You are all set for the big day and the most uncertain thing happens, acne. We all have faced these issues at least once in our lives and there could be many factors explaining why acne happens.
Acne vulgaris, commonly known as acne, is a skin condition affecting the sebaceous glands (the oil glands) in our skin. When the glands are infected or inflamed they give rise to a red bump. Acne is often seen in the adolescent age as there is a hormonal rush during
puberty. It tends to disappear over time but sometimes it may persist in older age. Let us understand the different types of acne and their causes.
Types of acne
Whiteheads- AKA closed comedones, happens when pores are clogged all the way through. The length of the pore and the head of the pore are closed, creating a little white bump on top of the skin.
Blackheads: these look like black spots on the skin’s surface. They are known as open comedones because the head of the pore remains open, while the rest of the pore is clogged.
Papules: Small red bumps that form when oil or excess skin cells block a pore and mix with bacteria on your skin.
Pustules: they are a kind of inflamed pimple that resembles a whitehead with a red ring around the bump.
Nodules: These are painful infections deep in the pores.
Cysts- Severe form of acne that is large, inflamed, pus- filled, and painful deep within the pore.
What is acne and what causes it?
Acne happens when a pore in the skin has been clogged. Either because of excess oil production, bacteria, skin cell production, and even hormonal imbalance.
With increased androgen production, sebaceous glands are enlarged and sebum production is increased.
Here are some possible causes of acne:
Hormonal imbalance- Some hormones play an active role in acne formation when imbalanced. Sebaceous glands are very sensitive to hormonal signals. Increased levels of testosterone can cause the glands to overproduce sebum (oil). More than the required for a healthy skin. Androgens (male hormones) have an active role in regulating sebum formation. Raised levels can give rise to clogged pores and result in acne.
Insulin stimulates the growth and maturation of the sebaceous glands. High levels of sugar in the blood result in insulin release. When secreted, Insulin raises the levels of androgens promoting sebum production. Basically anytime you binge on sugar or have foods that raise blood sugar, you get acne.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)- Is a hormonal imbalance disorder affecting women. In PCOS, there is a higher concentration of male hormones observed in the female body. The androgen excess leads to an imbalance in hormones responsible for ovulation cycle while also affecting the skin. Acne is a common symptom of PCOS along with irregular cycles and hair excess growth.
Genetics - Can have a huge impact on the immune system making one prone to bacterial acne. Acne can run in the family too. If your parents have genes causing acne or a hormonal condition it can pass on to you, making you at a high risk of developing acne.
Stress- Research shows that stress won’t directly cause acne, but if you have acne-prone skin you are at a greater risk of having more flares when stressed. Being stressed can raise cortisol levels, this can make the sebum glands produce more oil, block the pores and cause acne.
Diet and acne
Diet can have a strong relation to acne outbursts. Foods high in sugar, fat, and dairy have shown an effect on acne and its break outs.
High glycemic index foods- Glycemic index (GI) is a term used to determine how quickly a certain food raises blood sugar when consumed. Foods like bread, sugar, sweets, white rice and candies are high GI foods. These foods can cause a spike in blood sugar triggering overproduction of insulin. Insulin will prompt the production of male hormones causing cane.
Dairy products- Dairy may enhance androgen hormones like testosterone leading to acne. foods like milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and so on.
High fat foods- Research shows that foods high in fat, mostly saturated fat are shown to increase the concentration of insulin growth factor. This tends to raise androgen levels leading to excess oil production and causing acne. Hence foods like red meat, pizza, burgers, fries, chips, and so on can also affect acne production.
Biomarkers for acne
Acne can have many possible causes from a poor skincare regime to a medical issue like hormonal imbalance. It is very important to get to the root cause and find out the reason for your specific acne condition. Biomarkers are biological signs measured to give a clue to what is happening within the body. Through biomarkers, we can get an answer and identify the root cause of acne. Most of the relevant biomarkers for acne are found in the blood. Here is a partial list of the most useful blood biomarkers for acne:
Total and free testosterone- High levels of testosterone can give rise to excess sebum production which can be a cause for bacterial growth and lead to acne.
Estrogen- This hormone is known to regulate sebum production. Both high and low estrogen levels can give you a hard blow of deep, cystic acne on your skin. Therefore, your estrogen levels should always be in perfect balance.
Follicular stimulating hormone/Luteinizing hormone (FSH & LH) ratio- these hormones are involved in ovulation and should be tested for in the first two weeks of the monthly cycle. Changes in the ratio of these hormones can trigger acne.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)- is a hormone that your body naturally produces in the adrenal gland. It helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Women having excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), acne, absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea) should be tested.
