Stephanie Gardner, MD
Beating breakouts isn’t all about what we put on our skin. The epidermis, the top layer of skin and the largest organ of the body (covering roughly 3,000 square inches), is also one of the most vulnerable to what we eat and the environment we expose it to. Read on for 10 small lifestyle changes that make a huge difference in clearing up acne.
According to a study in Sleep, the risk of psychological stress increases by 14% for every hour of sleep you lose a night. So what does this have to do with acne? “Stress increases glucocorticoid production, which can lead to abnormalities in skin structure and function, exacerbating conditions like acne,” says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a dermatologist in Danville, Calif.
To get your beauty sleep, crank your thermostat down to between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. French researchers found that a cooler body temperature makes it easier to fall asleep after you’ve hit the sack.
Certain foods cause blood glucose to rise rapidly, triggering a boost in insulin and resulting in inflammation on a cellular level, says Badreshia-Bansal. Excess levels of insulin in the bloodstream trigger a hormonal cascade and endocrine response that can lead to the growth of pore-clogging cells, as well as overactive oil gland activity.
A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition found that people who consumed a low-glycemic diet, which included more whole grains, beans, and vegetables, and limited white pasta, rice, bread, and sugar, had fewer breakouts.
Exercise not only whittles the waistline, but it also reduces stress (which has been found to contribute to the production of acne lesions), regulates your hormone levels, increases circulation that delivers more oxygen to skin cells and carries cellular wastes away, and boosts your immune system. But there’s a fine line -- sweat from exercise can also lead to breakouts via skin irritation. It is very important to remove any perspiration-trapping garments like sports bras, and to shower immediately after working out.
Upping your water intake is a great way to flush out internal toxins and hydrate your skin from the inside out. Though there is no definitive research that shows toxins lead to breakouts, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that having about 2 cups of water significantly boosted blood flow throughout the body and skin.
Your body needs to neutralize and get rid of waste materials produced during metabolism. When the immune system weakens, the body finds itself unable to fight toxic substances alone. This raises the levels of toxins and ultimately, the inner detoxification system gets weak, and you have more breakouts.
You may be apprehensive about slathering SPF on your face because you’ve noticed that after a day in the sun (after getting “sun-kissed) your complexion looks clear and breakout-free. But you’re playing with fire on all fronts. The sun dries out skin, hence the less-oily/pimpled complexion. And if you get burned, the inflammation aggravates acne lesions and pores, potentially leading to worsening acne.
It’s important to wear SPF each and every time you’re in the sun. Read the ingredients list on the back of your sunscreen, and if you’re acne-prone, look for the lighter, non-occlusive chemical ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, methoxycinnamate, or octocylene. Physical sunblocks containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide tend to be thicker and sometimes more likely to block pores and aggravate acne-prone skin.
It seems like there’s no end to the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (aka “good fats”). And here’s one more for you: Omega-3s have been shown to control the production of leukotriene B4, a molecule that can increase sebum and cause inflammatory acne. To reap the benefits of the complexion-perfecting nutrient, pop a daily omega-3 supplement, or add foods like walnuts, avocados, flaxseed oil, and salmon into your diet.
The face has more oil-producing glands than any other parts of the body, says Carolyn Jacob, MD, a Chicago-based dermatologist. Top that with a day’s worth of makeup, sweat, smog, dust, and dirt, and you’re left with a pore-clogging concoction that, if not washed away regularly, will seep into and clog pores, resulting in blackheads and pimples. Even if you don’t shower twice a day, it’s important to cleanse your face in the morning and at night. Look for cleansers that say “noncomedogenic” on the bottle and wash your face thoroughly -- and gently -- every a.m. and p.m.
Sure, overzealous oil glands can lead to breakouts, but so can under-performing oil glands. Dry skin has tiny cracks in which bacteria can breed, plus excessive flaking can lead to clogged pores. The fix: Gently exfoliate skin a few times a week with a scrub designed for the face, and follow up with a noncomedogenic (there’s that word again) moisturizer.
Several studies have shown that cell phones are hotbeds for germs. Throughout any given day your phone can be exposed to thousands of bacteria, which spread from your fingers (via texting) to your face (via talking) and vice versa. In addition, the heat produced by your phone can aid in the multiplication of bacteria. Yuck! To keep the germs from landing on your face, wipe the surface of your phone with a little hand sanitizer each day.
Pomade acne is a common condition characterized by breakouts that are caused by hair-care products including conditioner, shampoo, gel, and hairspray. This form of acne occurs when the oils from styling products seep into skin, usually around the hairline, and trap acne-causing bacteria in pores. To combat, apply the hair products before you wash your face so that any pimple-producing residue can be washed away.
SOURCES:Carolyn Jacob, MD, dermatologist, Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology.Charles Gerba, professor, University of Arizona.Glozier, N. Sleep, 2010; vol 33: pp 1139-1145.Onen, S. Presse Med., March 1994; vol 23: pp 485-489.Rubin, M. Lipids in Health and Disease, 2008; vol 7: pp 1476-1511.Smith, R. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2007; vol 86: pp 107-115. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, dermatologist/clinical instructor, UCSF.WebMD Feature: “Can’t Sleep? Adjust the Temperature.”Wipke-Tevis, D. Wound Repair and Regeneration, March/April 2007; vol 15: pp 174-185.Yosipovitch, G. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 2007; vol 87: pp 135-139.
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