a strong need for safer, effective, and less expensive approaches to the treatment of this skin condition – natural remedies, encompassing a broad range of therapies, is a fantastic alternative, with proven and studied benefits. A synergistic approach, where various natural and herbal treatments and therapies are combined and used together, is an effective way to tackle acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, naturally.

References

Intro

  • Acne Vulgaris: A Disease of Western Civilization, by Loren Cordain, Staffan Lindeberg, Magdalena Hurtado, et al (Dec 2002)
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: Essential Oils, by Susan Curtis, Pat Thomas and Fran Johnson (Oct 2016) – p230
  • Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris, by Eric Yarnell and Kathy Abascal, article in Alternative and Complimentary Therapies (Dec 2006) – p303
  • Seeking new acne treatment from natural products, devices and synthetic drug discovery, by Ji Hoon Yang et al, published online in Dermatoendocrinol (Oct 4th 2017)
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: Little Book of Herbs, by Tipper Lewis (London 2016) – p3

Medicinal Plants and Herbs

  • Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris, by Eric Yarnell and Kathy Abascal, article in Alternative and Complimentary Therapies (Dec 2006) – p303
  • https://www.gaiaherbs.com/blogs/herbs/burdock
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: Little Book of Herbs, by Tipper Lewis (London 2016) – p13

Aloe Vera

  • ‘Is Aloe Vera Good For Acne?’ by Daley Quinn, published in Women’s Health Magazine (June 2018) https://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/a21731963/aloevera-for-acne/
  • Evaluation of biological properties and clinical effectiveness of Alove vera: A systematic review, by Maharjan H. Radha and Nampoothiri P. Laxmipriya (Dec 2014)
  • Definition of ‘polysaccharides’ – http://dermapproved.com/activeingredients/polysaccharides#:~:text=Polysaccharides%20are%20responsible%20for%20the,results%20in%20natural%20water%20lo ss

Oats

  • Oatmeal in dermatology: a brief review, by Nader Pazyar et al (Mar-April 2012)
  • ‘B Vitamins: Your Secret to Good Skin Health’ – https://www.tricitymed.org/2018/08/b-vitamins-secret-good-skin-health/
  • The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin, by F. Nachbar and H. C. Korting, published in ‘Journal of Molecular Medicine’, vol. 73, pp.7-17 (1995)
  • Soothing oat mask – https://livesimply.me/homemade-honey-oatmeal-acne-mask-recipe/

Carrier Oils

  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: Essential Oils, by Susan Curtis, Pat Thomas and Fran Johnson (Oct 2016) – p15, p230, p58, p136, p122, p231, p78

Conclusion

  • Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris, by Eric Yarnell and Kathy Abascal, article in Alternative and Complimentary Therapies (Dec 2006) – p308, p303

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