At some time in our lives, most of us have less than perfect complexions. Here’s the lowdown on skin trouble-shooting.
Conventional dermatologists and their counterparts in unconventional medicine tend to disagree about the causes and treatment of problem skin conditions. For instance, most dermatologists argue that diet makes no difference to acne, whereas nutritionists and other alternative practitioners say their experience shows otherwise.
We suggest you talk to your doctor but also try using pure, natural skincare products, overhaul your diet, make sure you get plenty of sleep, fresh air and exercise, take stress management seriously, and consider consulting a qualified nutritionist, naturopath or Chinese herbal medicine practitioner.
Acne is an inflammation of the sebaceous glands and occurs where the glands are most active; on the face, neck, back and chest. Excess sebum blocks the hair follicles and pores, bacteria builds up and spots and pimples erupt. The sebaceous glands are controlled by androgens, the male hormones also found in women. Hence the eruption of acne at puberty and other times of hormonal upset – although at least one woman in 20 has acne after the age of 25.
Treatment Most dermatologists suggest over-the-counter preparations for four to six weeks, then, if the condition doesn’t clear up, antibiotic creams and/or long courses of oral antibiotics or drugs which influence the way the skin responds to hormones. If you get an unexpected breakout after years of clear skin, change your skincare products and be gentle with your skin, i.e. no scrubbing or exfoliating. Also rethink your diet. In a small study conducted recently, three out of four acne sufferers found a clear improvement using the pure, organically-grown Dr. Hauschka skincare products combined with a low fat, vegetarian diet, rich in salads, vegetables, whole grains, Quark (a curd cheese), yoghurt and sour milk. At the same time, they cut down on alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, and avoided meat, processed meat pulses, processed sugar and margarine, and juice concentrates. They also took regular exercise.
Blackheads, whiteheads and those funny little white skin bumps (actually known as milia) which can appear on your face are not caused by dirt but are due to sebum blocking the hair follicles. Blackheads are their colour because the sebum oxidises when exposed to the air, just as a cut apple turns brown.
Treatment Steam your face under a towel over very hot water (add chamomile, sage, echinacaea herb or tincture). Use gentle masks, particularly kaolin. Regular facials from a good beauty therapist may also help. Never squeeze blackheads, whiteheads or skin bumps: it may cause cross infection and can leave scars.
Red Patches, as opposed to a flattering rosiness in your cheeks, are often due to enlarged blood vessels, which may be an inherited condition or caused by rosacea. This usually occurs on the cheeks and nose in women of 30 plus. Rosacea, which is sometimes activated by the menopause, is a particularly unkind skin disorder since sufferers are often thought, quite wrongly, to be drinkers. The cause is a mystery, although heat or sunlight probably stimulate the release of chemicals which encourage the blood vessels to enlarge. Rosacea seems to run in families, particularly Northern Europeans and Southern Celts whose pale faces tend to flush and blush easily. However, this apparent trend may simply be because the enlarged blood vessels are more noticeable in pale skin as it has no pigment to act as camouflage.
Treatment Avoid extreme heat or cold, chocolate, spicy foods, coffee, oranges, orange juice and red wine which may irritate it. Take supplements of Vitamin B1 and B2. Soothe irritation with Bach Flower Rescue Remedy Cream. If you have found conventional medicine unhelpful, try consulting a qualified naturopath or Chinese herbal medicine practitioner.
Facial Eczema is another possible cause of red patches and rosacea keratitis, pustules and acne-like rashes can affect the eyes and eyelids.
Treatment Consult a dermatologist, qualified naturopath or Chinese herbal medicine practitioner.
Yellow patches, medically called xanthelasma, which are usually found around the eyes (particularly on the lids), may be a result of fatty deposits. In about 50 per cent of cases, they are a sign of abnormal fat levels in the blood; others are caused by recurrent sun damage, which distorts the elastin fibres in skin. The fibres mat together, resulting in waxy yellowish lumps, often on the upper lid.
Treatment Although this condition is not unique to smokers, it is greatly increased in habitual puffers, so first of all stop smoking. Consult your doctor and ask for a referral to a dermatologist.
If you have greasy skin – which tends to get worse during the summer months – here’s how to tackle the oil surplus…
- Use a kinder cleanser. Skin doesn’t need industrial-strength scrubbing to combat shine. Oily complexions are often sensitive, and aggressive cleansers or exfoliants can irritate them.
- Don’t always reach for the powder puff to banish shine. Layers of powder can form a ‘cement’ with oil and sweat, triggering breakouts.
- Look for the magic word ‘matifying’. An amazing armoury of ingredients – from microscopic sponges to nylon, via seaweed and clay powder – are deployed in ‘matifying lotions’ designed to repress oil production and blot shine. Apply after your cleanser – and only where necessary: with combination skin, put it on the T-zone only.
- Give moisturiser time to dry before applying foundation and other make-up, which should go on ultra-smoothly – and stay shine-free for hours. (Some foundations and powders contain matifying ingredients, too.)
TIP For extensive spotty problems – i.e. backs and/or chests – we’ve heard good reports on naturopaths and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
DOS AND DON’TS FOR ACNE SUFFERERS
- Do make absolutely sure your hands are clean every time you touch your face.
- Don’t touch or squeeze spots. Ever.
- Do use a cover-up or camouflage. You might want to try one that’s camphor-based, such as that produced by the Sher skincare regime. According to Helen Sher, creator of the Sher System, ‘with a camouflage, any redness goes away instantly. And if it’s camouflaged, it doesn’t bother you.’ Acne can have a tremendously inhibiting effect, psychologically. But if it’s less visible, then it will worry you less.
- Don’t ever go to bed without removing your make-up; left on, it will cause blocked pores.