SKIN SERIES | Acne & The Immune System
My interview with Hayley Wood last week got me thinking about the connection between acne and our immune system. We typically think of acne as a hormonal condition - the result of excess androgen production or androgen sensitivity - but the burgeoning research on microbial diversity is demonstrating that it just might be more than that.
So let's talk about the immune system. We know that acne is the result of our immune system attacking bacteria it perceives as a threat so having lower immune function actually sounds like it might be beneficial. There are even some "experts" that posit boosting immune function will make skin problems worse. I have a problem with this for two big reasons: 1) a robust immune system is never a bad thing and 2) we know with the rise of autoimmune diseases that a compromised immune system is an immune system gone haywire. Perhaps that's where the problem lies. Compromised immune systems tend to attack healthy cells by mistake, which may or may not include your innocent pores.
In fact, new research is suggesting that the bacteria on our skin act as the "eyes and ears" of our immune system, alerting it to potential threats. Through our obsession with cleanliness and general germophobia-ness, we have reduced microbial diversity on our skin, effectively deafening and blinding the immune system. As a result, our immune system can't discern friend from foe. Researchers are trying to determine exactly what role this blinding and deafening is playing in the rise of skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, and eczema.
Additionally, as Hayley mentioned, reduced immune function and stagnant lymph are a recipe for inflammatory skin conditions!
Some of the factors that affect immune function include:
- Sleep Deprivation
- Poor Diet
- Excessive Alcohol
- Excessive Sugar
- Exposure to certain germs
But before we talk about bolstering immune function, we have to take a step back and discuss gut health. All of the above factors affect gut health and impaired gut health lowers immune function. So once again, it begins and ends with the gut.
Boosting gut health is a hot topic and there is plenty that can be done. To begin with we have to remove irritants including sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated oils, and any foods that we are personally sensitive to. (For those with acne, begin your food sensitivity journey with dairy, most importantly cow's milk.) Then it's time to rebuild with a colorful diet that boasts lots and lots of veggies and plenty of fermented foods. Supplementing with probiotics, berberine, and collagen is never a bad idea either.
Now that our gut health is sorted, what else can be done? Lots my friend. Other areas to dive into include proper stress management, lymph drainage, movement, adequate sleep, skincare that keeps the skin microbiome robust and in tact (stop stripping and over-cleansing!), and a positive mindset achieved through daily self care practices. A little herbal support in the form of medicinal mushrooms and elderberries can be helpful too.
Don't let overwhelm set in! You don't need a complete lifestyle overhaul in order to boost immune function. Small changes are all that matters. Small changes snowball. I think it's also important to look at the bigger picture. It's all connected - gut health, immune function, microbial diversity, hormonal balance. Any steps you take to improve gut health will improve hormone balance and immune function, for example.
So just keep moving forward on the journey to be the healthiest you that you can be. You don't have to do all the things. Do what you can. Do what feels right, right now. Your immune system will thank you. Your skin will thank you.
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