Acne is a hot topic. No demographic among web surfers is more web savvy than teens and young adults, and 85% of teens and up to 25% of adults even up to the age of 40 have active acne. The acne treatment that nearly every website forgets (at least until now) is juicing.
Juicing is a way to get the benefits of “superfoods” for acne without having to stock up on whichever foods some guru is telling you is the superfood of the week. Juicing can help you lose whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and sometimes cysts. It can help you lose weight while you clear up your complexion. But before we get too far into the ingredients and techniques of juicing to help treat your acne (as well as general skin care), let’s take a close look at what acne really is.
Acne Isn’t Basically About Oily Skin
The old paradigm for acne vulgaris, the “common acne” that nearly everyone develops at one time or another, was that teens who ate oily foods and did not wash their faces accumulated oil that clogged pores in their skin. If acne sufferers really overindulged in oil, then they might break out in red pimples or even cysts. The old paradigm was just plain wrong.
Most people who have acne wash once or even two or three times daily. While most teens who have acne, at least teens in North America and Europe who have acne, do indulge in fast food, the primary problem that causes acne is not diet. Acne begins as skin that grows too fast.
Everybody’s skin originates in a structure known as the basal layer. This layer generates new skin cells that migrate toward the surface of the skin as they mature. There are usually about 25 layers of cells before you get down to the “quick” where the skin has active blood vessels and nerve endings.
The oldest skin cells at the very top layer of skin are actually dead. They have partially broken down into a substance called ceramide. This is the same substance, incidentally, that forms on French fries when they are cooked in smoking hot fat. Ceramide acts as a kind of cement that holds skin cells together and keeps water and infection out (but don’t rub French fries on your skin as an acne treatment). Skin cells line up like bricks, and ceramide acts as mortar. Of the non-living components of your skin, about 75% is ceramide and about 25% is water.
Ceramide helps hold skin together, but skin has to be flexible. When muscles beneath the skin move, the skin has to move with them. Our faces would look like we had overindulged in Botox if we didn’t have any flexibility in our skin. That is where the pores come in.
Skin pores well up from just beneath the basal layer that generates new skin. Pores produce sebum. This oily substance is a little like lubricating oil. It is made from “bad” fatty acids. The oil pores upward from the oil-producing sebaceous glands into the pore, squishing back and forth to allow the skin to move. A little bit of oil in the skin is a very good thing.
The problem with pores is that they are also lined with skin. This skin also grows from a basal layer and also pushes older cells outward. Eventually the very oldest cells in the lining of the pore die and flake away. Because this skin grows inside the cylindrical lining of the pore, however, flakes of dead skin can accumulate and block the pore. Ironically, not making enough skin oil can block the pore by failing to flush away dead skin. More people have “dry skin” acne than “oily skin” acne. Getting rid of oil is not necessarily a good thing.
Bacteria also part of the process of acne. The Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that trigger acne when they accumulate to large numbers actually prevent acne when they are present in small numbers. Acne bacteria feed on excess sebum. They break down “bad” fatty acids (omega-6 essential fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids) into “good” anti-inflammatory fatty acids (omega-3 essential fatty acids). They make the sebum more liquid so it flows. And they don’t even inflame or irritate pores.
It is actually the human immune system that puts the “red” in acne. White blood cells sense the presence of acne bacteria and attempt to destroy them with inflammatory chemicals. The acne bacteria, however, can defend themselves by releasing chemicals called chemotactins that redirect the inflammatory chemicals to the skin itself. The skin breaks open and the acne bacteria escape so they can find a new home in another pore, but the pore is damaged beyond repair and usually gets paved over with skin and ceramide. That is how blackheads and cysts can get trapped beneath the skin.
What Does All This Have to Do with Juicing?
The reason juicing is so helpful for people who have acne is that different juices act in different ways, and that interventions at any of the stages of acne make a difference in how the skin looks. Sometimes the driving force for acne is the skin growing to fast in the lining of a pore. In teenagers, testosterone stimulates skin growth inside the pore, and flakes of skin accumulate at the opening of pores. Juices that help regulate the production of testosterone help clear up acne. Other times, the problem that drives acne is the overproduction of skin oils. Some juices help balance the diet so that the skin releases fewer of the “bad” oils that flow more like sludge and creates more of the “good” oils that flow more freely and that also happen to be toxic to acne bacteria.
Acne can also be the result of bacterial overgrowth. Too many bacteria grow too fast. The bacteria themselves do not inflame pores, but they trigger a massive attack by the immune system on the pore. The action of the immune system itself is what damages the pore. There are juices that reduce the numbers of acne bacteria and there are also juices that help “train” the immune system not to overreact to acne bacteria.
