Dealing with Teenage-Level Acne Again? Understanding the Cause & What to Do About It.
Experiencing your worst wave of breakouts since junior high? It’s not you — it’s the COVID-19 pandemic. The combination of skyrocketing levels of stress, occlusive protective masks, and upended routines can have severe consequences for our skin.
What’s causing acne right now
Pandemic-related or not, stress is a major contributor to acne. It creates a domino effect: Our bodies respond to stress by producing the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases the levels of androgen, which ramps up oil production in skin. Bacteria on the skin feeds on this oil while the excess oil itself contributes to clogged pores, too.
On top of that, stress causes an uptick in skin inflammation. Your skin cells are a local nervous system and when you’re under stress, they release a deluge of inflammatory proteins. This can trigger a number of skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.
And if stress has led to habits like late-night Instagram scrolling, interruptions in your sleep schedule, and seeking comfort in, well… comfort foods, these can also contribute to breakouts. The carbohydrate-rich and sugary foods we tend to crave during stressful events have a high glycemic index, which has been associated with acne. These foods increase levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which studies suggest may drive oil production. Poor sleep, meanwhile, is another source of stress for the body, increasing cortisol levels. Sleep is the bodies (and thus the skin’s) dedicated time for repair, and skimping on it can further contribute to inflammation.
Another complication: You may be dealing with two types of acne. The stress-related acne is your everyday acne, or acne vulgaris. Stress breakouts are often more concentrated along the lower face, jawline, and upper neck. The pimples may also be deeper and more tender to the touch. But these days, there’s also acne mechanica, which results from wearing face masks and has been dubbed “maskne”; it appears as small, inflamed bumps. Typically, this type of acne is caused by heat that gets trapped from prolonged occlusion or friction. It is especially common with N95 masks, as they’re less breathable and create a tighter seal than other kinds of masks, confining recycled, humid air under the mask.
How to treat COVID-related acne
Adjust your Skincare Routine
Wash with a salicylic acid cleanser to gently exfoliate and clear pores. Also, double down on not touching your face. Regardless of where it shows up, acne is the result of pores getting clogged with an excess of oil, dirt, and dead skin. That clog becomes a comedone (more commonly known as blackheads and whiteheads). If bacteria gets into the mix, the comedone can become inflamed and become a papule (a reddish pimple) or a pustule (papules that are filled with pus and look “poppable”).
All types of acne, including blackheads and whiteheads, no matter where they are on the body, are mainly caused by fluctuating hormones, an overproduction of sebum (skin oil), buildup of P. acne bacteria, and irregular shedding of skin cells.
Adjust your Diet + Repair your Gut
The connection between acne and food is real, and there is a direct correlation between the foods we eat, our complexion and our overall health.
This should really come as no surprise as your gut and your skin play similar roles. Both defend your body against pathogens, and both are covered in beneficial bacteria when in a healthy state. The more diverse the mix, the better. This also applies to your skin. Studies show that certain strains of bacteria found on your skin are associated with acne reduction, skin hydration, elasticity, and maintaining your skin’s overall health. Your gut’s job is to keep toxins, infections, and inflammation at bay. Your skin is the major detoxifier that helps eliminate the substances and waste created during this standoff. This connection and relationship is called the gut-skin axis.. When the gut is not functioning optimally, it can result in issues throughout the body, even to the point of autoimmune disease. The skin is often the first place to show the effects of an unhealthy gut.
If you eat a lot of sugar or foods that turn to sugar, things that are high on the glycemic index, they’re going to increase your blood sugar, which causes a spike in the hormone, insulin. That increase actually triggers excess sebum production, the oils in our skin, plus it increases androgen activity. That combination is one of the big triggers for acne.
Aside from insulin, too much sugar wrecks your gut, and a lot of skin problems originate in the gut. There’s no shortage of reasons to stop eating sugar.
Considering this, and the fact that our skin is our largest organ and one of the body’s primary detoxification pathways it seems fairly intuitive that our diet can impact the health of our skin both positively, and negatively.
Introduce Vitamin A
There are many benefits to using Vitamin A as part of your regimen from tackling blemishes and signs of aging to restoring hydration and overall skin health, but not all vitamin A derivatives are the same. We recommend Retinaldehyde over it’s counterparts as:
- Retinal’s composition is more bioavailable, meaning it absorbs faster and more thoroughly, making it clinically-proven to work 11 times faster than Retinol.
- Retinal is 1000 times more effective at stimulating collagen production than Retinol, yet it’s gentler to the skin.
- Retinal is not sun-sensitizing and doesn’t increase your risk of UVA/UVB damage or hyperpigmentation (like Retinol), so it can be included in your daytime skincare program.
- Retinal is safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.
The Retinaldehyde used in all Osmosis Beauty skincare products is encapsulated in a patented liposomal delivery system. This increases product penetration into deeper layers of the skin which enhances effectiveness and accelerates results.
Standard retinoids can cause dryness and irritation, this can largely be avoided with Retinaldehyde. That said, if your skin is sensitive and dryness occurs, adjust to using the product two nonconsecutive nights each week, and combine this with a moisturizer that doesn’t clog pores to further offset dryness. If, after a few weeks, any dryness or irritation subsides, you can increase frequency to nightly.
