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April 27, 2012, last updated July 24, 2014

By Alison Turner, Featured Columnist

We’ve all heard it before, and most of us are convinced,that a
breakout of acne on the day before prom is a natural part of
life that most of us have to go through.  But what happens
when breakouts and facial acne don’t leave us alone after
adolescence?  A 2008 study from experts at the University of
Alabama at Birmingham finds that acne after adolescence is far
more common than any of us would wish, and is more
prevalent in women than in men.  Over 50% of women
between the ages of 20 to 29 report cases of facial acne,
compared with over 40% of men in the same age group; for
people between the years of 30 and 39, 35% of women and
20% of men continue to struggle with acne, and the numbers
drop slightly as age increases from there in both sexes .  Why
do some of us continue to struggle with a condition that
everyone told us would disappear after the anxiety of algebra
tests and first kisses?  Are there any natural remedies for acne
in adults?

First Things First: Acne Myths Dispelled  

We’ve all heard the myths: chocolate, sugar, dairy products,
sun – even sex has been accused as the culprit of pimples and
zits.  It turns out, however that most of what we have all
“heard” about acne ends up to have very little basis in science.  

The National Institutes of Health assures that chocolate and
greasy foods have been falsely accused for causing acne (and
that there is very little evidence that food is connected at all to
the acne of most people), just as the stigma about
“uncleanliness” and acne is false – blackheads and pimples are
not caused by dirt, so there is no reason to assume that
someone has acne because they don’t wash their face.  

Stress, one of the most popular scapegoats for breakouts, is
also reported to have “no tangible evidence” as a direct cause
of acne.   As for sex causing acne, this author spent many a
nervous hour searching for any evidence for this to be the
case, and came up with zero studies claiming any connection
between such good and evil forces.  Living with adult acne is
bad enough – what an awful thought that so many people
suffering adult acne also deny themselves some of life’s best
pleasures, when it doesn’t alleviate the condition anyway.

So What Does Cause Acne?  

Pimples, zits, blackheads, breakouts, or its perhaps accurate-
sounding scientific name, “acne vulgaris,” occurs when hair
follicles under the skin (also known as pores) clog up.  When
the oil glands in our pores produce too much oil, the pores
become blocked and dirt, bacteria or cells build up.  This build
up could be white (producing whiteheads), dark (yep,
blackheads), or could break open into the swelling, red bumps
that we detest so much  (pimples).  While it may seem easy
enough to address this issue (let’s just prevent the skin from
clogging!) the National Institute of Health confirms that “no
one knows exactly what causes acne,”  which makes the
condition, as many of us regret knowing firsthand, particularly
difficult to treat.  

Experts know that acne tends to run in families, and does seem
to be related to hormonal changes from puberty, menstruation,
pregnancy, and hormonal changes occurring from stress.  
There may also be an association with greasy or oily cosmetic
products, though this does not cause acne in all users.

Different Types of Acne

Not all acne is the common "acne vulgaris", as a 2014 study
from Otto Von Guericke University in noted.  Common mild acne
that occurs in adolescence can usually be treated at home. A
more severe form of acne is "conglobate acne" acute lesions,
scars and inflammation. This type of acne must be treated by a
doctor who can prescribe anti-inflammatory antibiotic
medications such as tetracycline.  

How Do I Make the Acne Go Away?  

For those of us who have suffered from adult acne, we know
that it is more than a matter of a few vanity pimples.  Indeed,
moderate to serious acne can have strong psychological impact
that can seriously decrease the quality of life of some people.   
You may have heard a few times of remedies that actually work
in some cases, such as not over-washing the face, topical
treatments, prescribed anti-biotics, or, for women, hormonal
treatment, such as with certain types of birth control.   But are
there natural remedies that help to decrease breakouts or to
make them go away once they appear?

Below is a list of ten other strategies that scientists have
discovered to have alleviated adult breakouts, or to be a cause
of those breakouts, in real patients with real adult acne.

Propolis: The Bee’s Knees Against Acne.  Wait, bees make
honey and honey is sweet and sweet foods cause acne, right?  
Wrong.  Right away, we may have to eliminate some of those
myths we’ve heard about acne (especially when we’re talking
about topical solutions versus food intake, as in the case with

Bee propolis is the material that is produced from the buds of
poplar and cone-bearing trees, though it is usually obtained
from beehives and thus contains other bee products.  

Propolis has been on the medicinal radar since 350 B.C., in the
times of Aristotle, when Greeks used propolis for abscesses,
and since then it has been used from cultures around the world
to heal wounds and tumors, to treat canker sores and
infections, and even for mummification processes in Egypt.
And, just ten years ago, it was discovered that propolis may
help prevent acne.

The research was conducted by Simona Holcova with the
Outpatient Department of Dermatovenerology and Marie
Hladikova with the Department for Medical Informatics at the
Charles University, both in Czech Republic , who focused on 60
patients with acne.  These patients used a shower gel that had
a “hypoallergenic propolis special extract” as its active
ingredient, and were not allowed to use other local

After 12 weeks “the inflamed skin sites in the acne areas both
on the face and the other skin areas” were significantly
reduced, and approximately 90% of patients with facial acne
were symptom-free.  In two patients a “local irritation” did

If you worry about acne and breakouts, next time you’re in the
shower-gel aisle(or touring your local bee farm), keep an eye
out for propolis.

Low Glycemic Diets Improve Acne. Ok, so diet might have
something to do with breakouts...but it’s more complicated
than chocolate.