It is a good idea to do everything you can to keep acne under control even if you just have a few whiteheads or blackheads you can conceal with makeup. That is because not just pimples but also whiteheads and blackheads can scar the skin. Acne can leave scars in the skin even if it is so mild as to be unnoticeable.
What is the evidence that acne leaves scar-prone skin? Sewon Kang is the chairman of the department of dermatology at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Dr. Kang’s research is partially funded by the makers of a skin care product known as Galderma. Kang and his colleagues recruited 25 teens and young adults for a 12-week study of the progression of acne on their faces, using high-definition digital photography with computer-assisted spatial alignment to track breakouts and acne scarring.
Over the course of the three-month study, the 25 volunteers developed a total of 219 visible spots of acne on their skins. With the help of the computerized serial tracking system, Dr. Kang and fellow researchers found that 41% of pimples started as whiteheads or blackheads. That meant that 59% of pimples did not start out as other forms of acne. In this study, 6% of pimples popped up in skin that was already scarred, 13% of pimples developed in open pores, and 28% emerged from healthy skin. Skin that looks great today can sport a nasty pimple tomorrow.
Of the participants in the study, 23 out of 25 or 92% developed new acne scars in just three months. However, since all of the participants in the study had had acne for over a year, Kang and colleagues concluded that acne scars come and go quickly. This means it is possible to develop scarred skin almost overnight when you don’t take good care of your skin, but it may clear up on its own just as quickly.
But everyone who has acne knows that your skin is going to look bad when you need it to look good. It is best to practice good acne skin care all the time.
Quick Fixes for Acne with Juicing
There are eight individual juice ingredients that make a real difference in acne. They are açai berry, barley greens, coconut water, mangosteen, pomegranate, seaweed or dulse, wheatgrass, and the smoothie ingredient, whey. All of these ingredients have been hyped and heavily marketed at one time or another, but they actually do work. They are not miracle cures for acne but they help—the right amount to take is the amount that tastes good.
About five years ago, açai berry was being marketed as the miracle antioxidant that could cure just about anything. On the plus side, largely through the efforts of an intrepid plant explorer named Chris Kilham, the Amazon tribes people who gathered the berry were at least paid very fair prices for it, and the fruit was processed quickly under sanitary conditions.
Drunk as a juice or added to your favorite juice blend, açai berry is most likely to be helpful to people who have acne along with a weight problem. It prevents the oxidation of certain fatty acids into forms that the skin uses to make inflammatory hormones. It is not likely to be a wonder food for acne skin care, but certain skin care products that contain the berry, such as Alba Botanica Rainforest, Brazilian Peel, and Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals, are effective for acne skin care problems.
Barley greens have been used to treat hormone-related acne issues since the time of the Yellow Emperor in second century BCE China. The original use of barley green or mai ya tea was to stop excessive lactation. Barley shoots concentrate a variety of minerals, including selenium and zinc, both of which are important to healthy skin.
Barley greens also modify prolactin and testosterone levels in both men and women. They are most likely to be helpful for women who have acne caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and for men who have acne caused by taking testosterone replacement injections or patches. They should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing, and they may interfere with fertility. Don’t use barley greens if you are seeking to become a parent. Add dried barley greens to fruit juices to taste. A scoop (30 grams or about two tablespoons) in a 10 oz (300 ml) juice drink is enough.
Coconut water is the latest “superfood” on the American market. Coconut water is the liquid that accumulates inside the coconut. It is drunk as a beverage everywhere coconuts are grown. Coconut milk is made from the white flesh that lines the coconut, and is a different beverage.
Coconut water has some major advantages over fruit and berry juices. A cup (240 ml) of coconut water contains only 45 calories, and most of these calories come from protein, not carbohydrate. That same cup of coconut water provides as much potassium as a banana. The immune-protective lauric acid is not present in coconut water; it only occurs in fresh coconut or coconut milk.
How can you use coconut water in treating acne? The best way to incorporate coconut water into an anti-acne diet is to use it as a substitute for sugar-laden sports drinks and soft drinks. Or use it as a base for smoothies or as an interesting addition to fruit juices. Coconut water provides some of the protein your muscles need to rebuild themselves after a workout and enough potassium to give you an energy boost without the sugar. The effects on acne are indirect, but coconut water is a good beverage for your overall health.
The mangosteen is a small evergreen tree that is native to Indonesia. The mangosteen tree bears a reddish-purple fruit that is almost totally inedible except for its aril, the small amount of bland, white flesh around its seeds. Makers of mangosteen juice add mangosteen rinds to the mix to add the antioxidants for which the fruit is famous and also to give the juice its recognizable, puckery flavor.
