Conventional acne treatments can come with serious side effects according to naturopath and nutritionist, Nina Stephenson. Read her suggestions for natural acne solutions.

Acne can present as acne vulgaris (where overactive oil glands block pores, creating inflammation, blackheads and pimples); acne rosacea (affects capillaries, causes flushing); and acne conglobata, or cystic acne, which results in scarring.

If you are interested in an in-depth explanation of acne, you can learn more here.

Conventional treatment includes very harsh medications, notably Roaccutane, which have extremely serious side effects, such as birth defects and severe depression.

Hormone fluctuations caused by puberty, the Pill, periods, pregnancy or menopause can increase sebum production and trigger acne. Other culprits include stress and genetic factors.

The root cause needs to be addressed first, with your naturopath or GP ruling out and/or treating disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Bearing in mind that the skin only becomes overloaded when internal organs of elimination are sluggish, I always take patients through a supervised detoxification program of the bowel, liver and kidneys, if they present with any skin problem, including acne.

Eat clean

Acne is connected to insulin resistance, with studies showing sufferers do not metabolise sugar properly.

To control insulin, ensure each meal comprises a small portion of protein (the size of half your palm), ¼ cup complex carbohydrate (e.g. whole grains, legumes), and 1-2 cups of fresh, low-starch vegetables or salad. Include unsalted nuts and flaxseed oil for their anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid (EFA) content, and avoid sugary, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and high-fructose fruit.

Several salads with vegetables and greens. Healthy food concept. Mixed vegetables salad. Eating clean can help with conditions like acne

Take out insurance

Deficiencies in vitamins A and B2, zinc, and essential fatty acids are all linked to acne. Your naturopath can assess gut function, as you may not be digesting or absorbing nutrients correctly; supplementation and dietary changes may be required. Vitamins B5 and B6 have been shown to help acne, especially when it’s aggravated by PMS. Zinc is a key skin nutrient and also involved in the metabolism of testosterone, which affects acne.

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of essential fatty acids, see our guide to omega-3 here.

Add extra help

Apply a drop of tea tree oil to blemishes three times a day to discourage infection and speed healing. Apply vinegar or lemon juice using a cotton wool bud – the acids present in lemon juice and all vinegars help to flush out pores.

Practise regular skin brushing for acne on back or chest, and gentle exfoliation on the face, to prevent dead skin and excess oil from clogging pores. Be careful not to over-cleanse, however, and avoid granulated, abrasive cleansers.

Regular saunas and facial steaming will open pores and the sweat will push the toxins out; wash your face or shower thoroughly afterwards to remove all debris and oil.

Book yourself in for a facial with a practitioner who specialises in treating skin conditions.

Pick a flower

* Wild chrysanthemum tea: Available from Chinese pharmacies, it dispels body heat and relieves body toxicity. Add 2 teaspoons of dried flowers to 2 cups of boiled water. Steep for a few minutes, strain, and drink.
* Fumitory: Take 30 drops of a tincture of this plant, available from healthfood stores, pharmacies and naturopaths, three times a day. It contains anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-boosting compounds.
* Burdock root: This can be boiled and the tea drunk to act as a blood purifier to improve acne.
* Arnica: A 20-25 percent ointment or tincture of the flower may be applied twice a day, but should never be used on an open sore.
* Chasteberry: For acne that flares up during a menstrual period, drink 1 to 2 cups of chasteberry tea a day; it helps to regulate female hormones.