As mentioned, the onset of acne breakouts begin because of bacteria in the pores of our skin. Blue Light Therapy at 415nm is predominantly used for its anti-bacterial properties and in the treatment of acne. The blue light emitted from the device is absorbed by porphyrin. The bacteria responsible for causing acne, Propionibacterium Acnes (P. Acnes) contains abundant amounts of porphyrin and when the blue light is absorbed an oxygen free-radical is created which is released into the bacteria and results in bacterial reduction. In addition, infrared light at 830nm reduces the size of oil-secreting glands that contain the bacteria. Blue light also has anti-inflammatory characteristics although the best results are seen when combining red and blue light for its additional skin rejuvenation and wound healing benefits. Red Light Therapy at 630nm reduces the activity of acne vulgaris by accelerating wound healing and reducing the inflammatory response.
Blue–Red Light uses low-level light therapy in both Blue (415nm) and Red (630nm) wavelengths. Multiple studies have shown it is well tolerated and effective through a reduction in inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions and is superior to blue light alone. The mechanism is thought to be synergistic in applying the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions of both wavelengths of light acting at different depths within the skin.
Targeted Nutritional Supplementation
Optimizing levels of carotenoids; vitamins B, C, E and D; omega-3 fatty acids; and zinc, selenium, collagen protein, L-glutamine, and probiotics can help clear the skin (specifically probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus Rhamnosus SP1 or GG, strains that has been linked to a reduction in adult acne ). Essential fatty acids such as those in fish, flaxseeds, evening primrose and borage oils can be helpful. Work with a trusted healthcare practitioner if you want to add supplements to your acne-fighting regimen. Remember, too, that even if you’re taking in a lot of high-quality supplements or whole-foods sources of these micronutrients, it doesn’t always mean that your body is absorbing them. If you suspect poor absorption is a problem for you, consult your practitioner.
Berberine has antimicrobial action and it helps stabilize blood sugar, so it helps fight breakouts on two fronts. Pure Encapsulations Metabolic Xtra includes Berberine, and three other powerful ingredients that help support insulin receptor function and healthy glucose metabolism.
Boost Your Detox Pathways
The liver is the body’s main organ of detoxification. In the first phase of detoxification, toxins (including used-up hormones) are shuttled to the liver to be broken down. In phase two, the liver sends these broken-down toxins back out into the body to be eliminated. Elimination happens in one of three ways: through sweat, urine, and the bowels. You can optimize the detox process at every step of the way. Eating cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli and cauliflower family, for example) of supplementing with Pure Encapsulations Detox Pure Pack is one of the best ways to support liver function; getting regular exercise or making use of other sweat therapies (like infrared sauna) boosts sweat; staying hydrated keeps the bladder moving, and a high-fiber diet does the same for the bowels.
Choose Your Mask Wisely
Opt for masks made with breathable materials, such as cotton, if you can. Heavy-duty masks with filters aren’t necessary for daily use for most people.
Pandemic stress relief
Again stress is a major contributor to acne and there are so many pandemic-related stresses. There’s financial stress, concern for ill family members, anxiety about contracting the virus, social isolation and changes related to working and schooling from home.
While skin breakouts can certainly add to your stress, it’s important to try to de-stress. It is by doing so you are able to take your body out of the sympathetic “fight or flight” state, and put it into the parasympathetic “rest, digest and heal” state thereby evoking the body’s innate ability of self-healing. Only when the stress ends will your skin truly begin to clear and recover.
Forms of Stress Relief
There are so many different ways to relieve stress that sometimes finding the right technique for your personality and situation may seem overwhelming, or at least like more work than you want to tackle when you’re already feeling stressed. Finding stress relievers that work for you, however, can be well worth the effort in that the work you do to try different techniques that work for you can ultimately change your whole experience of stress.
Following are six relaxation techniques that can help you evoke the relaxation response and reduce stress.
1. Cut out things that add to your stress. Sometimes, the best way to reduce your stress is to cut something out of your life. Get rid of the things that are adding to your stress so you can experience more peace. Watching the news, being constantly connected to your digital devices, drinking alcohol, and consuming too much caffeine are just a few of the things that may add more stress to your life. Making some changes to your daily habits could be instrumental in helping you feel better and allowing your body to start to heal.
2. Breath focus. In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can be especially helpful for people with eating disorders to help them focus on their bodies in a more positive way. This technique is especially beneficial for those who recovering from COVID-19, as well as those looking to enhance the overall strength and health of their respiratory system.
2. Body scan. This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there. A body scan can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.
3. Exercise. Physical activity is key to managing stress and improving mental health. And the best news is, there are many different kinds of activities that can reduce your stress. Join a gym, take a class, or exercise outside. Keep in mind that there are many different ways to get more physical activity in your day too. Walking, strength training, kayaking, hiking, and spin class are just a few different examples of ways you can get stress relief.
4. Mindfulness meditation. This practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.
5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. But if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.
Request a Skin Consultation
To learn more about about the causes, prevention, and suitable solutions for acne SCHEDULE A SKIN CONSULTATION with one of our Columbus Ohio Estheticians.
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