Nature is the fundamental source of all medicine and there are a vast array of biologically active molecules that can be isolated from natural sources. The challenge is to separate fact from fiction, and identify the things that might be helpful from an ocean of dubious products. Some naturopathic treatments are based on solid research and scientific reasoning, while others are entirely non-sensical and even dangerous.
Many times people from the medical profession dismiss naturopathic solutions out of hand as ineffective quackery. On the other side of the fence, many practitioners and patients of naturopathic and homeopathic medicine are inherently suspicious of the medical establishment and commercial pharmaceuticals. The reality is that naturopathic medicine, like most anything else, contains both truth and falsehoods.
The goal of this overview on naturopathic approaches to acne treatment is to help you understand not only what is and what is not likely to be effective, but also why. There are several core categories of naturopathic medicine which we will overview here.
Many essential oils and other plant extracts contain significant quantities of biologically active small molecules and enzymes. Often times these molecules are part of the plant’s own defense mechanism against viral, bacterial and fungal infection.
Numerous extracts have been shown to have potent anti-bacterial activity against the bacteria most commonly implicated in acne outbreaks, P. acnes and S. aureus. Other extracts have been shown to contain retinoid family compounds that are similar, if not identical, to those contained in prescription medications. Some plant compounds have effective anti-inflammatory agents that could potentially decrease the swelling and pain associated with acne.
However, the effectiveness of using essential oils to treat acne can be limited, especially for inflammatory acne (Acne Types: 3-4). These limitations can minimize potential benefits and there are even potential health risks associated with some extracts. In many cases, it may be difficult or impossible for the active compound to reach the site of infection, deep within the follicle, where its activity is needed. In addition, some of these compounds can be toxic or even lethal, if used improperly.
There are lots and lots of herbal supplements. The vast majority are not worth your time, energy, hope or money when it comes to treating acne.
Besides a widespread lack of actual efficacy testing, many of the ways that herbal supplements are supposed be beneficial don’t even make sense. While this is not to say that all herbal supplements are ineffective acne treatments, it is important to critically evaluate the warrants and reasoning behind the claims.
Other common issues with herbal supplements are a lack of quality control, standardization and testing of the active compounds. In this section we’ll cover many of the herbal supplements recommended for acne treatment and explore why they may or may not be effective.
Vitamin and mineral supplementation is a very common homeopathic remedy for all types of acne. It is well understood that deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals cause numerous health problems, including skin diseases like acne.
What is less well understood is whether supplementation with high levels of vitamins or minerals can improve health or help resolve disease. Vitamins A, B, C, D and E are all regularly recommended in homeopathic medicine for acne.
Minerals such as zinc are also commonly recommended. In this section we analyze the potential benefits, and risks, of supplementation with many commonly recommended vitamins and minerals.
In addition to essential oils and plant extracts, there are a number of other topical treatments employed in the homeopathic treatment of acne, many of which have a long and succesful history in medicine.
A common acne treatment is the use of topical sulfur, which comes in several different preparations. Sulfur is a well recognized antibacterial and antifungal agent that has been in use since the times of the ancient romans.
Other common topical homeopathic treatments involve yogurt, calcerera carbonica (calcium carbonate from crushed shells), silver, calamine and honey. Some of these substances have well documented antibacterial properties, while others can actually be quite toxic. In this section we will cover many of the common topical acne treatments that do not fall in the above categories.