Is your lifestyle causing your acne? Certainly not. But the way you live affects your whole body, including its largest organ: the skin. The place you work, the hours you keep, the ways you play — all of these can take a toll on the epidermis, especially in those who are prone to acne. Following are a few everyday acne triggers you might not be aware of, and a few things you can do to avoid them.
Comedones on the job. Since some part of your skin is always in contact with your environment, it’s important to pay attention to the substances with which you come into contact on a regular basis. You may be exposing yourself to comedogenic (pore-clogging) substances on the job without even knowing it; while these substances are not the cause of your acne, they can aggravate it. For example: the airborne grease in a fast-food restaurant can create an invisible film on your skin, clogging your pores. Most industrial oils — the kinds used in cars, in factories, on bicycles — are comedogenic as well.
Acne & Sleep — Sleep and your skin. The simplest good deed you can do for your skin may surprise you: sleep! Scientists and mothers around the world agree that a good night’s sleep — at least eight hours — can do wonders for your complexion. How? A healthy, well-rested body has the resources to build a strong immune system. While a robust immune system won’t prevent acne altogether, it can help fight infection so your lesions clear up more quickly. Luckily, your body isn’t picky; uninterrupted sleep in the daytime is just as beneficial. So if you work late, sleep late — and try to maintain a regular schedule.
Acne & Sun — Savvy sun worshipping. While it’s true that small amounts of sun exposure may initially improve acne, don’t be fooled; the benefit is temporary. Consistent sun bathing will dry your skin, causing your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Also, skin that has been exposed to the sun has to slough old cells more frequently; when you combine the extra oil and extra dead cells, you create the ideal environment for comedones, or blocked pores. So if you work (or play) in the sun, it’s important to protect your skin with sunscreen. Look for oil-free products that provide at least an SPF 15 protection level from UVA and UVB rays.
Acne & Stress — The stress connection. Not surprisingly, stress often has a starring role in the ongoing acne drama. “Ninety percent of my patients complain about what stress does to their skin. It has a huge impact, and it’s becoming a bigger problem every day,” says Katie Rodan, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University.
How can stress — emotional anxiety caused by any number of factors in your life — show up on your face? The connection is purely chemical. When you become tense, your adrenal glands go work, flooding your bloodstream with the hormone cortisol. This triggers the sweat glands in your face to produce more oil. When your sebaceous glands go into high gear, there’s a higher probability that this excess oil will mix with dead skin cells and clog your pores, trapping bacteria inside. The result? More acne, primarily inflamed papules rather than blackheads or whiteheads.
What can you do? Of course, you can’t eliminate stress from your life — it’s part of being human. But you can minimize its damage by leading a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet and at least seven hours of sleep every night will help you build a stronger physical foundation; if you’re well fed and well rested, you’re less likely to feel irritated by the events of your day. Try to get some exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block at lunchtime. It’s also important to take time out of every day to relax — read a book, take a bath, practice yoga, or do whatever makes you feel happy and calm. It’s an important step towards overall good health, and therefore the health of your skin.
Don’t eat that — you’ll get zits! We’ve all heard it; from parents, friends or even the family doctor. But the fact is, even after extensive study, scientists have not found a connection between diet and acne. Not chocolate. Not french fries. Not pizza.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “A healthy diet is important for improving raw materials for healthy skin,” but they also note that greasy or sugary foods do not cause acne.1 Likewise, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concurred, “Diet plays no role in acne treatment in most patients…even large amounts of certain foods have not clinically exacerbated acne.”1 Of course, that doesn’t mean you should make a habit of eating foods high in sugar or fat. The skin is the body’s largest organ, so what’s good for the rest of you will be good for your skin, too.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Nutrients for healthy skin. There are a number of nutrients found in everyday foods that are known to promote a healthy body — and therefore healthy skin. Get wise to these substances, and you’ll increase your chances of conquering your acne.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Vitamin A. Naturally occurring Vitamin A, or retinol, is found in fish oils, liver and dairy products. The Vitamin A produced by plants is known as Beta-carotene, and is found in yellow/orange fruits and vegetable such as carrots, yams, apricots and cantaloupe, as well as green vegetables like parsley, kale and spinach. Extremely high doses of Vitamin A are toxic, so don’t overdo it.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Vitamin B-2. Stress has been known to aggravate existing cases of acne, and Vitamin B-2 is often helpful alleviating stress. Foods with a high concentration of B-2 include whole grains, fish, milk, eggs, meat and leafy green vegetables.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Vitamin B-3. Found in peanuts, eggs, avocados, liver and lean meats, Vitamin B-3 improves circulation, promoting healthy skin. It also reduces the cholesterol level in the blood and helps you metabolize protein, sugar & fat — increasing your energy through proper utilization of food.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Vitamin E. Vitamin E is found in almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, broccoli, wheat germ and vegetable oils. A powerful antioxidant, it protects your cells against the effects of free radicals, which are potentially damaging by-products of the body’s metabolism.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Zinc. Even in trace amounts, the antioxidant zinc is known to boost the immune system, improving overall health — which of course is reflected in the skin. Zinc can be found in eggs, whole grains, nuts and mushrooms.
Acne Prevention & Diet — Know your own triggers. Since acne is different for everyone, there may be certain foods that cause flare-ups in your skin. Clearly, these foods should be avoided. You may also want to check your vitamin supplements for their iodine content; while normal amounts of iodine have not been shown to affect skin, amounts greater than the RDA of 150 mcg may aggravate your acne.
Overall, use your common sense. Drink lots of water and eat a healthy, balanced diet — but don’t be afraid to indulge your cravings every now and then.