Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. It can affect just about anyone, regardless of your age, race or sex. Depending on their severity, pimples can cause embarrassment, emotional distress, and permanent scarring. You can reduce the risk of these problems by treating your acne as early as possible. Read on to find out more about what causes acne and how to get rid of pimples naturally.
What is a Pimple?
Acne most often appears on the face, but it can form on the neck, shoulder, back, and chest. There are several different types of acne:
- Whiteheads: pores are plugged and closed
- Blackheads: pores are plugged and open
- Papules: small read bumps that can be tender
- Pimples: papules with pus at their head
- Nodules: large, painful swellings beneath the skin’s surface
- Cystic lesions: pus-filled swelling under the skin’s surface
What Causes Acne?
The most common causes of acne are:
- Proximate Causes:
- Excessive production of oil (sebum)
- Hair follicles which become clogged and inflamed with dead skin cells (keratinocytes) and sebum
- Excessive hormone activity, particularly androgens
- Bacterial overgrowth (Cutibacterium acnes formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes)
- Ultimate (root) Cause:
- Poor diet
For most people, the onset of acne commences during adolescence. This is largely because, during puberty, the high levels of hormones can lead to excessive production of sebum. There are many hair follicles on the skin, and the sebaceous glands (where sebum is produced) are located close to the surface of the skin and open onto the hair follicles. As sebum is produced, it enters the hair follicle. The role of sebum is to lubricate the skin and hair. Overproduction of sebum can block the pores and attract dirt and bacteria. Many acne treatments focus on the proximate causes of acne. However, there appears to be one underlying cause: diet.
Several studies illustrate just how much diet contributes to acne. The first study is of the Canadian Inuits who had survived on a diet of high protein and fats with very little carbohydrates. For a long time these people lived a nomadic lifestyle, hunted for all of their food, and did not develop acne. Once they started settling down and eating processed and refined carbohydrates, acne became a problem. Another study entitled “Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization” looked at two different groups of people and found that the prevalence of acne in 2 nonwesternized populations was nonexistent, even amongst acne-prone adolescents of the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and the Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay. Even though the Kitavan islanders got 70% of their calories from carbohydrates, it came mostly from low glycemic index sources like tubers, fruits, and vegetables.
Low glycemic index foods are carbohydrate rich foods that do not rapidly elevate blood sugar. Processed carbohydrates tend to elevate blood sugar more quickly because they are processed and already broken down. For example, it is harder for the body to digest and absorb whole grains than it is to digest and absorb processed white bread. It is easier for the body to absorb the sugars in apple juice than it is to get the same amount of sugar from whole apples.
When your body absorbs carbohydrates, it gets broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. Cells in your pancreas sense the elevation in blood sugar and release insulin. As carbohydrate intake increases the body has to release more insulin to compensate. Increased insulin levels in the body have a multitude of effects that influence acne including:
- Decreasing Sex-Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
- This increases the levels free testosterone
- Increasing Free (unbound) Testosterone by decreasing SHBG
- Androgens like testosterone stimulate increased sebum production which contributes to acne
- Increasing Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)
- IGF-1 Increases the expression of inflammatory markers and sebum production
- People that have Laron syndrome do not produce IGF-1 and do not have acne
In addition to diet, inflammation plays a central role in the pathogenesis of acne. Recent research has shown that inflammation has a two-fold role in the acne process. The one that most acne sufferers are familiar with occurs in the secondary stage of acne, with the appearance of red, swollen pimples. The pain that acne causes is due to localized inflammation, which is the immune system’s healthy response to bacteria growing in the skin’s pores. In this case, inflammation is activated by the immune system to combat infection. The immune system’s response is to send white blood cells to the site of the infection, and this causes inflammation.
Medical Treatments for Acne
Current medical guidelines treat acne’s proximate causes using the following strategies:
- Abnormal follicular cell growth and desquamation (exfoliation) is treated with the following agents:
- Retinoids that modify cellular growth
- First generation: retinol, retinal, tretinoin (retinoic acid), isotretinoin, and alitretinoin
- Second generation: etretinate and its metabolite acitretin
- Third generation: adapalene, bexarotene, and tazarotene
- Azelaic acid
- Salicyclic acid which increases cell turnover and promotes exfoliation
- Hormonal therapies like oral contraceptive pills and spironolactone
- Retinoids that modify cellular growth
- Increased sebum production is treated using the following agents:
- Isotretinoin (Accutane) which has strict prescribing protocols due to the risk of birth defects in pregnant females
- Hormonal therapies
acnes infection is treated with
- Benzoyl peroxide which is an over-the-counter agent
- Azelaic acid
- Inflammation is treated with
- Mild antibiotics of the tetracycline class
- Azelaic acid
Depending on your acne type and severity, your doctor may treat your acne with any number or combination of therapies.
