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Healthy Skin Part 1: Dealing with Adult Acne

"More than 5 million people sought medical treatment for acne in 2018 alone... and most acne sufferers never seek treatment."

In today’s part one of her series on skin health, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, is talking about adult acne. Let’s take a closer look at acne and what it is, the many myths and misconceptions about it and what causes it, as well as what to do and what not to do when you have acne. We will also explore how to treat acne breakouts, including an all-natural way to treat and prevent it, and Dr. Nancy will share some all natural cleansers and toners that you can make with ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen right now.

Video Highlights.

  • 3:56: Facts about acne
  • 9:15: Interesting stats about acne from the American Academy Dermatology
  • 11:12: Other names for acne
  • 14:18: Common Causes
  • 15:14: Whiteheads
  • 15:58: Blackheads
  • 16:35: Pimple
  • 17:18: Types of Acne
  • 20:00: Common causes that contribute to acne
  • 21:00: How does Acne Develop?
  • 23:33: Natural Ways to Treat and Prevent Acne
  • 28:17: All natural Face Cleanser

Facts about acne

  • The worst time to get a pimple or a zit is before a date, a wedding day, picture day, job interview, when you run into an ex or prom night.
  • Over 3 billion dollars per year are spent on treatment for acne and zits just in the U.S. alone.
  • Eighty percent of adult acne occurs in women.
  • Teens aged 14 to 18 and adults aged 19 to 40 are most likely to get acne.
  • Babies between 0 and 2 years are also prone to baby acne, and this is because the hormones secreted by the mom could actually cause pimples in babies. Also, yeast colonizes on the skin of the babies as well, so that could also cause acne in babies.
  • If you have 20 - 100 whiteheads or black heads, 15 to 50 inflamed bumps, or 30 to 125 total skin lesions, you have moderate acne.
  • Ninety-six percent of people believe that there is no cure for acne, which is false.
  • Teens and people using medications such as steroids are the biggest population of people getting acne.

Interesting stats about acne from the American Academy of Dermatology

Acne is the most common skin condition in America. It actually affects up to 50 million Americans annually — 95% of all people will experience acne at some point in their lives. Fifty percent of adult women experience acne, a percentage that increases during pregnancy.

Acne can occur at any stage of life and may continue into your 30s, 40s, and even your 50s. Acne occurring in adults is increasing, affecting 15% of women over the age of 35.

The annual cost associated with the treatment and loss of productivity among those who sought medical care for acne reaches $3 billion annually. More than 5 million people sought medical treatment for acne in 2018 alone and yet most acne sufferers never seek treatment. The lost productivity among patients and caregivers due to acne was nearly $400 million dollars.

Other names for acne

  • Zits
  • Pimples
  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads

Whatever you want to call them, these are breakouts and they are among the most annoying skin conditions that we have to deal with. It is safe to say we've all been there, whether as a teen, as an adult, or as a baby.

Currently an increasing percentage of our population is experiencing adult onset acne. The increase in cases of acne in adult men and especially adult women directly correlates with an increase of chronic inflammation. There is also a positive correlation with hormone imbalances, allergies, food sensitivity issues and a number of autoimmune diseases including lupus, celiac, thyroid conditions, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Our skin is a reflection of our overall health, which is why clear, healthy skin often results from proper care, proper hydration and eating a nutrient-dense diet. On the other hand, constant breakouts and frequent acne can also be a sign of a more serious health issue resulting from inflammation. It can be the result of poor nutrition or even an underlying autoimmune disease or hormone imbalance. So if you constantly get these different whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and zits and you’re breaking out all over the place, not just your face, it might be the result of an autoimmune issue or hormone imbalance.

Common Causes of Acne

Acne, or acne vulgaris, is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles on your skin become clogged with oil and dead skin. It often causes whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples, and usually appears on the face, forehead, chest, upper back, and shoulders.

Whitehead — A whitehead is a pore that gets clogged and closes but sticks out of the skin. This appears as hard and whitish bumps.

Blackhead — The blackhead on the other hand, is a pore that gets clogged but then it stays open, and these appear as tiny, dark spots on the skin’s surface. A lot of times they’re right on the nose.

Pimple — A pimple is a pore whose walls open and it allows the oil, the bacteria, the dead skin and other gunk to get stuck underneath the skin. These appear as red bumps that are painful to the touch. They are very sensitive and sometimes have pus filled white tops. This is the body’s natural reaction to the bacteria.

Types of Acne

Most pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or breakouts caused by acne are a result or of one or two types of acne. In addition, acne is often characterized as mild, medium, or severe and dermatologists will often classify the conditions as grade one, two, three, or four acne.

  • Non-Inflammatory Acne is the most common form of acne and most often characterized by the breakouts we most commonly associate with acne; the aforementioned pimples, whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Inflammatory Acne on the other hand is a breakout that occurs as a result of an infection by bacteria, and is characterized by red swollen blemishes.

Depending on the type and severity of symptoms, acne is often classified by doctors and dermatologists as:

  1. Grade one: it causes mild whiteheads, blackheads, and small pimples that are not inflamed.
  2. Grade two: moderate acne that causes frequent breakouts characterized by small raised, tender bumps on the skin called papules and often accompanied by pus-filled blisters called pustules.
  3. Grade three: large amount of inflammation, numerous papules and pustules and nodules.
  4. Grade four: This is the most severe form of acne, causing many nodules, cysts, papules, and pustules that often appear on the face, chest, back and neck.

Common causes that contribute to acne

Acne results from clogged pores. However, there are a number of factors that contribute to developing acne. These include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Hormone fluctuations or imbalances
  • A poor diet such as the standard American diet that includes lots of processed foods, refined grains, sugar and unhealthy fats
  • High amounts of stress
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Lack of sleep
  • Genetics
  • Smoking

How does Acne Develop?

