Integrated Health and Wellness Can Help Acne Sufferers

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Adult acne sufferers can ­benefit from liver therapy

Barbara Walker washed her face for the fourth time that day. She looked up from the sink, inspecting her chin for the nasty red bumps she felt were ruining her life.

“Out, out damn spots,” she said, and even managed a smile.

This was good, because most of the time twenty-eight-year-old Barbara (name changed) was distressed by her acne. In fact, more often than not, she tried to hide from the world.

Lost hope

Barbara noticed the first signs of acne when she was in her mid-teens. She duti­fully washed her face, avoided chocolate, and applied medicated goo. But nothing worked. In fact, by the time she was eighteen, the small spots had turned into large, inflamed bumps. Her family doctor said she had a bad case of cystic acne, which causes painful, boil-like infections deep within the skin that may cause scarring. The news hit her hard—she had wanted to be a model, and her dream seemed shattered.

In her twenties, she pursued every treatment available, including steroid creams and antibiotics. Finally, she heard about the vitamin A derivative Acutane, which seemed to hold real promise for treating severe acne. She tried it and saw a difference, but when she stopped taking it, she broke out again.

Integrated health

At my clinic, I looked closely at Barbara’s skin as she relayed her health history. As usual, I was interested in her diet. Barbara knew about the theory that diet plays a role in skin ailments, so she had switched to an exceptionally balanced and clean diet that included fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, soy products, some fish and chicken, and no red meat. She rarely ate any sweets or fried foods. Yet the acne ­persisted.

Using the techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I diagnosed “damp heat in the intestines” and “liver stagnation”. In both Chinese and Western herbal medicine, skin inflammations such as acne are considered related to the colon and liver. The thinking is that faulty or weak digestion prevents proteins and other food components from completely breaking down. When the colon absorbs larger-than-normal molecules, it can cause abnormal activation of the immune system because the body thinks the unfamiliar molecules are invaders, resulting in “damp heat”.

To understand damp heat, picture a soup of partially digested foods stewing in a warm, bacteria-laden environment. In its attempt to detoxify, build enzymes, and store nutrients, the liver can become hyperactive as it tries to process the odd byproducts of this stew, creating heat in the gut. Toxins build up in the blood and tissues, and the skin, the body’s largest cleansing organ, tries to handle the load. Toxic wastes then circulate under the skin which, when combined with a genetic predisposition, can result in acne.

I outlined the following steps to ­improve Barbara’s skin health and ­metabolic balance, based on her ge­netic predisposition to a hyperactive liver and resulting immune system dysfunction.

• Use soap sparingly. Two to three times a day, apply a hot, soap-free washcloth to the face for one minute, followed by a cold one for thirty seconds. The hot cloth opens pores, removes oil, and cleans out dirt, dead skin, and bacteria; the cold one closes pores and stimulates the skin’s own cleansing and immune process. The skin contains antibiotic substances, fatty acids, and beneficial flora to protect it. Washing all this away with soap inhibits healing.

• Each day, use a soft-bristle brush on the skin, brushing gently until the face has a healthy, pink glow.

• Take a probiotic supplement daily. Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria such as acidophilus that normalize intestinal microflora and detoxify. Take three refrigerated capsules—two in the morning and one at night—containing three billion organisms each.

• Continue her clean, balanced diet.

I also prescribed two herbal formulas for Barbara to strengthen her digestion and regulate her liver. You may wish to consult a trained herbalist to find a formula tailored to your needs.

A happy face

I wasn’t expecting miracles when Barbara came to see me three weeks later. But when I saw her face, I knew that her skin was healthier than it had been for a long time. The natural program had caused a definite improvement. And what a difference, I thought, as Barbara gave me a hug and said good-bye.

Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his nearly thirty years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-gene­ration botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board member and licensed acupuncturist. He is the author of St. John’s wort: The Mood Enhancing Herb, (Botanica, 1997), Stress and Natural Healing, (Botanica, 1997), and many other books.

“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” is not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.