DrFormulas’ Diet on How to Get Rid of Acne Fast
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Step 1. Switch to a low glycemic index diet
Low glycemic index diets help reduce acne by supporting lower blood sugar levels, which in turn keeps metabolic hormones like insulin and IGF-1 in check. Low GI foods include legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grain bread, nuts, beef, fish, lamb, and nuts. You should avoid refined and processed foods such as biscuits, bread, and sweets. They all have a high GI which means that they are rapidly broken down into sugars and absorbed, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. When this happens, your body produces insulin and insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is correlated with the development of acne.
Could a low-glycemic diet help with acne? Based on the underlying mechanism it certainly seems so. In fact, one 12-week study compared a low glycemic load (LGL) with a high glycemic load (HGL) diet for acne and found that total number of acne lesions decreased LGL group than the HGL group (a decrease of 21.9 lesions versus an increase of 13.8). Fasting insulin decreased in the LGL and increased in the HGL group (-0.9 versus +1.96 microU/L). Other levels that contribute to acne also improved. IGF-1 levels in LGL group decreased by 2.93 compared to a decrease of 2.79 in controls. The LGL group also exhibited weight loss of 2.9 kg versus a gain of 0.4 kg in the HGL group. This single study shows very promising results for people wondering how to get rid of acne fast through diet. Unfortunately, there have not been many follow-up studies.
Avoid Foods that cause breakouts and acne: As we’ve previous discussed diet and acne are strongly related. Certain foods can and do make you more prone to breakouts. Avoid the following culprits:
- Refined carbs such as white bread, cake, white rice, and refined grains, all of which cause insulin levels to spike.
- Fried and greasy foods are also terrible for your skin as they contain pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils.
- Dairy foods are other culprits. This is possible because, coming from pregnant cows, milk contains a high level of hormones that increase the production of sebum.
- Alcohol is loaded with carbohydrates and alcohol itself is inflammatory.
Supplement to Get Rid of Acne:
Increase Omega-3 Fats Relative to Saturated Fats
Omega-3 fats are healthier and unlike saturated, do not cause inflammation. Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. This is because omega-3 fats do not get converted into pro-inflammatory molecules by lipoxygenase enzymes which are always present in the body. A recent study showed that acne sufferers who took omega-3 fatty acid for two months ended up seeing a significant reduction in body & back acne. Making the following changes to your diet will increase the amount of omega-3 fats you consume.
- Cook with canola oil or olive as these oils have more omega-3
- Substitute red meats with poultry and seafood whenever possible. Sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon are good choices. Fish and other sea animals need to have higher amounts of unsaturated fats to survive in colder temperatures.
- Eat other good sources of omega-3 such as walnuts, almonds, and cashews. These nuts make a great snack because they are low in carbohydrates and help support satiety (feeling full).
Probiotics: Inflammation is the body’s response to things that it finds irritating. An irritant causes release of chemical messengers followed by an immune response to the irritant. The body is constantly exposed to irritants on your skin as well as in your gut. It is no surprise that the majority of your immune system is centered around your gut where there are over 1012 organisms per gram of intestinal content. Most of those organisms are benign and others are beneficial. The beneficial ones are called probiotics. Probiotics are known good beneficial bacteria that can be either consumed through food or through concentrated supplements. They take up residence inside the large intestine and compete against bad and undesirable bacteria.
These bad organisms can cause irritation of the cells that line the gut would cause them to release more inflammatory compounds that wind up in the bloodstream and in systemic circulation. They can also release inflammatory molecules themselves. For example, E. coli organisms produce pro-inflammatory lipopolysaccharide (LPS) endotoxins. Interestingly, excessive LPS levels in animals has been shown to cause depression-like behavior in animals. Researchers have also found surprising correlations between depression to systemic increases in inflammatory signaling molecules such as C-reactive protein (CRP), Interleukin-6 (IL-6), and Interleukin-10 (IL-10).
