I have been asked a lot about natural remedies for skin problems, particularly acne. Acne is a common teenage problem, which can carry on into twenties and beyond. Doctors commonly prescribe various skin creams or tablets, such as antibiotics and hormones to improve the skin. These can work, but sometimes it is good to have a recap of what you can also work on yourself with simple lifestyle factors. Over 70 years ago, dermatologists proposed a relationship between the gut and the skin, but sometimes in a rushed GP consultation, this can be overlooked.
Acne commonly occurs on the face and chest. Sebum (oil), which normally drains to the surface of the skin from the pores, gets blocked by excess skin, and bacteria begin to grow. Hormones, bacteria and inflammation drive the process on.
A typical Western diet with high animal fats, low fibre, highly processed and containing lots of refined sugar, is an ideal trigger for acne. Add in hormone surges and imbalances and the problem starts. Dairy products have been shown to be a major driving factor in acne. (Ulvestad et al, 2017) and it might be something worth trying to cut out for a month as a trial to see if there is a resulting benefit. Many plant-based milks are found in all the supermarkets now as an alternative to dairy. A lot are now fortified with Calcium, so as ever, always read the labels. I’ve tried this advice with some of my patients who have seen skin benefits when they do this. Exercise has also shown positive benefits in the skin in acne.
Changing to a more plant based diet has also shown to have some benefits in acne. (Clark et al, 2017). Ensuring you gradually increase vegetable portion intakes, which are rich in fibre and beneficial micronutrients for the skin, is a great idea. A portion is a small handful (your own sized hand is what counts for you). Try to work up to 8 portions a day. If you are not used to it, go slowly, as a fast increase in veggies can often cause temporary stomach cramps as your body gets used to the change. Drink plenty of water, 2 litres spread over the day, and avoid pop and fizzy drinks.
The other emerging thing is the gut microbiome, the healthy bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal system. They also have a role to play in skin health and acne. So far, research trials have been limited and more data is needed to support efficacy of the use of oral probiotic use in acne. There are studies underway and also, interestingly, studies looking into topical application of probiotics. The skin has its own unique microflora, and microbiologists have been investigating good bacteria, which can suppress Propionibacterium acnes, the causative bacteria in acne. (Kang et al, 2009).
Looking after our own healthy bacteria on our skin and in our guts is a really important aspect of skin health and is directly related to what we eat. More dietary fibre and less refined sugar is a huge key to skin health.
Clark, A. K., Haas, K. N., & Sivamani, R. K. (2017). “Edible Plants and Their Influence on the Gut Microbiome and Acne”. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(5), 1070.
Kang BS, Seo JG, Lee GS, Kim JH, Kim SY, Han YW. et al. Antimicrobial activity of enterocins from Enterococcus faecalis SL-5 against Propionibacterium acnes, the causative agent in acne vulgaris, and its therapeutic effect. J Microbiol. 2009;47:101–9
Ulvestad M, et al (2017) “Acne and dairy products in adolescence: results from a Norwegian longitudinal study”.Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 31(3) 530-535.