Natural healers in Indonesia have used mangosteen for centuries to treat acne, especially pimples that turn black and blue. The juice contains anti-fibrotic compounds that slow down the formation of blood clots. This helps blood circulate to pimples and helps keep them at a lighter, red tone, rather than a really noticeable purplish, bruise-like tone. The juice also stops the accumulation of green and yellow pigments in bruised skin. Ready-made juice is much more economical than making your own from imported mangosteen fruit; any mangosteen fruit you see in the market in the US or Canada has been treated with radiation to kill fruit flies. There is a skin care product called MyChelle Dermaceuticals Apple Brightening Mist that contains mangosteen, but because it also contains witch hazel, use with caution if you have dry or sensitive skin.
Pomegranate juice is used in Ayurvedic and Unani (Pakistani and Kashmiri) traditional medicine as a treatment for diseases caused by excessive consumption of sweets. At least 10 studies have found that pomegranate extract accelerates healing of sun-damaged skin. If you are making your own pomegranate juice, it is important to know that the peel of the the fruit that contains the enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinases that help the skin break down collagen to rebuild damaged skin.
Drinking pomegranate juice is great for general good health. Two skin care products that contain pomegranate juice, Paula’s Choice Hydralight Moisture Infusing Lotion and Jane Iredell amazing Base Loose Minerals SPF 20, can be applied directly to the skin to treat acne that is aggravated by acne.
Seaweed in its various forms, such as nori and dulse, is a tasty addition to vegetables juices, especially bland juices such as cucumber juice. It is also a great source of fiber. Tiny additions of fiber to your diet add up to make a difference in your diet, not by “cleaning you out” but by providing food for the probiotic bacteria that live in your colon. Be careful about using too much seaweed, however, if you have rosacea or sensitive skin acne. The iodine in seaweed can trigger skin reactions if seaweed is consumed in excess.
Wheatgrass juice was enormously popular in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when it might have been described as “groovy.” Wheatgrass is the tender green shoots of freshly sprouted wheat berries. The germ of the berry contains a high concentration of a variety of minerals and vitamins that protect the growing shoot. Wheatgrass juice provides these minerals and vitamins in concentrated form.
Probably the most important contribution of wheatgrass juice to acne skin care is zinc. This essential mineral element “tones down” the activity of the immune system. When there is enough zinc in blood plasma and in the skin, neutrophils are less likely to overproduce the inflammatory leukotrienes that are aimed at acne bacteria but that actually “hit” healthy skin cells. Sometimes zinc alone is enough to bring pimply acne under control. Getting your zinc from wheatgrass juice rather than from a supplement ensures that you will also receive copper that it cannot absorb when you take a high-dose zinc supplement.
If you have ever seen whey being made, you would notice a similarity to juice. Whey is the clear liquid left when cheese is made. While it is certainly not itself a juice, it is a frequent addition to juice drinks and smoothies made with fruit juice. And there is good scientific evidence that whey is an up and coming anti-acne food.
Researchers at Kyung Hee University in Korea recruited volunteers who had acne to take a daily dose of either a smoothie made without whey or a smoothie fortified whey that is especially rich in a protein called lactoferrin. This is a protein that is concentrated in milk, although it also is made by the human immune system for inclusion in mucus and tears. It is not “mucus,” but rather is a chemical that appears in both milk and mucus.
The researchers counted acne lesions on the faces of the volunteers at the beginning and at the end of 12 weeks. Volunteers for the study were asked to refrain from using any other supplements or medications for acne and not to use any new skin care products. At the end of the twelve-week study, acne in the group of volunteers that had been drinking the placebo product was unchanged, but volunteers who had been consuming whey had 20% fewer whiteheads and blackheads and 39% fewer pimples.
A 20% reduction in whiteheads and blackheads may not sound like much, but that is more than the reduction accomplished by many acne medications. Whey won’t get rid of acne by itself—no food, supplement, or medication does—but adding whey to fruit juice smoothies is a great way to begin to get inflammatory acne under control.
Are There Are Juices that People with Acne Need to Avoid?
There are actually two juices that people who have oily skin acne need to avoid, and they are two juice that ordinarily are healthy for just about anyone: carrot and tomato. The reason to avoid these two juices if you have oily skin is precisely that they are packed in nutrients, but nutrients that increase the production of sebum by the skin. Dutch researchers have found that beta-carotene and lycopene in excess actually increase the production of sebum. This does not mean that if you have oily skin acne you should avoid any food that contains beta-carotene or lycopene, it just means that you probably should avoiding downing a nice tall glass of either juice straight up.
Aside from carrot and tomato, enjoy any kind of freshly squeezed juice you like once or twice a day for acne. You’ll consume fewer calories and more of the antioxidants that help clear up you skin and keep redness and inflammation under control.