Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Can plant medicine help with adult acne?

2 comments
Between 40-54 per cent of men and women older than 25 years suffer from acne. Photo / 123RF
Between 40-54 per cent of men and women older than 25 years suffer from acne. Photo / 123RF

Although I'm well into my late twenties, I still suffer from acne. It's very embarrassing to be getting breakouts at my age. Can plant medicine help?
Thanks, Mark.

Hi Mark, thanks for your question.

Unfortunately, acne has become nearly universal in westernised societies, with between 79-95 per cent of the adolescent population affected. However, rather than being confined to the adolescent years, between 40-54 per cent of men and women older than 25 years have some acne, and it persists into middle age in 12 per cent of women and 3 per cent of men.

Interestingly, acne is almost unheard of in traditional hunter-gatherer societies. Researchers believe that the large difference in acne rates between fully modernised and traditional societies cannot be attributed to population genetics alone, and that environmental factors are most certainly playing a role.

Natural treatment of acne addresses the lifestyle factors at the root of an acne problem.

There is growing consensus among researchers that a major driver of the widespread acne we see in our population is due to diet. Modern diets are higher in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and dairy. These high-energy foods can affect our hormones, increasing levels of insulin and associated growth factors. As a result, a myriad of downstream changes occur, switching on various enzymes in the body that affect sebum, keratin and inflammation.

The first step in resolving acne is to adopt a diet based on real whole foods, consisting of plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole unrefined grains such as brown rice and oats, legumes, nuts and seeds, and good quality protein such as eggs, chicken, fish and lean meat. Keep sugary foods, refined carbohydrates and processed food to a minimum, or better still, eliminate entirely.

You may also like to consider limiting your consumption of dairy products. Some research indicates that higher dairy consumption is associated with acne, due to its influence on insulin and the growth factors mentioned above. Not all acne sufferers need to avoid dairy though, as the picture is likely more complicated. The specific details of your diet should be determined individually, so I encourage you to seek professional assistance in this area if you are in doubt about how to approach this. A consistent approach to dietary change can bring significant changes for many acne sufferers in three to four months.

Specific plant medicines can also help speed the healing process. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is one of the oldest healing plants and often the herbalist's first choice for acne. Traditional medicine classes Dandelion as a depurative, a plant that has purifying and detoxifying effects. Dandelion is bitter to the taste, which helps to increase the flow of digestive juices, enhancing appetite and assisting with the proper breakdown of food. Its action on the liver supports the metabolism of toxins, wastes, pollutants, inflammatory by-products and hormones, resulting in less overall load on the liver, and clearer skin.

Other fantastic medicinal plants that can support skin cleansing include St Mary's Thistle (Silybum marianum) and Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus). Like Dandelion, these plants were traditionally used to protect, strengthen and detoxify the digestive organs and liver, supporting assimilation and elimination. More recently, St Mary's Thistle was found to decrease acne lesions by 53 percent in an 8-week clinical trial. It boosted levels of glutathione by 271 per cent, a potent antioxidant that is crucial for liver detoxification.

Acne sufferers can make use of these natural allies by consuming them daily as a herbal tea. Bitter, liver-supporting herbs are best taken before meals, especially first thing in the morning before breakfast. Between 2-3 cups daily is recommended for people working to improve skin concerns, and then 1 cup daily in an ongoing manner as maintenance once the skin has cleared up.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a holistic and effective solution to your skin concerns. If this condition worsens or does not improve, please see your leading healthcare professional.


References

Adebamowo, C., Spiegelman, D., Danby, F., Frazier, A., Willett, W., & Holmes, M. (2005). High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 52 (2), 207-14.

Cordain, L., Lindeberg, S., Hurtado, M., Hill, K., Eaton, S., & Brand-Miller, J. (2002). Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Archives of Dermatology, 138 (12), 1584-90.

Melnik, B. (2012). Diet in acne: further evidence for the role of nutrient signalling in acne pathogenesis. Acta Dermato-venereologica, 92(3), 228-31. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1358.

Sahib, A., Al-Anbari, H., Salih, M., Abdullah, F. (2012). Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research, 3 (5), 1-5.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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