Recent research has highlighted the connection between probiotics and mental health. Mice under normal conditions opt for high-fat foods. Stress causes them to opt for high-carbohydrate food which has been shown to worsen acne. Probiotic supplements have also been found to mediate and lower systemic release of inflammatory cytokines, and reduce levels of the pro-inflammatory molecule interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1-α). Bifidobacteria supplementation in rats was found to reduce brain stress hormones and intentionally doubling fecal Lactobacillus content decreased anxiety-like behavior. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect probiotic supplementation to have a two-fold effect on acne by lowering systemic inflammation thereby supporting healthy mood and better eating habits.
Antioxidants: Acne is initiated when inflammation at the cellular level triggers oxidization of sebum in the hair follicles. Oxidation is a source of cellular damage and inflammation. Antioxidants neutralize free-radicals and reduce inflammation and damage. Foods rich in antioxidants tend to brightly colored. Natural sources of antioxidants include: goji berries, avocados, sunflower seeds, blueberries, kidney beans, cranberries, almonds, artichoke, pecans, dark chocolate, elderberries, blackberries, and russet potatoes.
Green tea is also packed with antioxidants, these help to reduce inflammation and protect tissue and cell membranes. Green tea has been shown to reduce the effects of sun damage and inflammation. Green tea also contains beneficial vitamins C, D, and K.
Lycopene is a carotenoid; the chemical that wonderful red color to tomatoes, rosehips, red peppers, and pink grapefruit. It’s a proven antioxidant which means it’s a free radical scavenger. It will help to protect your cells, and can also help with metabolism, leaving skin feeling soft and looking fresh.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant that helps to support a healthy inflammatory response and reduce the redness and swelling of acne. Natural sources include grapes, blueberries, cranberries and dark chocolate.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in the battle against free radicals. When free radicals cause oxidative stress, it can completely change the environment of the sebaceous glands in the skin, making them more hospitable to acne. This vitamin also supports healthy skin by inhibiting the production of pore-clogging sebum. Additionally, vitamin A helps support the growth of new skin cells. Natural sources of this vitamin include brown rice, Brazil nuts, shiitake mushrooms, chia seeds, spinach, lima beans, and broccoli.
Zinc: Studies show that people with acne tend to have a zinc deficiency and zinc supplementation may reduce acne by up to 50 percent. Zinc supplementation can help acne by restoring healthy zinc level, which tempers the skin’s inflammatory response, leaving it less vulnerable to C. acnes bacteria. Natural sources of zinc include watermelon, garlic chickpeas, wheat germ, and sesame seeds.
Selenium: Selenium deficiency has also been linked to acne. It is a component of antioxidant enzymes inside the body that neutralize oxidized molecules. Increasing your intake of selenium helps ensure a diminished inflammatory response.
DIM: Diindolylmethane helps with hormonal balance and supports healthy sebum production, which can reduce the inflammatory effects of acne. DIM is found in leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin B: B complex vitamins are an important combination of nutrients for skin healing metabolic processes. Inadequate intake can increase your acne outbreaks as well as cause delayed wound healing. Food sources include eggs and bananas.
Water: Staying hydrated is important for your skin’s health. Dehydration can lead to dry skin, and it will also prevent your skin from healing itself. You should be drinking around eight glasses of water each day.
Foods to avoid and why:
The following foods should be avoided because they can spike your insulin/IGF-1 levels and increase sebum production, promote inflammation caused by acne, and lead to hormone imbalances.
- High-glycemic foods
- Milk and dairy products
- Saturated fats
Step 2. Exercise for Acne Treatment
Exercise is an important part of managing acne. Aim for exercising for around 30-40 minutes per day. Not only will it help you maintain a healthy weight, but it will also lower your stress levels and reduce your acne flare-ups. It increases circulation to the skin and opens pores, and gets sweat and sebum glands flowing. Exercise also reduces blood sugar levels and helps fight insulin resistance which is correlated with acne, especially in women with PCOS.
Step 3. Sleep and Decrease Stress for Acne Treatment
Many Americans do not get sufficient sleep. If you’re still counting sheep after midnight the first thing you should do is relax. Worrying about not being able to sleep is a common causal factor of insomnia. Don’t lie tossing and turning till dawn. If you can’t sleep get up and read a book or watch TV in another room, you should keep the bed just for sleeping, that way it’ll eventually be the only thing you do there.
Your sleeping habits do affect the health of your skin, and if you’re not getting enough sleep, this can trigger or worsen an acne outbreak. Your body needs enough time to sleep so it can heal and recharge itself.
