Problem skin generally is considered an adolescent rite of passage (albeit, an unpleasant one), but oily skin, clogged pores and blemishes plague many adults, as well. Oily skin is the result of too much sebum, the skin’s natural moisturizing oil. When excess sebum and dead skin cells become trapped in hair follicles, pores enlarge and become clogged. Add bacteria to the mix, and the result is troublesome inflammation and breakouts.
Fluctuating hormones are thought to be the cause of acne, but environmental toxins, skin-clogging makeup and some medications (such as oral contraceptives and steroids) can contribute to the problem. Although there’s no conclusive research proving that junk foods cause breakouts, it makes sense to choose foods known to promote healthy skin. Foods rich in antioxidants, including dark green leafy vegetables, berries and green tea (Camellia sinensis), along with healthful fats, such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds help calm the inflammation that contributes to acne. Drinking at least six to eight glasses of pure water daily keeps skin hydrated and helps flush toxins from the body.
Proper cleansing is essential for removing surface impurities. It’s important to cleanse your skin twice daily, but more often than that can cause dry, flaky skin. When cleansing, use a gentle touch and avoid harsh, drying soaps and cleansers. A cleanser rich in natural alpha-hydroxy acids, such as yogurt, helps slough off the top layer of dead skin cells. Follow cleansing with an herbal astringent containing natural antiseptic herbs and essential oils to help combat the bacteria that cause breakouts. A twice-weekly routine of herbal steams, gentle scrubs and purifying masks helps deep-cleanse the skin.
If you have a blemish, resist the urge to pick at it. Instead, apply a warm wet washcloth for five minutes several times a day to help bring it to a head. You also can apply a mixture of equal parts tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and lavender essential oils several times daily. Tea tree oil fights the bacteria that cause breakouts, and lavender helps calm inflammation.
For an overnight blemish treatment, mix 1 teaspoon cosmetic clay, 3 drops tea tree essential oil and 2 drops lavender essential oil with enough water to make a thick paste. Dab onto blemishes, and rinse off in the morning.
Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1,001 Natural Remedies (DK, 2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).