I don’t know if you lived when you were a teen, if you still live it, or if you want to stop your kids from living it, but if you’re reading this post, it’s because you may know, that facing acne is one of the hardest things that can happen to your self-esteem. That’s why in this article, I’d like to tell you how you can take care of yourself to keep your skin healthy, in order to prevent or treat acne by taking advantage of all that natural cosmetics has to offer…
When I was young, I tried everything. Every remedy, every advice. I had to put up with strangers coming up to me and giving me tips. It was embarrassing. So I have to confess that I’m a mom that has been traumatized by acne, and the last thing I want is for my daughter to face the same thing. Maybe that’s why I write this article with a lot of excitement! I would have liked to have had this information before, and I hope it will serve you as much as it has served me.
In the first part of the blog, I’ll tell you how healthy skin works, as I think it’s the foundation of everything. As you’ll see over the course of this article, if you focus on taking care of your skin, you lower your risk of topical diseases, whether it’s acne or something else. In the second part, we’ll delve into what you need to know about acne and cleaning routines you need to follow to counter it. So I wish you a Happy Reading!
Acne is caused by a disruption in the skin’s natural function. For this reason, the initial step in preventing or treating acne is to understand how the skin works, and thus take care of the aspects that lead us to maintain healthy skin. The skin is the largest organ in our body. Its function is vital to us, as it constitutes the physical barrier between the organism and the environment. For example, it protects us from water, sunlight or external bodies entering our body. On the other hand, it controls body temperature and is responsible for the sensory perception that warns about wounds and therefore protects us from infections.
The skin maturation process is known as the formation of the “Skin Barrier” and when we refer to maintaining healthy skin, it means keeping the skin barrier in good condition, which can be achieved as long as the following parameters work correctly:
- Desquamation process
- pH or acidity
In this article, I’ll tell you about each of them.
Good hydration, seeks to maintain the outer layer of the skin with enough water, regardless of the conditions of the environment. To fulfill this purpose, the skin takes water and lipids from the air and external tissues and secures them to its surface, in order to stay soft, elastic and flexible.
When you manage to keep your skin healthy, it maintains good levels of moisture, while if the amount of water on the skin is reduced, the skin stops working properly, and this is where its ability to protect us from substances and microorganisms is degraded.
During our daily activities, the skin loses water by evaporation. This is known as TEWL (Trans Epidermal Water Loss) and if this loss is not compensated, the skin becomes dehydrated leading to dryness or even other more severe abnormalities.
To protect us, the body secretes substances that help keep it in balance. Well, one of these substances is sebum.
Sebum is a mixture of wax and squalene, whose role in our health is to help keep skin hydrated and healthy. Sebum itself is not bad and in fact, it is necessary, however when it is produced in excess, it can become the precursor to acne.
Hydration, therefore, is perhaps the most important tool for preventing acne or following natural acne treatmens, especially when you have oily, acne-tensed skin. Whether you have just a few breakouts, are in a more severe acne stage, or want to take care of your children’s skin, getting into the habit of moisturizing your skin will save you problems in the future.
Nature is so wise, that the outer layer of our skin is made up of dead cells called corneocytes. Since our cells are approximately 80% water, if a living cell is exposed to air, which is composed of only 1% moisture, it would dry out and die. For this reason, our organism has arranged millions of dead cells on the outside that protect us from the environment.
Approximately every thirty days, living cells, called keratinocytes, degrade as they pass through the different layers of the skin, until they reach the outside converted into dead cells called corneocytes.
This process is known as flaking, and in order for it to be carried out efficiently, the skin must enjoy health and flexibility.
When the skin is not hydrated enough, the flaking process is not performed correctly, and as a result, dead cells, that should have been renewed, remain on the surface. These cells, when combined with excess sebum, subsequently become the food of the microorganisms that cause acne.
Although flaking happens naturally, if you find yourself in the process of preventing acne or are following acne treatments, you should pay attention to two fundamental factors:
- Hydration (as I told you in the previous point)
- The cleansing of the skin, as this allows you to remove dead cells. However, before moving on to cleansing habits, I would like to tell you about the role of pH in skin care.
PH is a very important factor when it comes to maintaining a healthy skin.
The “acidic mantle” is an essential part of the skin’s immunological system. Its name comes from the fact that it is responsible of maintaining an acidic pH (between 4.5 and 5.5) the skin, thus creating an environment in which bacteria and micro-organisms find it difficult to survive.
When the skin becomes alkaline, the activity of certain bacteria is amplified, resulting in a degradation of the skin barrier, leaving it exposed to possible infections caused by microorganisms (including acne).