After the decades of scientists assuring that chocolate and
greasy food will not cause breakouts, research in the last few
years has forced back open discussions on the possibility of our
diets effecting our skin, so that some specialists insist that
“dermatologists can no longer dismiss the association between
diet and acne”   (though, let’s keep in mind, that many still do.  
It’s an area of contention; dermatologists have to have
something to fight about, right?).  

However, claims about diet and acne have changed from
chocolate and greasy foods to an idea that is a bit more
complex or, some may say, developed.  Now, it seems that acne
may be associated with a low-glycemic diet.

That’s all well in good, if we knew what the devil a low-
glycemic diet was.  The glycemic index (GI) is a system for
ranking carbohydrates’ effects on our blood glucose levels, that
has increased in popularity since its development in 1981.  The
index indicates whether a food contains carbohydrates that
break down rapidly during digestion (foods with high glycemic
indices), or carbs that break down slowly and release glucose
gradually into the blood stream (foods with a low glycemic

For example, Harvard Medical School posts online that, with
100 indicating absolute glucose, plain white bread has a
glycemic index of 95, whereas a wheat tortilla has a GI of 30;
Fruit Roll-Ups have a GI of 99, versus peanut M&Ms which are
at 33  (this goes to show that foods that we sometimes think of
as “healthier” may not be so, according to their glycemic index).

Foods with a lower glycemic index are believed to require less
insulin, and to promote better long-term blood glucose control
and a reduction in blood lipids.  Unfortunately, it is not always
so simple (actions and reactions in our body rarely are); some
foods have a low glycemic index but cause a high insulin
response and/or actually raise blood lipids.  This means that
we also need to pay attention to an “insulin index” to know
how much insulin responds to a certain food.  

Finally, there is something called a glycemic load (GL), which is
yet another ranking system that combines carbohydrate
content and portion size of the food.  The glycemic load is
intended to show that small amounts of food with a high
glycemic index would have the same effect on blood sugar as
large amounts of food with a low glycemic index.  The glycemic
loads per serving of the four above-mentioned foods, plain
white bread, wheat tortilla, Fruit Roll-Ups, and peanut M&Ms,
for example, are 15, 8, 24, and 6, respectively.   

And what, you may be begging by now, does all of this have to
do with breakouts of acne?

It turns out that your blood sugar levels affect acne. In 2007
experts from various Australian institutions, including the Royal
Melbourne Hospital, as well as the Turku University in Finland,
including Robyn Smith with the School of Applied Sciences at
the RMIT University in Melbourne  set out to determine
whether a low-glycemic-load diet has any effect on acne.  

A total of 43 males between the ages of 15 and 25 undertook a
12 week “dietary intervention” ingesting either a  low-glycemic-
load (a diet of 25% protein and 45% low-glycemic-index
carbohydrates), or the control diet, which emphasized foods
that were dense in carbohydrates.  The amount and severity of
acne was assessed during monthly visits, as was insulin

Results showed that after the 12 weeks of dietary intervention,
acne had “decreased more” and there was a “greater
improvement in insulin sensitivity” in the boys and men
consuming a low-glycemic load.  The team concludes that their
work “suggests that nutrition-related lifestyle factors may play
a role in the pathogenesis of acne.”  

Now all we have to do is learn, remember, and choose foods
with a low glycemic index, a low insulin index, and just the
right portion size for a low-glycemic load, and, our acne should
easily improve.  It’s easy!   (Right).

The High Life and Cleaner Skin: Oysters May Prevent Acne.  
Some people think they’re slimy, some people can’t live without
them, and maybe all of us should try them if we suffer from
acne breakouts; oysters happen to be the number one source
of zinc per serving in food, and recent research shows that zinc
may help alleviate adult acne.

Zinc is one of those minerals that most of us never think about,
but that, despite its neglect, keep our bodies functioning and
strong.  Zinc is a key player in our immune system and
metabolic processes, and contributes to our sense of taste and
smell, the production of insulin, and maintaining healthy liver
function. The addition of ascorbate (also known as Vitamin C),
enhances these qualities, so that zinc ascorbate becomes a very
good thing to put into our bodies.    

In 2011 researchers from various institutions in Japan,
including Norihisa Noguchi with the Department of Microbiology
at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences,  analyzed
how Propionibacterium acnes (the bacteria taking most of the
blame for causing acne),  reacted to zinc ascorbate either as is,
or in combination with other antibiotics.  

The team tested 41 strains of antibiotics that were either
sensitive or resistant to the acne bacteria.  

Results showed that zinc ascorbate “showed antimicrobial
activity,” so that the concentration of the acne bacteria was
“sufficiently lower” than those tested with other ascorbic acid
derivatives.  In fact, zinc ascorbate didn’t even need other
antibiotics; zinc ascorbate “alone effectively inhibited the
growth of all P.acnes” strains, though it also worked well with
the antibiotic clindamycin.  The team concludes that “the
combination of zinc ascorbate and clindamycin is effective for
acne vulgaris treatment.”

Whether or not we are concerned about calming acne flare-
ups, it’s always a good idea to make sure we get enough zinc.  

Zinc deficiencies can impact the growth and repair of certain
cells, and even lead to emotional disorder, weight loss and
growth retardation in adolescents.  The Recommended Daily
Allowance of zinc is 8-14mg/day for adults.   

Oysters are honored with the gift of containing more zinc than
any other food (one serving of oysters has 74 milligrams of
zinc!), and other sources, though less mighty, include crab
(one serving has 6.5 mg), fortified breakfast cereals (3.8
mg/serving), lobster (3.4 mg), and one half cup of baked
beans (2.9 mg).    

Zinc supplements are available, though they may not feel as
indulgent --- or taste as good --- as a serving of oysters.

Tea Tree Oil: An Historical Drink, a Contemporary Trick for
Clearer Skin.

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