You can improve the quality of your sleep by going to bed and getting up at the same times every day. Avoid sleeping in late on weekends and don’t take too many naps during the day.
Stress can cause or worsen acne. Stress causes the body to produce excess cortisol, a stress hormone which is also classified as a steroid. Medical expert believe that sebum producing cells are influenced by stress hormones like cortisol. In fact, a dose-dependent response has been noticed in asthmatics taking inhaled steroids. This means that the more they took the worse their acne got.
You can lower your stress levels by taking time to eat on a regular basis, not overburdening yourself and work or school, and not letting friends or family make too many demands on your time. If you are going through a particularly stressful time on your life, it might be a good idea to learn some basic relaxation techniques.
Stress Busting Foods
While eating when you’re stressed can help to calm your nerves, it can lead to excessive caloric intake. Try some of these healthier stress-busting foods:
- Avocados - If you’re craving a tasty, creamy treat that will soothe your jangling nerves, try a bowl of guacamole. Not only are avocados delicious, but they are also rich in monounsaturated fats and potassium and can help to lower your blood pressure.
- Nuts - Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are all good stress-busting foods. Almonds are loaded with vitamin E; the antioxidant that keeps the immune system strong. Pistachios can help lower blood pressure and reduce strain on your heart.
- Spinach - The magnesium in this healthy vegetable can help to lower stress levels and keep you calm
Step 4. Hygiene for Acne Treatment:
Good hygiene practices are vital for beating acne. Here are a few hygiene tips for daily acne treatment:
- Face Washing: You shouldn’t over-wash. Over washing can make your skin dry, and Washing too much can also strip your face of its natural moisture, which will cause your body to produce more oil, so keep washing to a maximum of twice per day. Every time you wash your face with soap, be sure to restore moisture using a non-comedogenic (non pimple forming) moisturizer.
- Avoid the use of harsh scrubs or cleansers which contain exfoliants such as apricot or almond shell. These can irritate the skin and increase inflammation. If the only cleanser that agrees with your skin contains abrasives then use minimal force when applying the cleanser.
- Moisturizer: Moisturizing is a very important part of acne management because when properly moisturized, your skin will loosen up the oil that has built up inside your pores. You should not use the same moisturizer that you use on your body for your face. Finding a suitable moisturizer for acne prone skin can be tricky. Most importantly, make sure that the moisturizer you use is non-comedogenic FOR YOU. To prevent skin irritation, moisturizers should be oil free and fragrance-free. Moisturizers may have the following ingredients that are helpful for acne.
- Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria. Keep your benzoyl peroxide at a concentration of 2.5 % or less, as high concentrations are not necessarily more effective and can irritate the skin.
- Salicylic acid (SA): Salicyclic acid gets rid of dead skin cells that are clogging pores and helps promote cell turnover.
- Niacinamide: Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin than can be applied topically. It has potent anti-inflammatory effects.
- Azelaic Acid: This is a good antibacterial treatment for pimples because it penetrates the skin’s pores and kills acne-causing
- Avoid using a toner or products containing alcohol, as alcohol dries rapidly and removes moisture, irritating the skin.
- Hair Products: You should pay careful attention to your hair routine and when you’re applying gels or sprays, make sure they do not touch your skin.
- Face Contact: Avoid touching your face as this can spread acnes – the bacteria which causes acne – and cause it to get trapped inside your pores.
- Sunscreen: You should use a sunscreen at all times when you are going outdoors. It should have a protection factor of at least 30. The main reason for this is that some skin care products which you may be using for your acne (such as salicylic acid and especially retinoids) can actually make you more vulnerable to sunburn. If you’re using a physical sunscreen, look for products which contain titanium and zinc as they won’t irritate your acne. Alternatively, you may want to try a powder sunscreen. They are useful because they can be applied over makeup and still provide excellent sun protection.
- Fabrics: Regularly washing your facecloths, towels, pillowcases, and sheets will help to prevent the spread of dirt and bacteria.
If you have a break out, do the following:
- Continue washing your face and moisturizing daily.
- Apply Pimple patches or hydrocolloid dressings: It is best to leave these on for as long as possible. We recommend wearing them continuously and changing them once in the morning and once in the evening before bed. While you are wearing them, the patches absorb sebum. Additionally, the patch prevents you from scratching or popping pimple. Some acne patches contain additional active ingredients such as tea tree oil and salicylic acid.
