Clear, radiant skin

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Getting rid of adult acne through diet and supplements.

You study those red dots on your chin and think, "Wasn't one of the perks of growing older supposed to be growing out of ache?" Apparently not. It's a sad irony to have to contend with wrinkles and pimples.

At least you're not alone. According the American Academy of Dermatologists based in Schaumberg, Ill., some 17 million Americans get acne. And while nearly 80 percent of that group ranges in age from 11 to 30, many adult women still experience breakouts well into their 40s, according to Stanley Miller, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.

As tempting as it may be to fight acne with over-the-counter topical treatments or high-powered prescription antibiotics, these are temporary solutions at best. While never welcomed, acne is the body's way of letting you know there's something amiss in it. Rather than simply trying to suppress the symptom--pimples--holistic practitioners encourage patients to correct the underlying problem, whether it's hormonal, digestive, nutritional or a combination of these factors.

WHAT CAUSES ACNE?
Acne vulgaris occurs when an increased production of hormones causes the sebaceous (oil) glands under the skin to enlarge and produce excess sebum, a skin lubricant made of oils and waxes. As the sebum passes through hair follicles and empties onto the skin's surface, it sloughs off cells and forms a plug. Pimples those hard, red blemishes we associate with ache--form when bacteria break down the trapped sebum and create pus. This, in turn, causes inflammation, and in severe cases, pimples can develop into cysts.

An imbalance of the sex hormones often seems to be the trigger, says Miller. However, stress hormones can also produce breakouts. "When people are having problems in their relationships or with school or work, their acne becomes exacerbated," says Vivek Shanbhag, N.D., a dermatology professor at Bastyr University in Bothell, Wash. During these times, it's important to actively work on reducing your stress with exercise, massage or yoga.

Acne also can be a byproduct of a digestive problem. "If the body contains more toxins than the kidneys and liver can effectively discharge, the skin [technically part of the elimination system] takes over," write James F. Balch, M.D., and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C., in Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Avery Publishing, 1997).

Determining the source of your acne may require a little detective work. "With hormonal causes, there are clues. The onset of acne will correspond with a pregnancy, a change in menstrual cycle or with birth control pills," says Tammy Alex, N.D., who lectures on nutrition at Yale Medical School. If there are digestive complaints, such as constipation, heartburn, bloating or perhaps a history of hepatitis, 'then the acne may be a symptom of digestive problems, she adds.

NOT JUST SKIN DEEP
Glowing skin starts with good nutrition. And the foundation of that, says Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., president of Bastyr University, is a balanced vegetarian diet that contains a variety of fresh produce, whole grains and soy foods. But steer clear of sugar and white flour--both are immune system suppressants. "If the body uses the immune system to fight the food, it may not have any power to fight the bacteria that promote pimples and cysts," Pizzorno says.

Cutting back on milk, cheese and ice cream also can help, adds Alex. She says patients who've cut their dairy (a source of saturated fat, which increases the thickness of the sebum) have seen their acne vanish.

Perhaps the simplest recipe for clear skin is plenty of water (half a gallon a day). and hefty doses of fiber (30 grams daily), says Alex. Both help the body eliminate toxins, including excess acne-producing hormones.

Digestive aids that strengthen liver function also may prevent outbreaks. Alex recommends taking dandelion root, milk thistle or burdock root, either individually or in combination form. Follow the directions on the label. You can take these herbs for up to a year, but once your acne starts to clear, taper off the dosage. Stop completely when you no longer break out.

Additionally, Lactobacillus acidophilus is a beneficial intestinal flora that keeps harmful bacteria in check--particularly if you have recently taken antibiotics. Pizzorno recommends three to four capsules a day, between meals.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements also aid in fighting acne. Pizzorno suggests taking 25 milligrams (mg.) of B-complex daily. B6 helps ache that's aggravated by the hormone fluctuations surrounding the menstrual cycle; B5 (pantothenic acid) is a stress fighter. Vitamin A helps reduce sebum production; take 10,000 international units (IU) daily. Alex recommends taking 300 to 400 IU of the antioxidant vitamin E to help the body metabolize the vitamin A.

Pizzorno also recommends taking the following key minerals daily:

150 micrograms (mcg.) of chromium picolinate, an infection fighter
150 mcg. of selenium, which helps control inflammation
25 mg. of zinc citrate or zinc picolinate, essential for immune system functioning.
The omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are necessary for repairing skin cells. You'll find adequate supplies of both in flaxseed oil. Take one to three teaspoonfuls daily.

Rethinking your diet and reducing your stress level are stepping stones to clear, radiant skin. But if you don't see results after two months of self-treatment, Alex recommends seeing a naturopath for a complete checkup.

Editors' Picks
Aubrey Organic's Home Facial; (800) AubreyH
Desert Essence's Blemish Touch Stick with tea tree oil; (510) 231-1031
Dr. Hauschka's Facial Steam Bath and Cleansing Clay Mask; (800) 247-9907
Jason Natural Cosmetics, D-Clog Naturally Balancing Cleanser; (800) Jason-05
Neostrata's Exuviance Blemish Treatment Gel; (800) 225-9411
Yon'Ka Emulsion Pure; (800) 533-6276
Zia's Herbal Moisture Gel; (800) 334-7546
ILLUSTRATION

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By Eric Patterson and Andrea Mather

Eric Patterson is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo. Andrea Mather is associate editor of Vegetarian Times.

THE DIRT ON CLEANSING
Proper cleansing doesn't mean scouring your face every chance you get. "Gently wash the skin no more than twice a day with a non-soap based cleanser," advises Kat James, a Manhattan-based natural beauty expert.

One of the best treatments for blemishes is tea tree oil, which has both antibacterial and antifungal properties, according to James. You'll find tea tree oil in a variety of skin-care products including blemish sticks and ache masks at natural product stores.

And don't avoid moisturizer. "Hydration from the outside is one of the key ways to prevent breakouts and aids the skin in detoxification,"she says. Look for a product created specifically for ache-prone skin.

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