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Treating Acne Naturally & Effectively by Controlling Inflammation

Updated on October 6, 2011

Acne vulgaris is a condition that affects millions of teens - and increasingly, adults - in this country and other civilized countries around the world. In fact, it is the most common skin condition treated by dermatologists. Acne occurs when the culprit bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) - which usually serves a useful role in maintaining your skin's sebaceous (oil) glands - blocks your hair follicle and then the follicle, or pore, become inflamed or infected. Your sebaceous glands are found primarily on your face, neck, chest, and back. Hence, the reason these areas of your body can become plagued with acne.

Most traditional acne-fighting strategies focus on exterminating the bacteria from the outside, through use of topical drying products or harsh anti-bacterial commandos. Some other strategies use guerrilla warfare from the inside, through use of antibiotics such tetracycline or dangerous drugs such as Accutane. These strategies can be effective at temporarily treating the symptoms of acne, but they cannot permanently give you the clear, radiant skin that you desire. When you stop using the products, the acne usually returns. Thus, you are forced to continue to buy and use these products to "maintain."

Model of acne-challenged skin
Model of acne-challenged skin
The inflammatory process leads to acne formation.
The inflammatory process leads to acne formation.

The Root Cause of Acne

If you understand the root cause of your acne, then you can address the relevant issues and begin to transform your skin.

The root cause of acne boils down to an inflammatory process that takes place in the body - revealing itself in acne lesions the skin. There are three related primary factors that contribute to this root cause of acne:

  1. excess sebum (oil) production in the skin;
  2. excess levels of male hormones in the body; and
  3. inefficiency of the immune system at destroying P. acnes, the acne-causing bacteria.

How do you even begin to address these complex-sounding issues? Glad you asked - and the answers are much simpler than you might think.

Excess Sebum and Male Hormone Production

The first two factors, excess sebum and male hormone production, are so inextricably linked that I will be discussing their role in acne formation together. With respect to the presence of male androgens (hormones) in the body, this is one factor which is definitely beyond your control! Not only do men and boys have this hormone circulating in their systems, which causes them to develop "male" physical traits, but women and teenage girls have lower levels of these hormones in their systems, as well. These lower levels of male hormones keep the ladies in balance.

During adolescence and puberty, increasing levels of male hormones in the bloodstream of boys - and girls - lead to excess sebum production. Therefore, teens (and many pre-teens) already possess one element of the root cause of acne formation.

That said, eating a diet that rich in refined carbohydrates and sugars tends to:

  • raise your insulin levels and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which,
  • can lead to the body's producing excess levels of male hormones, which, in turn,
  • can cause your pores to produce excess sebum. That excess oil in your pores
  • attracts - yep, you guessed it - and feeds too much of P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for forming the acne to start with.

A fine example of a vicious cycle.

Blue and Red LED Light Pen Treatment for Acne

Natural Acne Treatments that Work

Eat Foods that Don't Spike Glucose Levels

One obvious solution is to eat a diet that does not promote spikes in your insulin levels. A visit with a registered dietician who understands the principles surrounding the glycemic index (GI) - a fancy scientific method of representing a food's impact on your blood glucose levels - and glycemic load (GL) could be very helpful. Or if you are the kind that likes to dig into things for yourself, you could check out a book from the library on the subject. Good choices: The New Glucose Revolution: The Authoritative Guide to the Glycemic Index and Dr. Bob Arnot's Revolutionary Weight Control Program. Or, for instant gratification, visit David Mendosa's online site at for a detailed article on glycemic index and glycemic load, which includes a link to a table of GIs and GLs for over 2,480 foods.

Inefficiency of the Immune System at Destroying P. acnes

The final major factor of the root cause of acne is the inefficiency of the immune system at destroying P. acnes. The body has an innate ability to seek and destroy bacterial, viral, and parasitic invaders and to repair and heal itself. This ability is a function of our truly awesome immune system. When the immune system is strong, bacteria such as P. acnes do not stand a chance to multiply to quantities that pose a challenge or threat to the health of the bodily system(s) where it is found. However, when your immune system is weakened, bacteria such as P. acnes can gain a foothold, and can wreak havoc in the system where it is found - in this case, the skin - by causing inflammation and infection. Acne is the end result.

Small Amounts of Daily Sunshine is Actually Good for Your Skin
Small Amounts of Daily Sunshine is Actually Good for Your Skin

Bolster Your Immune System for Beautiful Skin

There are certain things you can do to boost your immune system measurably while, on the other hand, you avoid weakening it or actively promoting inflammation in the body, and in the skin.