- Use Retinoid / Retinol: If your pimples are moderate to severe and you have tried several treatments unsuccessfully, a retinoid may help. When applied to the skin, retinoid help to unblock clogged pores so that other treatments can reach the affected areas more easily and work better. Because they prevent dead skin cells from blocking pores, they also reduce pimple outbreaks and the formation of acne scars.
Step 5. Avoid These to Get Rid of Acne
In summary, you should avoid the following to minimize acne breakouts:
- High glycemic index foods, foods containing sugar, milk and dairy products as these have milk sugar in liquid form (lactose) that is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, foods high in saturated fats, and alcohol.
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle – exercise decreases insulin resistance and lowers blood sugar levels.
- Stress – stress can make acne worse. Try meditation and relaxation exercises. If you feel overwhelmed with work then make a list of things you have to do and do them one by one. You will feel better as you check off all the things you’ve done.
- Avoid unproven folk remedies such as lemons, baking soda, or toothpaste as they may irritate your skin even more.
- Avoid facial products which contain fruit scrubs or microbeads as they will increase inflammation and irritation of your skin. If your skin can only tolerate these cleansers then we recommend applying them as gently as possible to avoid irritating your skin.
- Avoid products containing alcohol as these dry out your skin and will also increase irritation.
- Avoid spot acne treatment that contain high concentrations (>2.5%) of benzoyl peroxide which can worsen acne by drying and irritating the skin.
- Lastly, don’t pop pimples!
Avoid the temptation to pop your pimples no matter how great it may be. Squeezing you acne lesions can have the following negative results:
- increased inflammation
- scabs on your skin
- discoloration of your skin
- increased risk of infection
Squeezing pimples, no matter how good it feels, will often only end up making your outbreak even worse by pushing the bacteria further down into the skin. Furthermore, people who pop their pimples tend to have repeat acne outbreaks in the same areas. If you’re tempted to pop, then use hydrocolloid dressings instead. They will prevent you from popping your pimples and draw out the excess sebum overnight.
Home Remedies for Acne Treatment
Some conventional treatments may cause unwanted side effects. Here are some home remedies which may be effective.
- Apple cider vinegar: Mix one part apple cider vinegar with three parts water and use the solution as a cleanser to fight bacteria.
- Honey and cinnamon: combine these two antioxidants to make a face mask by mixing two tablespoons of honey with one teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Green tea: Make a cup of green tea and allow to cool. Use the solution as a cleanser.
- Witch hazel: Use witch hazel as a cleanser to fight bacteria.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera helps sooth inflamed skin and promote healing and can be applied directly to acne lesions.
- Oil cleansing: This cleansing method is perfectly fine even when you’re having an acne outbreak. Choose your favorite blend of essential oil (a scented oil that doesn’t evaporate quickly). Pour a generous helping into your hand, rub your palms together and gently smooth the oil over your skin. This will remove any makeup, sunscreen, and Leave the oil for a few minutes to allow it to work on dissolving the impurities. When you’re ready, soak your washcloth in hot water then hold it over your face. Leave it in place until it cools then gently wipe your skin and rinse the cloth well. Repeat two more times.
- Tea tree oil: Applying tea tree oil to active pimples will help reduce the build-up of bacteria on your skin. You can use it neat or diluted as a spot treatment. It’s best to use it at the end of your skin care routine when you've finished cleansing and moisturizing. The best time to do this is every other night.
- Zinc bar soap: Zinc soap is formulated to be used by people suffering from acne, psoriasis or eczema, and dry skin. Zinc is gentle enough for you to use it 2-3 times each week in place of your regular facewash and also contains anti-bacterial properties to help keep your skin clean. Zinc bar soaps typically contain nourishing oils, such as olive oil and oatmeal, which is a gentle exfoliant.
Best Acne Treatments
The best treatment practice you can use to manage acne involves a combination of making healthy lifestyle changes, maintaining a balanced diet, taking care of your skin, minimizing stress, and getting sufficient sleep.
This guide to getting rid of pimples should help you manage acne, reduce outbreaks and prevent scarring. As you can see, acne treatment is not as complicated as it may have seemed at first. What is important is that you remain dedicated to a regular skin routine and you treat the condition from the inside and the outside. If you’re looking for a reliable solution for acne, check out DrFormulas™ range of acne treatments. The range includes all-natural acne treatment pills, acne patches and retinol gel.