If you’re in the process of preventing acne or are following acne treatments, either because you’re prone to it, or have had it in the past, it’s NOT recommended to use soaps for cleaning your face. The detergent used in a soap is alkaline in nature with a pH between 8 and 9, and although the skin has the ability to return to its regular pH in a short time, the constant acid-alkaline-acid swing, may end up affecting the functioning of the skin barrier. In this study, you can find more information on this topic.
Additionally, it is also not advisable to use baking soda on the skin, as recommended by many homemade recipes on the internet. Bicarbonate alkalizes the skin leaving it exposed to the action and proliferation of micro-organisms. Read here about some risks of using baking soda.
IN SUMMARY, if you or someone in your family wants to prevent or treat acne, the first thing to keep in mind is:
- Make sure you moisturize your skin constantly
- Building a healthy cleaning habit
- Use products that maintain an acidic pH similar to your skin (4.5 to 5.5)
What we know as acne basically consists of an inflammation in the skin, which is formed by the accumulation of sebum and dead cells, which, when combined, produce a plugging of the hair follicles.
The two components that lead to the formation of acne are:
- Excess sebum. This excessive secretion can be due to high skin porosity, hormonal problems, skin type, misguided cosmetics and poor cleansing habits.
- Dead cells that do not break off properly during the flaking process, which can happen if the skin is not working properly (lack of hydration).
When they come together, a pore plugging called a comedone occurs. Microorganisms in the skin or the environment, feed on these comedones and multiply, producing inflammation that results in what we know as acne. With this in mind, we might think that to prevent or treat acne, it might be as easy as reducing sebum and exfoliating the skin to get rid of dead cells. It may sound easy, but it’s not that simple. First let’s understand the types of acne, so I can tell you how to deal with each case.
They are also known as whiteheads (Milium or whiteheads), and correspond to the initial phase of acne, in which, when sebum is joined with dead cells, they cause inflammation from pore capping.
Comedones are free of infection and can therefore be controlled by strengthening hydration in both the cleaning routine and eating habits. Remember that when the skin is well hydrated, the skin barrier improves its functioning, the flaking process occurs correctly and excess sebum would not find dead cells on the surface with which it can bind to block the hair follicle or pore. On the other hand, it’s important to take care your mood as well as the food you eat. Since excess sebum is related to the hormonal system, and it can be influenced by your levels of stress as well as the diet we carry.
To prevent or treat acne in a “Comedone” face it is important to:
- Strengthen skin hydration through fluid intake
- Taking care of your nutrition by avoiding excess fatty or processed foods, as they affect the hormonal system and therefore sebum production
- Maintaining a healthy emotional state, as stress also impacts your hormonal system
- Clean your face at least twice a day
Many microorganisms, that seek to maintain their balance, live in our skin. However, these organisms feed and reproduce from sebum and dead cells. When there are comedones on the skin, and these are attacked by said microorganisms, an infection is initiated, thus starting a defensive process that manifests itself through a strong inflammation, which is sometimes accompanied by pus.
The pustules and papules then correspond to infected comedones, and it is what we know as inflammatory acne (in case the infectious microorganism is a bacterium) or fungal acne (in case the infectious microorganism is a fungus).
Inflammatory acne can be of several types:
- Pustules (has pus)
- Papules (no pus)
- Cystic acne. It usually has no mouth and inflammation occurs under the skin. It is important not to try to remove it manually, as it can cause further inflammation.
When it comes to preventing or treating acne at this level, my recommendation will always be to go see a dermatologist. While the same principles to consider when handling comedones are applied by them and these should be part of your day-to-day life, you’ll need additional oral and topical treatments that can only be prescribed by a doctor. Natural Skin Care may support such treatments, but it won’t replace dermatological care that suggests you already have an infection.
There is no single cause for acne to occur, and worse, several of its causes are related to the nature of our skin and therefore are not necessarily under our control. However, I suggest you focus your attention on those you can control. Here they go!
Causes that are NOT under your control
- Oily type of skin. Given the over-production of sebum that characterizes this type of skin, it is the one that is most exposed to the formation of comedones that leads to acne
- Hormonal imbalance. It usually occurs in adolescence or when the first signs of menopause begin. It is also influenced by eating habits and stress
Causes that ARE under your control
- Skin dehydration. I don’t know if I’ve emphasized enough on this, but taking care of your skin’s hydration is perhaps the most important thing, to prevent, control and fight acne
- Poor cleaning habits. This causes dead cells not to detach properly in the flaking process
- Stress Can create hormonal imbalance
- Certain hormone treatments, such as birth control pills
- Choice of cosmetics Cosmetics with comedogenic ingredients, very high pH or with dehydrating ingredients such as alcohol.