  1. First, avoid eating refined sugars, since they immediately suppress immune function and reduce the efficiency of the immune system for hours.
  2. Get sufficient amounts of Vitamin D through conservative daily exposure to sunlight - about 15 to 20 minutes a day - with your arms and legs bare. Your body can produce about 20,000 I.U.'s with this kind of exposure to the sun. Sufficient quantities of Vitamin D in the body activate over 200 antimicrobial peptides in the body. These antimicrobial peptides are the "soldiers" that are positioned on the front lines of your immune system. They act like broad spectrum antibiotics, which seek out and kill harmful bacteria, such as P. acnes that, in large quantities, causes inflammation and acne in the skin. Warning: This recommendation is not carte blanche to sun-worship! Please never, and I mean NEVER, allow yourself to sunburn.
  3. In the alternative, take a Vitamin D supplement in the D3 form when you cannot get daily sunlight, particularly during the winter months if you live in the northern half of the country. If you choose to supplement with Vitamin D, get regular blood tests to monitor your blood levels of Vitamin D. Please, always discuss dosage with your doctor before beginning supplementation.
  4. This advice is not new, but it is critical. Get enough rest. Lack of rest depresses the immune system, while sufficient rest supports great immune function.

These measures support the immune system so that it is strong enough to seek out and destroy the bacteria that causes acne. A good immune system renders prescription antibiotics unnecessary for fighting the formation of cystic acne, for which antibiotics like tetracycline are often prescribed.

A milk label for milk produced with no artificial growth hormone.
A milk label for milk produced with no artificial growth hormone.

Avoid Animal Products with Growth Hormones

Another solution, perhaps less obvious, is to be aware of and careful to avoid foods in your diet that promote excess hormone production in the body. This unintended effect occurs when we consume animal products that come from animals fed with growth hormones (used to increase increase milk production and the body weight of livestock intended for sale at market). The FDA does not require these drugs to be identified on food packaging, as they claim them to be safe for human consumption.

Unless you are among the small percentage of our society that is vegan, you need to be concerned about these chemicals in your food. Think about the many sources of growth hormone in foods we eat everyday. The hormone rBGH or rBST can be found in most milk and meat products. Exactly how much growth hormone do we consume daily in the milk we eat with our cereal and coffee for breakfast, the cheeseburger and milkshake we eat for lunch, not to mention in that juicy steak for dinner? You get the idea.

Avoid growth hormone in your foods, and you will avoid a source of excess hormone production in your body, which you will recall leads to excess sebum production in your skin.To eliminate growth hormones in your diet, shop for foods that are labeled "rBGH free, "no added hormones," or "no artificial growth hormones." You may have to shop at grocery stores with an emphasis on health foods or at local farms that practice sustainable farming techniques to find these smarter (and skin-friendly foods). However, many local grocery stores are beginning to offer these healthier choices.

A dietary approach to the acne challenge requires self-discipline, but it can have far-reaching impact on your overall health, including the REAL value-added bonus of weight loss or weight control made simple. Just eat foods that keep your blood glucose levels on an even keel, and avoid ALL animal products with growth hormones.

Final Words: Rest in the knowledge that YOU CAN take very definite steps to address the root cause of your (or your child's) acne. Beautiful, clear skin is a natural result of addressing the conditions that are in place before acne can begin (or continue) its destructive attack on your skin. It is a badge of your radiant inner health. The best news - you will reap health benefits far beyond clear skin, and your gorgeous new self-image will discover the confidence to exude that radiance to the world at large.


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    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      What great information!

    • Vishal Vishwakarm profile image

      Vishal Vishwakarma 

      8 years ago from India

      Yes ! vitamin d is very helpful in clearing acne and to improve immune system and vital source of vitamind d is sunlight.Thanks for information I know that vitamin d is extremely important for healthy skin.

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from North Carolina


      You are so perceptive. Your skin is truly a reflection of your diet and overall health. It always amazes me how quickly the skin responds to diet changes.

      Enjoy a healthy Christmas this year!

    • Marcus Teague profile image

      Marcus Teague 

      8 years ago

      Eating certain foods is truly a sure cause of zit formation. My cousin typically eats very healthy, but when he visits for Christmas, we traditionally ate these pre-packaged microwavable BBQ sandwiches. During the 2 week visit, he and I broke out very badly, from our backs (which isn't usual for either of us) and our faces.

      One summer visit we didn't get any BBQ sandwiches and neither of us broke out. I don't know what was in those things, but man that was bad. Eating fast food and fried/greasy foods at home I notice an increase of break outs on my person as well.

    • profile image

      sophie, acne sufferer 

      8 years ago

      Hi, i just wanted to say that i really enjoyed your hub on acne. i found out a lot of great info here and some tips and tricks that hopefully will prevent my acne form coming back.


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