5 Reasons Acne is Rampant in Westernized Societies
Acne is rampant in Westernized societies with up to 95% of teens developing some level of acne. Many people assume that having acne is just something to suffer through during your teen years and is purely due to genetics and hormonal changes in puberty. Interestingly though, acne doesn't appear to be universal. Studies have noted that there is virtually zero acne present in teens who live in hunter-gather societies.
This is a difference that is far too great to be explained by genetics alone. But how exactly did we get here? Acne is the most common skin condition, but it's not a purely genetic condition - it's a result of lifestyle changes and diet shifts. In this post, we'll explore 5 reasons why acne has become more prevalent in modern society and what you can do about it!
Changes in Diet
The modern diet has shifted dramatically from that of our ancestors and remains drastically different from current-day hunter-gatherer societies. The Western diet contains mostly of high-glycemic processed foods, dairy, and sugars. Sugary beverages like soda, juice and sweetened tea make blood sugar regulation especially difficult and can increase insulin levels. High levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor have been directly linked to acne.
One study found that participants who switched to a Paleo-type diet saw a significant improvement in their acne symptoms. If you're struggling with acne, diet is the first place to start! Try eliminating processed foods, dairy, and sugars and see if your skin improves. In my many years of practice - diet is a very important part of the treatment plan, however in order for it to be the most effective - it should be combined with gut and liver support.
Changes in Cleanliness Standards/Antibiotic Exposure
Another big difference between Westernized societies and hunter-gatherer societies is hygiene practices. In the modern world we're taught to cleanse our skin of all oils and bacteria. This may be a contributing factor to acne development.
A healthy layer of "good bacteria" must be present on the skin to maintain proper skin pH and to prevent opportunistic bacteria from taking over. Overly cleansing with harsh soaps and chemical peels can damage the skin barrier making it more prone to pathogenic bacteria.
In addition, many acne patients are exposed to multiple rounds of antibiotics. One course of doxycycline was shown to produce long-lasting changes in the gut-microbiome which could contribute to poor gut health.
Try switching to a gentle cleanser in the morning and use micellar water with a gentle cleanser at night to remove makeup. Exfoliate a couple times a week only. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics and help cultivate your microbiome. I teach you all about nurturing a healthy gut microbiome in my popular course called "Be+RESTORED: The Clear Skin Method".
Not enough time outdoors
In the modern lifestyle we rarely come in contact with natural microbes found in the soil, well water or spring water, live-cultured fermented foods, or livestock. Most westernized societies live a very sterile life which stunts the stimulation of our innate immune system.
To increase your natural microbe exposure - take walks in the park, go on hikes or camping and visit a river at least once a week.
In addition Vitamin D derived from sun exposure is an essential nutrient for good health and necessary for proper skin function. It's produced in the skin in response to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. We need
It's no secret that stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. It's been linked to many health conditions including acne.
Chronic stress can increase cortisol levels which have been associated with increased sebum production and inflammation. In addition it has been shown that people who are under chronic stress also consume more high glycemic foods. All of this results in a hormonal imbalance contributing to acne development!
Try reducing your stress level by practicing yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises. My favorite practice to reduce stress is called essentialism. This is the practice of carefully deciding on your priorities.
Poor Social Connections
And no, I don't mean social media connections! Lack of in-person social connection is another contributor to acne development in Westernized societies. A study showed that participants who had the fewest social connections were more likely to have acne.
The lack of social support can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation which can contribute to poor mental health which is associated with inadequate sleep, smoking, and alcohol. Hunter-gatherer societies work and live closely together. They have an intricate social network which provides support and connection.
So there you have it - five reasons WHY acne is so rampant in Westernized societies. I hope this gives you some insight into what may be contributing to YOUR acne. If you're struggling with acne, check out The Clear Skin Code acne course as a starting place. If you have questions, feel free to email [email protected] and I'd be happy to chat with you!
1. Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J. Acne Vulgaris: A Disease of Western Civilization. Arch Dermatol. 2002;138(12):1584–1590. doi:10.1001/archderm.138.12.1584
2. Spencer EH, Ferdowsian HR, Barnard ND. Diet and acne: a review of the evidence. Int J Dermatol. 2009 Apr;48(4):339-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2009.04002.x. PMID: 19335417.
3. Becker E, Schmidt TSB, Bengs S, Poveda L, Opitz L, Atrott K, Stanzel C, Biedermann L, Rehman A, Jonas D, von Mering C, Rogler G, Frey-Wagner I. Effects of oral antibiotics and isotretinoin on the murine gut microbiota. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2017 Sep;50(3):342-351. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2017.03.017. Epub 2017 Jul 6. PMID: 28689869.
4. Baldwin H, Tan J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment [published correction appears in Am J Clin Dermatol. 2020 Dec 26;:]. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2021;22(1):55-65. doi:10.1007/s40257-020-00542-y