08/12/2014 21:41

The Teen Acne Dilemma

     Zit head. Pimple nose. Crater face. Sound familiar? These are just some of the dreadful names that today’s teenagers encounter in their daily lives behind the walls of any high school. As a mother of two lovely teenage daughters, I often witness the trauma and embarrassment that even a single pimple can evoke on their flawless complexions, particularly at special events such as a school dance or picture day. Though rendered harmless, the minor setbacks of a pimple (or two) can leave any teenager feeling distressed and immensely self-conscious, even to the point of skipping school. In reality acne is anything but a minor setback in our Western culture; it is a universal epidemic affecting approximately 85% of adolescent youth who suffer far beyond a pimple—or two.

    Acne is an expected occurrence that arises with the onset of puberty, as unruly hormones surge and begin a cascade of chemical reactions displaying their peculiar effects on the skin. This transition in adolescent years is usually mild and harmless and tends to resolves itself by early adulthood once raging hormones have found their equilibrium. The evidence of this rising affliction points out that our teens are far from ending their acne nightmare—which paves the way for lowered self-esteem, an impaired social life, and bullying. It is disheartening to watch a generation of students hiding behind head-to-toe skin eruptions that have already left permanent scarring as a reminder of their relentless suffering. What was once considered a short-lived hormonal transition has reached new proportions—leaving our teens psychologically battered from the effects of chronic acne. As if being a teenager wasn’t challenging enough! So, this begs the question: what is fueling this outbreak—and, more importantly, how does one find relief? The most prevalent evidence points to the negative dietary habits our teens have embraced.

    When it comes to chronic acne, Western Medicine often presumes one’s genetics as a prime contributor. Perhaps there is some relevance. But while acne continues to prevail in our society, it is virtually unknown in certain cultures, such as New Guinea and the Amazon. Studies have investigated communities from the Pacific Islands to Africa where there is little or no incidence of acne, even during puberty. In Japan—where they adhere to a plant based diet—there is also a relatively low occurrence of acne. Are we to assume that these cultures are simply spared of acne because of a rare genetic immunity?
    Acne-free cultures have no special genetic protection from acne, but simply follow a diet that eliminates the foods that provoke the condition. These populations have been known to avoid refined carbs, sugars and even dairy products and instead consume an alkaline diet abundant in an array of vegetables, fresh fruits, fish, and wild game. Due to their dense phytonutrients, these foods offer skin protecting antioxidants that prevent not only the formation of acne, but shield against degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The traditional diet consumed by these populations hardly resembles the Western diet that our teens take after. You would surely observe that sodas, chocolate milk, energy drinks, baked goods and junk food are a popular staple thanks to the convenience of vending machines and fast food joints located around the school premises.
    Acne can be regarded as an exaggeration of our insulin-disrupting diet.  Milk products—which are highly emphasized in adolescent years—contribute to elevation of insulin-like growth factor-l, which then stimulates acne formation, clogging of the pores, and inflammation of the hair follicles. High-glycemic foods such as chips, cookies, pastries, pasta and breads convert quickly to glucose causing the body to produce insulin and male hormones (androgens) leading to excess oil production by the sebaceous glands. Furthermore, these types of foods wreak havoc on the digestive system by impairing complete food breakdown and preventing the assimilation of nutrients. Regular consumption of these ‘empty calories’ inevitably leads to malnutrition, weight gain, and overall physical disharmony.
    Sadly, the debate over food and acne is still on-going. Many physicians and dermatologists continue to aim only at suppressing acne eruptions through the use of dangerous pharmaceuticals instead of identifying the cause. While these can offer some relief, they are not without unpleasant side effects and may further disrupt the body’s natural healing mechanisms. A smooth luminous complexion starts with a wholesome diet abundant in vitamins and minerals found in plant derived nutrients as well as the right kinds of fatty acids that fight inflammation. Consider implementing these skin-loving foods to eliminate your acne for good:
  • Drinking plenty of pure water plays a crucial role in carrying nutrients to the cells, resulting in clearer skin while flushing out toxins.
  • High quality protein found in eggs, tofu, chicken, and protein shakes is essential to tissue building and rapid cellular turnover in the skin.
  • A high fiber diet consisting of low-glycemic legumes, whole unrefined grains, and vegetables will prevent colon stagnation, thereby reducing toxins which can lead to skin problems. Furthermore, fiber aids in correcting blood sugar irregularity that can often contribute to acne.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to skin health through their anti-inflammatory action and are abundantly found in flaxseed oil, olive oil, avocados, walnuts and fish oils. Deficiencies in essential fatty acids can lead to overproduction of sebum, leading to acne.
  • Other skin superstars include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, berries, lemons, pomegranate, green tea and curcumin, which are free-radical scavenging and are full of liver detoxifying components; additionally, they provide a wide array of skin-protective nutrients, which include: vitamin A, C, E, zinc, and selenium (all needed in cell division, tissue repair, and overall functioning of the skin).

    While maintaining good hygiene and reducing stress is equally important, the emphasis should always remain on one’s diet when dealing with inflammatory skin conditions such as acne. Becoming self-aware through understanding the effects of the foods we choose to consume can reward our teenagers with flawless skin for years to come.