Cortisol- the levels of this hormone are affected by stress. High levels of cortisol can cause excess oil production causing acne. Cortisol is the link between acne and stress. The more stressed we are, the more prone to getting an outburst.
HbA1C and Fasting Glucose- Blood sugar spikes cause the body to secrete too much insulin When the production of insulin is high, it stimulates androgen production causing excess sebum releases giving rise to acne.
Dealing with acne
Here are some modifiable factors which when controlled or managed can show an effect on the breakout.
Healthy diet- Having foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and hydrating qualities can have a great effect on our skin. With a busy lifestyle comes opting for convenience over nourishment. We end up having foods easy to bite, not realizing if it’s healthy. There are few ways one can deal with acne through diet.
Focus on eating colorful meals- Colors not only are pleasing to the eyes but they also add a variety of nutrients and antioxidants to our diet. Our body goes through a lot of oxidative stress every day. Pollution, stressful events, unhealthy eating, smoking and alcohol may all give rise to oxidative stress and lead to a breakout. To balance this stress we can start having foods rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that help to balance out the negative effects of free radicals- unstable molecules that cause damage to the body and its organs. Colorful foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are rich in antioxidants and can help fight acne.
Stay away from inflammatory foods- Some foods can cause inflammatory reactions in the body and just aggravate the acne breakout. Foods containing sugar, refined flour, alcohol and processed meat are few examples of the same. Anti-inflammatory foods Include fresh fruits, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and leafy greens. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature, so indulging in foods rich in them like flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, greens could help to keep acne at bay.
Hydration is a must- Having enough water is necessary to keep the skin hydrated too. When one doesn’t consume enough water the skin gets dehydrated too making it produce excess oil leading to a breakout. Hence see that daily a minimum of 2 liters of water is consumed.
Exercise- We all know by now how important being physically active is when it comes to our weight, metabolic disease prevention, and energy levels. Surprisingly, a good workout can have a beneficial effect on our skin as well. Exercise makes us sweat and acts as a natural detox way to flush out the impurities. When doing cardio exercise the heart pumps blood to even the smallest capillaries in the skin which can help to enhance proper blood circulation and even give a nice glow to the skin. It also helps to reduce stress and keep one relaxed.
Sound sleep- A good calm sleep is what one should focus on. If you wake up each morning restless and have no zest to kick start the day this can raise the cortisol levels and thus cause acne. Hence a sound sleep of 7-8 hours daily is a must.
Smoking & alcohol- if you are someone who has these as a lifestyle habit, it’s time to get a change. Not only is it harmful to the overall health but it also can be one of the causes of acne. The skin cells of smokers tend to produce more sebum because of the harmful toxins ingested by their bodies.
Quick fixes for acne
Cut down on the added/hidden sugar- This includes honey & jaggery too.
Read the nutritional labels of packaged food items- As what may look healthy on the front may be loaded with fat/sugar on the inside.
Aim at drinking more than 2 liters of water daily- If plain water seems boring, no worries. Add lime/mint/cucumber or even a tick of cinnamon. Avoid the sugary syrups and powders.
Stay away from refined flour and its products- These are high GI items which raise blood sugar and promote outbursts.
Have foods rich in vitamin C- Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties making it essential in reducing acne flares. Foods like Indian gooseberry, oranges, sweet lime, lemon, capsicum, strawberry, guavas are good sources of Vitamin C.
Change your pillowcases often- As the maximum of the bacteria and oil is collected there.
Avoid excess exposure to the sun- Too much sun can damage the skin and promote bacteria setting in and causing acne.
Home remedies for acne
If you think you haven't tried it all, here are some DIY for you:
Aloe Vera gel- It has antibacterial properties and has cooling effects. Apply the gel or make ice cubes of the same and use it daily over the acne areas.
Turmeric pack- Its anti-inflammatory properties say it all. Mix turmeric with curd (lactic acid in curd helps in depigmentation) and apply it over the face.
Papaya mask- Consume the pulp and scrub the peel over your face. Help to reduce inflammation and reduce blemishes.
Neem pack- Neem is known for its antibacterial properties since ancient years, so why not get it back in use. Dry the leaves and make a powder of it. Add rose water/curd and use it as a mask.
To conclude, many times we see a lot of doctors try a variety of products. We often forget how diet can also help in the journey of a beautiful and healthy skin. So make small modifications today and see the wonders tomorrow.