Allopathic & Naturopathic Treatments: ACNE
This series we are taking a look at the differences and similarities in treating various conditions from an allopathic perspective vs. naturopathic perspective. Allopathic or allopathy refers to the conventional western medical practice and philosophy (going to see your GP or specialist). Naturopathic refers to the philosophy Naturopathic Doctors operate with. The biggest difference, typically, is that Naturopathic medicine is investigating the root cause – the why – of the concern and treating in a way that supports the body’s inherent ability to do heal. Neither is right or wrong; I truly believe both practices have an essential place in our medical model, however we need to know when and where each are appropriate to allow for optimal care of every person in our country (and the world). Okay, rant over.
Acne is a complex skin condition that has many different causes. It is something I have personally had for the majority of my teenage and adult life and have seen both sides of the coin when it comes to allopathic and naturopathic intervention. Let me tell you, the treatment from my doctor worked wonders: Oral Birth Control. Little did I know when I decided to go off of the pill that my acne would come back with a vengeance – a common experience I hear from women in my practice. So, while some allopathic interventions work for the time being, at what cost and are we addressing what is really going on?
Antibiotics – The idea behind this is that there is an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria and antibiotics kill off this bacteria. It is also proposed that there are anti-inflammatory mechanisms at play (that's a discussion for a different day). Very rarely is this actually the case and can over time worsen one’s skin by disrupting the good flora in the gut that is protective.
Oral Birth Control – The ONLY time OCPs are addressing the ‘root cause’ is when they are used as contraception. They're often prescribed to ‘balance’ any hormonal concern an individual may have (from PCOS to Endometriosis) and creates a simulated environment of appropriate estrogen:progesterone:testosterone ratios so that symptoms are suppressed. When coming off of the pill, individuals often experience a rebound reaction where their body is now unable to produce hormones in appropriate ratios and essential nutrients for balanced hormones have been depleted.
Benzoyl Peroxide – A topical agent that is meant to kill acne-causing bacteria. The problem is, for many chronic acne sufferers, acne is not due to lack of hygiene, so the benzoyl peroxide works at first and stops soon after. It also strips the skin of beneficial, protective oils.
Accutane – An oral synthetic high dose vitamin A medication that impacts sebum production. With significantly reduced/non-existent sebum production, potential for acne declines. This being said it is used for only extreme cases of acne as the side effects can be very unpleasant (mood changes, dry, sensitive, flaking skin, birth defects if taken while pregnant).
We first need to identify what the underlying cause of your acne is. Here are some common treatments and how they help underlying causes.
Berberine: This is a constituent from herbs like Barberry and Goldenseal that is a potent antimicrobial (kills bugs) which can be helpful for some. It also helps to regulate blood sugar which, for many individuals suffering with acne, can be unbalanced. If you’ve received the diagnosis of PCOS (there are many types, so be sure to investigate which type with your health care practitioner), insulin resistance is an issue. Berberine has a lot of positive research with both acne and PCOS.
Eliminating Food Sensitivities: Dairy is the most common sensitivity related to acne. It is not lactose intolerance (can’t break down the sugar in dairy), rather it is an immune reaction to the A1 protein in dairy. Avoid dairy, heal the gut, support the immune system. Sugar is another common trigger, however everyone is unique, so it could also be something less obvious.
Adrenal Support: Our hormones are COMPLICATED. When we go through chronic stress and our stress hormone is in high demand, it can throw our sex hormones off balance leading to a ratio of hormones that can manifest acne.
Oil Cleansing: A lot of acne-specific products on the market are harsh, stripping your natural oils and throwing off your skin’s pH. Just like your gut, your skin has a natural flora as well that does not like being disrupted with [insert chemical here]. Oil cleansing is a gentle way to cleanse the skin of make-up/impurities and maintain it’s healthy balance. Avoid foaming cleansers or gels and stick to creamy cleansers and oils.
Liver Support: Herbs like Dandelion, Burdock, Turmeric, Milk Thistle all help to support the liver to properly metabolize hormones (if your acne is hormone-related) and it also helps eliminate toxic load that may be contributing to dermatological congestion. Get that garbage outta heeeeere (Go Raps Go).
Not each of these is right for everyone and establishing WHY you have acne is important. Click here for a previous article on Acne to understand more about root causes.
All of this being said, I understand what it is like to struggle with acne (or any skin condition for that matter), so I know sometimes you just want a solution NOW. In your own time, when you are ready to tackle the underlying causes, feel free to reach out to myself or another ND to investigate your root cause and find a solution that works WITH you.
Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash