Attention, class: your lesson in beating breakouts starts here
Lisa Armstrong takes on acne
TRULY, THE LORD GIVETH and taketh away. On the credit side, She has endowed women with the wherewithal to look better for longer and longer. But She has also promulgated widespread outbreaks of what is euphemistically called adult-onset acne (or as it referred to in common parlance, ‘Seriously?!’)
Ironically, sometimes the very tools we use to boost our wellbeing are the culprits in the Great Zit Disaster. Too little oestrogen and too much testosterone can disrupt service, leading to eruptions more akin to cysts or boils than normal pimples. Adjusting your levels can result in immediate improvements – checking your Hrt/bio-identical hormone or Pill prescription should be your first step.
And then? Generally easing up. No squeezing – it’s not just the potential scarring, but the chain reaction beneath the skin that’s counterproductive.
Another understandable response to a spotty insurrection aged 51 and three quarters is to reach for the Emergency Kit – the foaming cleanser you know is dehydrating, the ‘drawing’ face mask, the fruit-acid exfoliators and anything containing alcohol. ‘All,’ says superfacialist Sharon Mcglinchey, ‘will dry the skin while overstimulating base layers, producing more of the sebum and bacteria that led to the breakout.’
Instead, she recommends patience and a gentler approach, with products that balance the skin: jojoba, mixed with an essential oil that’s naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, such as lavender, sandalwood or bergamot, for cleansing; a clay mask you can use daily (I can vouch for her own, MV Organic Signature Mineral Mask, £36 at cultbeauty.co.uk, which uses the highest-grade French clay). ‘Don’t let it dry completely or it will overstimulate your skin,’ she says, ‘and eat more oestrogenic foods: linseeds, sesame seeds, peaches, strawberries, green beans, alfalfa sprouts, soy milk [Bonsoy or an equivalent quality], pistachios and walnuts.’
Shabir Daya, the all-knowing pharmacologist at Victoria Health, identifies a few more villains: sugar (‘acne has been dubbed “skin diabetes” because refined sugars cause constant insulin production, which may trigger the inflammatory compounds that cause excess oil’); gluten, if you’re intolerant (‘the theory is it makes your gut leakier, allowing certain proteins into the bloodstream that would normally be absent’); stress; and dairy. ‘The jury’s out,’ Daya says, ‘but it could be that hormones in milk disturb our own levels.’
Daya’s trusted remedies include zinc to heal inflammation; selenium, a mineral we’re widely deficient in, which is annoying since it’s a free-radical scavenger and displays anti-inflammatory properties; and Thyme Out solution (£18, victoriahealth.com), which isn’t merely calming: Leeds Metropolitan University found a thyme solution more effective at killing the acne-causing bacteria than traditional chemical-based creams such as benzoyl peroxide. Another go-to is Garden of Wisdom Niacinamide Serum (£9, victoriahealth.com). Daya calls it ‘the Hercules of all serums’ and says it’s suitable for every skin type and really works to regulate oil production.
Finally: probiotics, which we’ll get to another time. Just know for now that a healthier gut equals healthier skin.