The Science of Acne: Why Do We Get It?
The Science of Acne: Why Do We Get it?
Trust me, I’ve been there. I used to dread waking up in the morning to look in the mirror, hoping to see clear skin, but instead, there's another uninvited blemish. I had changed my skincare and makeup, tried medication, and stopped eating dairy…why did it feel like I was doing “everything right” but STILL had acne??
While the conventional medical approach offers “band-aid” solutions to temporarily relieve symptoms, many of you, like my thousands of acne clients, are seeking a deeper, more permanent answer.
But to understand how to reverse the acne breakouts long-term, we need to understand WHY it’s appearing in the first place. And NO it’s not just “unlucky genetics.” I’ve seen thousands of clients clear their skin permanently even with “acne prone genes.” And YES, I am one of those people. Even though my genetics make my skin “acne-prone”, I am now acne-free!
Let's dive into the WHY and HOW behind acne today, shall we? This is always the FIRST place to start before we move on to WHAT to do to reverse it.
Let me tell you, this is a question the conventional approach has ignored for decades. They jump right into drugs which will cover the emerging symptoms leading to acne instead of reversing the root causes of acne. This leads to a cycle of continual medical therapy to “control” acne instead of eradicating the inflammation and imbalances that lead to acne in the first place!
The Old Science of Acne: Understanding Acne From a Conventional Medical Model
When scientists first started studying acne they identified 4 pillars of skin changes that lead to acne. These 4 pillars are the physical changes that can be observed in the skin that eventually lead to those bumpy, painful cysts.
What are the 4 pillars? Let's discuss them:
- Oil Glands Overproduce Sebum (skin oils): Acne prone skin develops first with changes in the body which trigger the sebaceous glands to enlarge and overproduce oil. This increase in sebum sets the stage for clogged pores. Mainstream treatments? Drying out the skin with retinoids, acid peels, and drying face washes.
- Increase in Skin Cell Proliferation and Irregular Shedding of Dead Skin Cells: Skin cells suddenly get signals to increase the rate they are dividing, creating an excess of skin cells. These skin cells can get stuck and caught on each other making it harder for them to shed appropriately. Imagine not cleaning your room for weeks. This is similar to when our skin doesn't shed its dead cells regularly - things get cluttered, resulting in blockages. And the conventional go-to remedy? Exfoliation via retinols and various hydroxy acids.
- Bacteria Imbalances: Enter Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes, formerly P. Acnes). This is a very common type of bacteria on our skin which feeds on sebum. One hundred percent of us become colonized around puberty due to hormonal increases in sebum. Typically harmless, C. Acnes is actually quite important to healthy skin as it crowds out more harmful, infectious bacteria. However, changes in the skin microbiome cause an imbalance of the strains of C.acnes. When certain strains increase, it can trigger white blood cells to attack and start an inflammatory response in the skin. It’s important to note that modern science has confirmed acne patients do NOT have MORE bacteria than average. Your skin has an important microbiome that can be disturbed by many factors, including antibiotics, gut infections, stress and air pollution. The typical approach? Wage war on ALL skin bacteria with topical or systemic antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide. This can lead to even longer-term skin imbalances.
- Inflammation: The old view saw inflammation as a result of the bacteria present on the skin. In modern research we now know that inflammation is a cornerstone of all acne developing and comes from other sources than just bacteria. Many things, from our diet to stress, can inflame our skin. The usual treatments? Antibiotics, accutane, retinols, and topicals like benzoyl peroxide try to keep the inflammation in check…but unfortunately as soon as you stop treatment, the inflammation bubbles up again.
While these are the legitimate physical skin changes that lead to acne, it’s important to note that they don’t give any explanation to WHY these changes occur. Conventional medicine goes straight after “treatments” which seek to cover the symptoms instead of understanding how to reverse the triggers at the root.
Why waste years of your life treating acne-symptoms and ignoring the REAL CAUSE? All the while often suffering unintended side effects from harsh and disruptive medications.
