My adolescent daughter is devastated. Granted, at this age, it doesn’t take much to pull her into an emotional frenzy. Today’s culprit is a small, red bump that has appeared on her forehead, smack in the middle of her eyebrows.
“What is this?” she claims, pointing at her head.
“What?” I ask.
“This, this, this,” she says growing more agitated as she continues to point.
“Oh that,” I reply, nonchalantly as I continue chopping lettuce for dinner. “It’s just a pimple.”
By the look on her face, you would think that I just told her she has horns growing out of her head. She immediately runs upstairs to her bedroom and slams the door. I imagine while she is up there she will engage in a staring match with her new discovery, believing that if she looks at her pimple long enough in the mirror, and with enough hatred, it will magically disappear. If that fails, she will undoubtedly sneak into my makeup bag in search of cover up.
I know the last thing my preteen wants to hear right now is that acne is a normal part of puberty. Or, that in a few years, her face will clear up. She especially doesn’t want to hear me tell her that beauty is on the inside and it is more important that she be a kind, strong, caring individual. Oh no, she definitely doesn’t want to hear any of that, as true as it all may be. What she wants right now is a solution and a definite plan of action on how to prevent these blemishes from spreading.
I imagine this scene has occurred in every home with an adolescent. Acne often occurs at puberty, when the body increases its production of androgens (male sex hormones). These hormones stimulate the production of keratin (a type of protein) and sebum (an oily skin lubricant). If sebum is secreted faster than it can move through the pores, a blemish arises. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85 percent of American teenagers will have acne. Unfortunately, some teens are genetically predisposed to having more acne than others.
A typical response to acne treatment is either to purchase one of the many topical creams available at the pharmacy or, in extreme acne cases, consult a dermatologist. While these measures may deem successful, mild acne can be reduced with a whole foods diet, natural health remedies and a good skin care routine. Like anything else, it will take time. There is no quick fix solution to reducing or even preventing acne.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. One of its functions is to eliminate a portion of the body’s toxic waste products through sweating. If the body contains more toxins than the kidneys and liver can effectively discharge, the skin takes over. As toxins escape through the skin, the skin’s health integrity is disrupted which can cause skin disorders, including acne. Eliminating processed foods that contain artificial dyes, saturated fats, high levels of sodium and sugar is one way to effectively reduce ingesting toxins that will seep through the skin. In addition to following a whole foods diet, encourage your teen to increase his or her water consumption so that toxins are flushed out of the body. Foods that are high in fibre such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables will also help contribute to a healthy digestive system so that toxins can be eliminated through the colon.
Avoid Topical Oils/Chemicals
If your teen wears cosmetics, encourage her to use only natural, water-based products. Harsh chemicals, dyes, and oils will clog pores and cause acne to flourish.
Keep Skin Clean
The skin breathes. Dust, grime, oils and pollutants can clog the skin’s pores and exacerbate existing acne. Teens should wash their faces thoroughly, but gently, twice a day. Over washing, or excessive scrubbing can make acne worse by over stimulating the sebaceous glands, causing them to produce excessive amounts of sebum. Use an all-natural soap with sulphur that is designed for acne (available at health food stores) to help keep the skin clean.
Avoid Touching or Squeezing
In all likelihood, your teen will be tempted to squeeze, pop and touch his or her pimples—anything to make them go away. Try to encourage your kids to keep their hands away from their faces as any dirt or oil on their hands will make acne worse. Breaking or popping a pimple will also allow harmful bacteria to enter the blemish thereby risking infection and possible scarring.
Certain vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, C, E and zinc, along with the essential fatty acid, Omega 3, may help improve the appearance the skin and minimize the eruption of acne. Consult with a natural health care practitioner to determine the correct dosage for your child when using a supplement as exceeding the recommended daily units daily of some vitamins can be harmful to the body.
Vitamin A, C, E, zinc and Omega 3 can also be found naturally in the foods we eat: vitamin A is found in animal livers, fish liver oils and green and yellow fruits and vegetables; vitamin C is found in berries, citrus fruits and green vegetables; vitamin E is found in avocados, cold pressed vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains; zinc is found in egg yolks, fish, kelp, legumes, liver meats, mushrooms, soy and whole grains; and omega 3-fatty acids with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects can be found in fresh coldwater fish such as salmon and mackerel, fish oil, and walnuts.
If your adolescent child is anything like mine, he or she will be willing to try anything to help minimize the appearance of acne. There are some natural remedies that use low-cost household items that may help. A mixture of organic apple cider vinegar and quality water applied to the affected area can help balance the skin’s pH level, and prevent breeding of acne-causing bacteria. Mix 1 part apple cider with 10 parts quality water and apply gently with a cotton ball to the skin.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice applied directly to clean skin can also help balance the skin’s pH level. Allow the lemon juice to dry for a few minutes and then rinse with cool water. Re-apply a couple of times a day.
Honey contains enzymes that rejuvenate the skin and act as an antimicrobial agent. A thin layer of raw honey applied to the face and left in place for a few minutes can serve as a natural mask to remove dirt and grime from the pores.
Tea tree oil, available at natural health stores, is a natural antibiotic and antiseptic. A dab of full-strength tea tree oil applied sparingly on blemishes three times a day can help reduce the size and appearance of blemishes. Tea tree oil soap also works well. As with all natural remedies, discontinue if a rash appears.
Living with a teen isn’t always easy. It is a time of change, confusion and emotional ups and downs as they figure out their place in the world. What may seem as a natural rite of passage to us, can be viewed as a tragedy to them. What an adolescent needs most is an understanding parent who remembers what it’s like to at this age. If you are living with a teen fighting the acne battle, suggest some of these remedies and hopefully your teen will be on her way to achieving healthy looking skin.
American Academy of Dermatology, “Acne”. aad.org http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_acne.htm (July 28, 2010)
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition. New York: Avery, 2006.
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