- Friction or pressure on the face. We tend to think that we require a lot of exfoliation, but in excess can affect the skin barrier.
Now that we know the causes acne and what to do in order to keep our skin healthy, let’s focus on the three main points that will allow you to prevent, control and cure acne naturally: moisturize properly, reduce sebum production and adopt a cleansing habit suitable for your skin.
In your daily care routine, we should include the following steps:
- Prepare your skin
Usually, we realize this when we already have inflammatory acne and go straight to step 4, forgetting that there are several factors that can help to get completely different results in the process. If you or your children have aggravating physiological factors, such as oily skin or hormonal disorders that make them more prone to acne, treating it won’t necessarily be a matter of months. It can take years to stabilize these factors, so during this time it is important to maintain discipline in the actions that does depend on us to control. Preventing or treating acne requires discipline and perseverance. That’s why my recommendation is that you establish a routine and stay true to it for life if necessary.
We could also call this step Pre-Cleaning. In this, you perform an initial cleaning with an oil-based cleaner. Yes, you read that right. Oil Based.
When we cleanse the skin, we seek to remove impurities. These can be traces of makeup, sunscreen, pollution, sebum, among others. Some of these microparticles are water soluble and others are oil soluble and if not properly removed, they can cover pores and cause acne.
As we know, equals attract. Oil attracts oil and water attracts water, however water and oil are repelled. Oily cleaners form an emulsion with oil-soluble dirt which can be washed quickly with the following cleaning steps.
This step does not seek to add more oil to the skin than it already generates on its own; on the contrary, the purpose of doing so is to gently remove oil-soluble impurities to prevent further blocking of pores.
Although I know you’ll love it, in case you don’t want to clean yourself with oil twice a day, you can replace it with honey in the mornings. If you choose to do so, it’s important to choose natural honey, as processed honey might contain excess sugar that can be a delicious food for microorganisms, and we don’t want that.
- Take a generous amount in the palm of your dry hand
- Massage into dry skin gently in circular motions for two minutes. This will allow impurities to dissolve
- Then wash with a gentle water-based cleanser, as I mentioned in the next step
Several oil-based cleaners on the market, are presented as “self-emulsified”, this means that on contact with water they become foam and it is easier to remove them. However, you don’t necessarily have to look for an expensive cleaner on the market. You can simply look for the right oils in a natural ingredient store and prepare your oil cleanser on your own.
It is very important that you use “NON-COMEDOGENIC” oils.
The term comedogenic refers to a propensity to clog pores and cause comedones. In the world of vegetable oils, you may find oils, some lighter than others that could be categorized in this way. In the table below you will find some of the non-comedogenic vegetable oils, which have given excellent results as “oil cleansers” in natural skin care, the best cleaning oils. Later of course, I will mention those that you should stay away from.
|Aceite Vegetal||Nombre INCI||Beneficios|
|Aceite de Ricino o Castor Oil||Ricinus communis (Castor) Seed Oil||Es el aceite limpiador por excelencia, ya que crea una polaridad en la piel, que atrae y disuelve rápidamente las impurezas|
|Aceite de Jojoba||Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil||Posee ácidos grasos parecidos a los de la piel, por lo que sus propiedades se mimetizan y se absorben rápidamente. Tiene propiedades desinflamatorias, humectantes, y antimicrobianas|
|Aceite de Camelia||Camellia Oleifera Seed Oil||Es un aceite ligero, con una composición de ácidos grasos que poseen un efecto anti-oxidante y anti-inflamatorio|
|Aceite de Rosa Mosqueta||Rosa Canina Fruit Oil||Excelente fuente de Vitamina C, que brinda un efecto antioxidante (remueve células muertas). Promueve la regeneración celular|
|Aceite de Onagra||Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose)||Es un aceite rico en ácido linoleico lo que lo hace excelente para ser utilizado en las pieles con acné, gracias a sus propiedades antioxidantes y regeneradoras.|
Other light oils that can be used to macerate herbal properties may be:piperite grape oil, sunflower oil, almond oil.
It is important to clarify that oils listed as comedogenic, provide excellent properties to the skin, especially when moisturising lips or dry areas such as feet, knees or elbows.
However, given their high density, when you use them on your face (or in the body in case you develop body acne) they can clog pores and facilitate the release of comedones that subsequently turn into acne.
