In 2004, Dale F. Bloom wrote an interesting article which was published in the journal Medical Hypothesis. Mr. Bloom contends that acne may be evolution’s way of preventing us from reproducing before we are physically and mentally ready to take care of our offspring. My summary:
The brain: Our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain which makes us uniquely homo sapien, is only finished maturing in our early 20s. It develops last and is responsible for good judgement, impulse control, planning, and danger response–all of which help us raise healthy and safe children.
Adolescence: Our ancient ancestors needed to learn the tricky skills involved in hunting and gathering, and it is more than likely that the adolescent years were ground zero for learning these important life strategies. Once learned, a person would be much better prepared to raise his or her young.
Acne’s role: Acne shows up at the onset of adolescence, and Bloom argues that unhealthy appearing skin may make a person less desirable to the opposite sex. Acne thus does the job of preventing conception. As acne subsides with the end of adolescence, a person is psychologically ready to raise children and has learned the skills needed to provide for his or her young.
But what about adults with acne? Bloom hypothesizes that certain physical diseases such as polycystic ovary syndrome, various substances such as steroids, or chronic stress may result in hormonal imbalances which cause adults to suffer with acne. He goes on to entertain the notion that perhaps humans evolved adult signs of acne as a physical sign of chronic stress, thus reducing the likelihood that a chronically stressed individual would reproduce.
Today’s Hunter/Gatherers: Anthropologists have reported zero incidence of acne in two modern hunter/gatherer tribes from Papua New Guinea and Paraguay. Interestingly, the Paraguayan girls the anthopologists visited don’t get their first period until they are on average 16 years old. The average age in the U.S. is 12. The Peruvian girls, Bloom says, therefore have less need for acne in order to prevent early pregnancy.
What it is: Makeup is so well known for causing acne that it has its own term in dermatology, acne cosmetica. While this problem has subsided somewhat in the past few decades as large brand name manufacturers have become more careful with their ingredient choices, it can still remain a problem for some people. Acne cosmetica is often misdiagnosed as run-of-the-mill acne, but it shows up in different ways and can often be treated simply by no longer using the offending makeup. As opposed to acne vulgaris, cosmetic induced acne tends to show up as lots of little bumps on the skin instead of red, inflamed papules and pustules. It can take up to six months for makeup to cause this reaction, and people will often react by using makeup to cover it up, thus perpectuating the cycle.
What to do: In an ideal world, I like to see people forgo makeup until they get completely cleared up with the Regimen. When makeup is used at the same time as the Regimen, it presents an external variable that is hard to control. Once a person is completely cleared up on the Regimen, then it’s safe to add in makeup, one product at a time. I realize that many people feel that they absolutely must wear makeup. In that case, you can do a few things to reduce the chance that your makeup is causing problems:
1. Avoid well known pore clogging ingredients including anything that starts with “isopropyl”, “isostearyl”, or “myristyl”.
2. Choose a large brand name makeup. Large brand names have more at stake and do not want the reputation of breaking out their customers. Almay in particular is well known for keeping acne-prone customers in mind. Their makeup is normally light and pretty safe. Almay blog post here.
Bottom line: What I want to leave people with here is that makeup can cause problems. If and when it does, it can show up a little differently, as smaller bumps that come “out of the blue”. In fact, it isn’t out of the blue. The makeup has been taking months to cause the issue. If this sounds like something you’re encountering, cease using your makeup, get on the Regimen precisely, and then be patient. It may take a while to get your skin back to its balanced, natural state.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to combat stress. Stress can wreak havoc with hormone levels and, especially in women, can aggravate breakouts. This is because stress activates the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is where we produce adrenaline, which the body pumps out in response to stress. Well, it just so happens that women make much of their testosterone in the adrenal gland as well. So, that means stress can alter testosterone levels in women more radically and inconsistently than in men. Voila…breakouts. Even though the stress/acne issue may be a larger issue for women than for men, I heavily suspect it is also of real concern for men.
So on comes Oprah talking about how she’s done with endless dieting and declares that her war with food is over. My interest was piqued, partly because I have so many women in my life with food issues (don’t we all…), and partly because I had a sneaking suspicion that the food/stress psychology that Oprah says was liberating her might be of interest to all of us, regardless of our stressors.
So I bought the book she was speaking about, Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, and read it. At first I read it just keeping in mind women whom I care about who have food issues, and it rang true. Then I read it again, trying to imagine that Ms. Roth was speaking about stress in general. It made good sense again.
In a nutshell: Stress, and its subsequent outgrowths of overeating, overworking, overthinking, overdrinking, drug use, etc. is precipitated by “leaving ourselves” many times a day. She means this quite literally. We become so afraid that our emotions in our bodies will “kill us” that we escape into our chosen method of flight from what is happening inside our bodies. The remedy is to stay with whatever we’re feeling in our body, bringing curiosity to it, and giving it the time to expand and unwind. Feelings, Ms. Roth contends, simply want the attention and room to dissolve on their own. She urges the reader to practice living a new, embodied life in the moment through eating guidelines, and a process she calls “Inquiry”.
If you guys read this, let me know if it affects your stress levels. Thanks!
I’ve been looking more deeply into the challenges women face when it comes to acne over the last several months. I distilled all my new knowledge and research on the new women and acne pages of acne.org. Let me know what you think and if I missed anything big 🙂
I’m doing a bunch of research on topics that relate to women and acne, such as premenstrual acne, pregnancy and acne, birth control, makeup, spironolactone, and cyproterone acetate. It’s fascinating stuff. The human body is an incredible thing, and so complex.
Non-inflamed acne is acne that stays under the surface and does not get red at all. Some people talk about it by saying their skin has a “pebbly” appearance or that when they stretch their skin they can see lots of white bumps. Non-inflamed acne is also often accompanied by blackheads.
If you have this type of acne, I do think the regular Daniel Kern Regimen is worth a shot. It can be brilliant at preventing future blackheads. However, if you’ve tried the DKR without the results you’d like to have, Laura’s regimen may be worth exploring.
Laura is an esthetician in the Bay Area who I have met several times and interviewed. She has a protocol for non-inflamed acne that is interesting. I’d like to hear how it works for people. You can find it here.
If you try it, please post your review/experience on the blackheads and non-inflamed acne forum.