To understand exactly how acne develops, it helps to first understand a little bit more about your skin; the dermis. The skin’s surface is covered by small holes or pores that connect to oil glands or subcutaneous glands underneath the skin. Your oil glands are constantly producing an oily liquid called sebum. In fact, the oil is sent up from your oil glands, through your hair follicles and this oil is actually responsible for helping to rid the body of dead skin cells by carrying them through the follicle to the surface of the skin. All inflammatory acne breakouts, whether mild or severe, start off as a tiny pore blockage that are so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye. However, over time, this tiny little blockage morphs into the painful inflamed blemish we know as acne.

This tiny blockage plugs the opening of a pore but oil still continues to fill up the pore as the process continues. It starts to engorge it with oil, which is just a natural breeding ground for bacteria. Over time, the clog puts so much pressure on the walls of the pore that the wall breaks. It spills the oil and bacteria into your skin and your skin responds to an invasion of oil and bacteria with an immune response releasing white blood cells to help remove and neutralize the bacteria. This causes redness, swelling and irritation, which eventually turn into that inflamed pimple or patch of pimples you see on your skin.

Natural Ways to Treat and Prevent Acne

There are many natural effective ways for you to treat and prevent your acne. These include:

  • Never pop or pick at your blemishes, no matter how tempting it is. Squeezing actually pushes the bacteria deeper into the skin, which often results in more irritation, swelling and redness. Squeezing can also lead to scabs.
  • Cool it off with ice. Put an ice cube directly on the breakout for several seconds to constrict the small blood vessels feeding the painful blemish. The ice helps immediately decrease the size and redness of the offending acne.
  • Wash your towels and pillow cases often — weekly, or even more frequently. This will help to avoid spreading bacteria and cause further irritation, which can make acne breakouts even worse. If you have sensitive skin that is easily irritated, household items like towels, washcloths, and pillow cases can contribute to this irritation. Wash them with all natural, unscented, laundry detergents. Avoid the bleach and strong chemical-based detergents.
  • Use an all-natural face cleanser. Obviously washing your face every single day is important, as this removes the bacteria, dead skin, and excess oil from your skin. However, do not overdo it as there is natural oil on your skin that you do not want to keep stripping. Washing your face in the morning and before bed is enough. Washing your face too often can actually do much more harm than not washing it enough. Make sure you’re using warm water and not hot water and always use a soft cloth, or your hands, and avoid scrubbing. There are a lot of exfoliation tools out there but doing too much exfoliation is actually bad for the skin, as it equates to scrubbing too hard. Use soap that does not foam up, as this contains fewer chemicals.

All natural Face Cleanser Recipe


  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar.
  • 15 drops essential oil (tea tree oil is very good for skin issues like pimples)

Mix all of these ingredients until well combined and pour into a bottle or jar, and store in a cool place for use as you need. Gently apply the mixture to any area where the pimples are, then wash it away with warm water or blot to dry with a clean towels or paper napkins. This reduces the harmful bacteria from your skin.

You can also spa treat with tea tree oil (also called melaleuca). It is very medicinal and very good for acne, skin blemishes, and other skin problems. It is really great as an overall general toner to the face as well. Tea tree oil is an essential oil known for its ability to fight bacterial infections or bacterial inflammation and reduce skin redness and inflammation.

To make a toner, take 10 oz. clear water and then 10 drops of tea tree oil. Put that together and apply it to your face using a cotton ball. Several studies actually show that applying tea tree oil to your skin effectively reduces acne, and in fact the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of the tea tree oil have been more effective than treating with much more potent chemical-based facial cleansers. As an extra bonus, using tea tree oil also results in fewer adverse effects from dryness, irritation, and burning, especially compared to benzoyl peroxide. It does smell good as well, and it is very potent, so you need to dilute it.

Treat and prevent acne from the inside out

Follow Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet plan. The biggest internal contributor to acne is inflammation, which is a great reason to eat an all natural, organic, anti-inflammatory diet. What you eat not only affects internal health it also affects the health of your skin. When it comes to eating healing foods, acne is no different than most other health conditions. Eating too much of the wrong foods and too little of the right foods has a really profound impact on the health of your skin, including increasing the chances of acne and breakouts. Eating an unhealthy diet, high in simple carbohydrates, dairy, gluten, sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods, is going to result in inflammation of the skin and also stimulate an overproduction of hormones which increases production of oil, which results in increased risks of acne.

That’s why it’s best to stick to a diet rich in natural, organic, anti-inflammatory foods as a natural way to address you acne. Chronic inflammation affects the neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for controlling the amount of oil produced by your skin’s subcutaneous glands underneath your skin. Inflammation-fighting foods, especially those that are organic and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and natural compounds, are essential to supporting the health of your skin. Remember the daily equation of inflammation which is: Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = Healthier you.

Some of the foods that you want to make sure you are eating include wild caught fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Organic grass-fed lean meats, organic dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss Chard, organic fruits, and probiotics. There is a really strong connection between the gut health, immune health, and skin health. Make sure that you eat your fermented veggies like kimchi and drink your kombucha. Include plenty of healthy fats, including coconut oil, olive oil, and tons of avocados. Also eat beans (especially black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas), walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and refined whole grains like quinoa.

Also ensure you drink tons of clean filtered water to flush out toxins and keep your skin hydrated.

Remember to supplement with curcumin. The National Institute of Health (NIH), has found that long-term use of curcumin as an inflammation-fighting agent is an effective way to help with a number of different health conditions. It’s especially known to be an antioxidant and an effective way to fight inflammation.

Acne is something nearly everyone deals with, so if you have skin troubles, you’re not alone! The good news is, you don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive acne treatments. Start by improving your health from the inside out, and your skin will begin to reflect that over time.

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