Let’s Discover the Root Cause Answer to Why we Get Acne
First, it’s important to acknowledge that acne is a generalized symptom. A generalized symptom can have many different root causes that act synergistically to cause a symptom. This can make it a bit tricky because YOUR root cause may not be the same as someone else.
For example, fatigue is another generalized symptom. When you go to the doctor with fatigue, there is a very long list of possibilities of what is causing your fatigue. For one person it could be as simple as buying a new mattress so you can get a better night's sleep! For another it could be a complex chronic disease which has depleted the body and needs months to restore to full healing.
The way we can tell your root cause of acne is by understanding your other symptom clusters which guide our treatment approach. And NO, you don’t need expensive testing. The vast majority of people can take the detailed self-evaluation quizzes in my clear skin courses for an in-depth understanding of their symptom clusters. You can even take a simplified version of the quiz HERE.
Once we understand that acne is a generalized symptom, we can start to appreciate the interconnected nature of the root causes. The best system for healing is when we take a step back and view the body holistically insteading of fixating on just one system like the skin, gut or diet.
A Root Cause Take on Acne
Here are the 5 main pillars of the root causes of acne from a holistic perspective;
- 1. Nervous System Dysregulation & Stress Management: Our nervous system is the commander and chief of the body. When our nervous system becomes dysregulated by trauma, chronic stress or feelinging unsafe, the body focus shifts from rejuvenation to mere survival. Our modern lives, marked by perpetual busyness, lack of downtime, and overwhelming expectations, can dysregulate our nervous system. This dysregulation leads to imbalances in digestion, detoxification and hormone balance and eventually manifests as acne. This is 100% the most common acne trigger!
- Inflammatory Diet and Poor Nutrition: If you grew up in an average Westernized household, chances are your diet has been sub-par nutritionally since you were young. Your nutrient status and gut health are mirrored on your skin. A balanced diet, devoid of inflammatory foods, can be transformative. Understand the gut-skin connection. Even if you think you’re already eating healthy (that was me!), small changes can make a huge difference! Trust me, I see this everyday!
- Poor Digestion and Gut Health: The research is clear, inflammation in the gut can manifest on the skin. The Gut-Skin connection is quite strong. Although the vast majority of my clients are struggling with some form of poor digestion such as constipation, diarrhea, gas bloating or IBS, not everyone will manifest gut inflammation as these types of symptoms. Sometimes it’s acne or anxiety that is the sign of gut issues. In any case, optimizing gut health is key.
- Toxins and Detox: We often underestimate the toxins in our environment. Endocrine disruptors, fragrances, and even certain household products can disrupt our skin's harmony. Add to that our bodies are depleted and struggling to process these toxins efficiently. It can often feel like we are swimming upstream to keep our environment low-tox, but trust me! It’s never been easier! There are so many better options on the market today to keep you and your family balanced.
- Supplements and Skincare: I find that the right supplements and skin care can supercharge your healing journey. It’s like the icing on the cake which makes it that much more amazing. I often find that clients come to me taking a smattering of random supplements instead of a well balanced plan. This is where it helps to have an acne expert really spill on the tea on WHAT WORKS!
In the upcoming segments, I promise to unravel more holistic wisdom, like acne face mapping, to truly understand the messages behind each blemish.
To wrap up, remember, your skin is a reflection of your internal environment. Root-cause healing is an exciting and empowering perspective on health that sets you free from long-term medication management and *restores* your health, not just covering your symptoms.
Be sure to take the Acne Quiz to start expanding your understanding of the root causes of YOUR acne and follow me on social to stay in touch: Instagram, YouTube and my blog posts. Let’s share, learn, and grow together while we pave a path to not just clear skin, but improved well-being.
If this message resonated with you and you're ready to join our community, check out my comprehensive clear skin programs which give you the roadmap to the 5-Step Clear Skin Method. You can join our community at the Clear Skin Code (adult acne) and Teen Acne Academy. Let’s heal together, from the inside out.