To identify them, oils and butters have been catalogued with a number of 0 to 5 and those between 0 and 2, are considered non-comedogenic.
Among the oils or butters with the largest comedogenic scale and that you usually see in the cosmetic industry are:
- Cocoa Butter (Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter)
- Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera (Coconut) Oil)
- Linseed Oil (Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil)
- Moringa Oil (Moringa Oleifera Seed Oil)
- Soy Oil (Glycine Soy)
In this article, you can find more complete information about the comedogenic indices of various products.
- Should be moisturizing, gel-based and water-based
- You must have a pH balance between 4.5 and 5.5
- It should be designed for your skin typeIt must meet these 3 conditions as well as it must be formulated for the type of acne you want to treat
Treatment for comedone is different than treatment for inflammatory acne. Basically, although the 5-step routine applies to prevent or treat acne of any kind, they could apply different ingredients depending on the specific needs of each skin.
- Warm water helps to better dissolve oil-soluble impurities
- Dry your face with gentle touches. Don’t rub it with the towel
- When exercising, wash yourself as soon as possible. Avoid leaving sweat on your skin
- You should wash your skin in the mornings and evenings. Don’t overdo the cleaning as it can cause dryness
- Your water-based cleanser should also have natural moisturizers like the ones I mentioned in Step 3
It is normal to see suggested products to prevent or treat acne with the promise of being “astringent”, meaning that they absorb skin fat, giving the feeling of freshness and sebum reduction.
Astringent cosmetics achieve this property because alcohol has been added to its formula, and although the feeling they provide can attract people who, like me, have oily skin, the continuous use of alcohol on the skin, causes dehydration which deteriorates the skin barrier, and creates a vicious cycle in our body.
causes dehydration which deteriorates the skin barrier, and creates a vicious cycle in our body.
Because the skin becomes dehydrated, the body receives the signal to produce more sebum, causing acne to worsen. On the other hand, dehydration deteriorates the skin barrier, subtracting the ability to defend against microorganisms, and acne continues to worsen.
If you want to avoid alcohol in your products, don’t forget to read your product label to avoid products that have the following ingredients:
- SD alcohol
- denatured alcohol
- isopropyl alcohol
If any of these are in the first 6 ingredients on the label, stay away from that product. If the latter is among the last it has a low risk level, however it is still not recommended. Important: Don’t get confused with fatty alcohols that aren’t harmful to your health. These ingredients carry the word “alcohol” but does not pose a risk to your skin, on the contrary, they provide functional benefits to a cosmetic product:
- cetyl alcohol
- stearyl alcohol
- cetearyl alcohol
When we use a cleaning product, it has in its formula a surfactant. This is the ingredient that makes the detergent effect, taking the impurities that we want to remove from our skin.
For many years, “sulfates” were the surfactant ingredient par excellence. However, several studies have listed them as irritants not only for the skin, but also for the eyes and lungs. Being fair, there are also natural surfactants that produce the same effect.
Surfactants cause mixed feelings. On one hand, we need the skin to be clean, and therefore they should absorb all impurities, but on the other hand, we don’t want it to clean so much, as to drag with it the protective layer of the skin, thus dehydrating, which nonsense if our goal is to prevent or treat acne.
If a cleansing product uses a high percentage of surfactant in its formula, whether natural or not, it can create an effect on the skin so strong, that not only removes impurities, but also, takes away the fatty acids and proteins that protect our skin, thus causing dehydration that ends up irritating the skin.
The reason children shouldn’t use the same cleaning products as adults is precisely because prolonged use of irritating surfactants could cause such dehydration that when they reach adolescence, they don’t have a healthy skin barrier to protect their skin.
If you want to know if the products you use or want to buy have sulfates, identify one (or both) of these ingredients on the label:
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Also known as SLES
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Also known as SLS
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
On the other hand, my recommendation is that you look for a cleaning product that uses a mild and less irritating surfactant. The most common are:
- Decyl- glucoside
Fortunately, the natural skin care industry has evolved rapidly, and developers already have access to natural, sulfate-free surfactants that are skin-friendly.
I confess. I love seeing handcrafted soaps! I love to see the variety of colors, their organic packaging (or non-packaging), the variety of ingredients. However, when it comes to using them on my face, I avoid it and I want to tell you why.
For a product to be called soap, its pH must be above 8. Already in the first part of this article I told you a little about the importance of maintaining an acidic pH on the skin (between 4.7 and 5.5) especially people who want to prevent or treat acne.
This study (page 3) demonstrates that the continued use of soap-based cleaners increased microbial action, while it was reduced after prolonged use of acidic pH cleaners.
So if you like to wipe your face with soap, I understand the feeling, but it’s not my recommendation. Now, if you decide to do so, it’s important to use an acidic tonic immediately afterwards. The use of alkaline products especially on the face, is not limited only to soaps and applies for any product capable of raising the pH of your skin. I have seen some homemade recipes on the internet that promote the use of baking soda, and while it will give you a feeling of less shine or sebum on the skin, in the medium or long term it can have a counterproductive effect on your skin.
We’ve already seen that acne forms because some dead cells left in our skin are joined with sebum to form the comedon.
This concept, while true, has led us to adopt the false belief that we need to exfoliate the skin frequently, to get rid of these annoying granites.
Don’t get me wrong. Exfoliation is necessary, but you should be careful with the frequency. Once a week it’s ideal. More than that can end up affecting your skin, and cause the much-unwanted dehydration we’ve been talking about.
It has happened to you that there are so many options and not knowing which one to choose, you choose your product based on the aroma?
It’s normal. The aromas connect us with our memories and activate emotions. However, if you’re looking to prevent or treat acne, ideally, choose a fragrance-free product.
You identify the fragrance on the label as “Parfum” or “Fragrance”. However, this word does not comprise a single ingredient. In contrast, it can encompass more than 200 ingredients that you don’t have any visibility about and that also tend make your skin more sensitive.
Fragrances are usually alcohol-based and this is why they can be so irritating. In the “astringents” section I told you about the harmful effects that alcohol has on your skin. That’s why choose products that are “Fragrance Free”.
I think we’ve talked enough about the importance of hydration when it comes to preventing or treating acne, so in this part I’ll give you practical advice.
- In the morning, choose a water-based moisturizer or light cream with non-comedogenic oils
- In the morning, choose a water-based moisturizer or light cream with non-comedogenic oils
- During the day you can use a myst. This is a floral water spray that will provide water to your skin, especially if you are in cold temperature, with air conditioning or if you spend many hours in front of the computer
- At night you can use a water-based or light oil-based facial serum or a light cream that nourishes your skin at night
- Chamomille extract
- Hyaluronic acid
- Lactic acid
- Green tea extract
- Aloe vera
- Marigold Extract
- Rosewater, lavender or hazel
This is the part of the routine where you use specific creams or natural treatments to fight acne. It is not always separate from the above steps, but when we talk about treating, it refers to using cleaning products (Step 2) and hydration (Step 3) that contain specific ingredients to prevent or treat acne, which will depend on the type of acne or the type of skin.
- Sulphur. Helps reduce sebum production
- Bentonite clay. Helps clean up impurities and balance sebum production
- Activated carbon. Removes impurities and absorbs sebum
- Salicylic acid. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients for acne as it promotes a natural exfoliation of the skin. Although it has been a little controversial as it has been associated with possible risks of endocrine disruption, its use in skin care products is considered safe, as long as its proportion in the formula does not exceed 3% of the total.
- Benzoyl peroxide. It is often used for inflammatory acne. In fact, it is a regulated ingredient, listed as irritating, only for dermatological use. Although very strong, it has shown good results by adding in small percentages in the cleanser and moisturizer, or for products that are placed at specific points of inflammation.
- Retinoic Acid or Retinol-Vitamin A. It provides excellent skin restoration properties, but should be used with caution and medical supervision to treat acne, both in its topical and oral use. There is strong evidence of health risks, arising from excessive use of this ingredient.
- Adapalene. It has properties very similar to those of retinol, although with lower toxicity
- Tea tree oil. It is a must in natural cosmetics aimed at treating acne, thanks to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Hazel water. sebum regulator, and antibacterial
- Clindamycin. It is an antibiotic used as a supplement in inflammatory acne and its use must be under medical supervision
- Nicotinamide or Niacinamide. Softens and exfoliates the skin
- Infusions or extracts of: neem, Asiatic pennywort and green tea. They balance sebum production, and fight microorganisms.
- Potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide are two very alkaline ingredients that are sometimes used in the treatment of acne, although their use is not recommended, given the pH imbalance we have already talked about
It’s the last step and basically consists of:
- Use sunscreen every day: Choose one that gives you good protection with a light sensation
- Strengthen hydration: Applying a mask at least once a week.
And well we’ve reached the end of our article, I hope it’s been of use to you, and now you have many more tools to prevent or treat acne with natural ingredients.
If so, I ask you to leave me your comments, or help me share it!