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Sheena Hendon helps you to discover what causes acne in both teenagers and adults and what to do to treat naturally

Acne, pimples, zits….not your favourite words right? And certainly not something you want hanging out on your face for long either! But the fact is, most of us (adults included) experience acne or pimples to some degree or other throughout our lives. You may go through periods where your skin is relatively free and clear with little effort on your part, yet at other times skin eruptions are happening left, right and centre for no apparent reason!

Acne is generally thought to affect teenagers, but up to 54% of adult women and 40% of adult men suffer from acne.  Common causes for this are age-related hormonal changes, stress, birth control use, pregnancy, increased oil production and menopause.

Acne occurs when the sebaceous or oil glands at the base of hair follicles become inflamed and infected, causing red, pus-filled pimples to form in the pores of the skin. There are different types of pimples, with some people experiencing more of one type than another, or you may have different types of pimples on different parts of the body.

  1. Whiteheads: pimples that stay under the surface of the skin
  2. Blackheads: rise to the skin’s surface and look black. The black colour is not from dirt
  3. Papules: small pink bumps that can be tender
  4. Pustules: red at the bottom and have pus on top
  5. Nodules: large, painful, solid pimples that are deep in the skin
  6. Cysts: deep, painful, pus-filled pimples that can cause scars

Cystic acne is worse than just any old pimple. Also called nodulocystic acne, it is an intense form of acne that results in large, inflamed cysts and nodules that appear on the skin. Unlike other milder forms of acne, cystic acne is noticeably painful and occurs when oil and dead skin cells build up deep down in hair follicles or pores. Cystic acne is most common during puberty for young boys, but it can continue into the adult years, especially when there is a hormonal imbalance. For adult women, it’s common to experience cystic acne around their menstrual cycles, especially on the jawline and chin, which are the common areas for hormonally motivated breakouts.

Cystic Acne Root Causes

Cystic acne can be caused by or related to:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes, including polycystic ovary syndrome (in women)
  • High levels of humidity and sweating
  • Pore-clogging and irritating face and body care products
  • Some drugs and chemicals such as corticosteroids, which may worsen or cause eruptions that are similar to acne

Cystic acne often runs in families. If one or both of your parents had severe cystic acne, then you have a greater chance of having it as well.

It’s most common in teenage boys and young men. It’s believed that hormones called androgens can play a part in the development of cystic acne in teens when there is an increase in androgens. This increase leads to changes in your skin that can result in clogged pores and acne. Cystic acne doesn’t only affect men, though. For women, hormone changes that trigger cystic acne can be brought on by menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause and is more common among women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Natural treatment of acne incorporates the use of herbal medicine, specific nutrients, and dietary and lifestyle changes to address three main underlying factors:

  • Assist in the management of stress levels.
  • Improve digestive function – by supporting the microbiome, liver and gallbladder to efficiently metabolise hormones and clear toxins.
  • Support healthy skin development by ensuring optimal nutrient status.  For example, high levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) lessen the incidence and severity of acne by reducing inflammation and by promoting health skin development. Zinc is also vital for healthy skin growth as well as the immune system; a deficiency of zinc may cause acne.


  1. Avoid harsh skin cleansers and face washes: contrary to popular belief, washing your face with strong soaps and antibiotic facial washes can make your skin worse. By stripping your skin of its natural oils and moisture, your oil glands will potentially produce more oil to compensate. Antibiotic face washes disrupt the pH balance of your skin and kill of beneficial bacteria that naturally live on your skin, along with other types of bacteria that aren’t so desirable or that have gotten out of control. See bottom of page for some natural skin treatments.
  1. Minimise refined sugar and carbohydrates from your diet: it’s true, sugar can contribute to acne!  Excess sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet disrupt blood sugar levels which in turn affects hormone balance.  Acne is even referred to as “Diabetes of the Skin”. Sugar feeds undesirable bacteria in the gut, causing problems with digestion such as bloating, gas, constipation and more. Problems with your gut can impact your skin health as your skin, your body’s largest excretory organ works had to eliminate toxins that are being released into your bloodstream because of poor digestive function.
  2. Make sure your diet is high in fruits, vegetables and fibre and wholemeal/brown foods (eg wholemeal bread, brown rice, muesli la and low in processed and sugary foods (packets, high sugar cereals) soft drinks, lollies, biscuits, white carbs. As a rule of thumb, your plate needs to be ½ fruit of vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ carbs (unless a teen or child and then the portions are 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.

Foods that are hard to digest (such as processed foods) result in a sluggish digestion increase the amount of toxins that are absorbed into the blood.  This puts a higher workload on the liver and may affect its ability to clear excess androgens and other hormones.

  1. Drink plenty of pure water: Water makes up about 65-75% of our body by volume so it’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough to keep up yourself hydrated. Adequate water intake helps to flush water-soluble toxins and impurities out of your body via the kidneys and urine. It is also essential for keeping your skin well-hydrated. Make sure to drink only purified or filtered water, not flavoured “waters” which are full of sugar and flavouring agents.
  2. Ensure your diet is high in good oils: Supplement diet (cooking, smoothie, yogurt, salad, vegetables) with good oils – avocado, olive oil, flax oil (1 – 3 tbsp of oil a day) AND fish oils (2-4000 mg a day) plus a handful of nuts and seeds, to assist with hormone and mood modulation, inflammation, gut health, and stress management.
  3. Probiotics are a must – either as a food or supplement: Each day consume a portion of fermented foods (one of these): natural De Winkels or Biofarm natural unsweetened probiotic yogurt, Miso, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha for liver and digestive health and as a digestive stimulant. See
  4. Minimise stress Stress stimulates the production of androgens (male hormones present in both men and women) that regulate the size of oil glands and the rate of oil production. Hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome also cause acne.  This is due mainly to the increased levels of androgens and other hormones, as well as poor regulation of blood sugar levels which contribute to the inflammation involved in acne.
  5. Sleep: Getting proper sleep on a nightly basis can help improve your overall health, including balancing hormone levels and decreasing the inflammation associated with cystic acne. You also give your cystic acne uninterrupted time to heal.
  6. Exercise: Regular physical activity is excellent for the body’s lymphatic system and detoxifying your entire body. It’s also excellent for your mood and self-esteem, which tend to both take a dip when you’re fighting cystic acne.

Important nutraceuticals to support and treat cause and symptoms:

Supplement Breakfast Lunch Dinner Duration
Metagenics essential fatty acid (omega 3) oil capsules(Meta EPA/DHA capsules(or flaxseed if vegetarian/vegan) 2 capsules 2 capsules 1 – 3 months
Metagenics Vitamin C and Zinc powder 1 scoop in water 1 scoop in water 1 – 3 months
Metagenics Ultraflora Intensive care probiotic 1 capsule 1 – 3 months
Metagenics Lymphatox (blood and lymphatic clearance) 1 tablet 1 tablet 1 – 3 months

Contact us for more details about these supplements


No Popping: Whatever you do, please don’t try to pop your cystic acne or any other pimples for that matter. Cystic acne, unlike common acne, typically does not give you “poppable” pimples. Due to the depth of cystic acne lesions, picking or squeezing can be completely ineffective and will likely extend healing time from days to weeks. The more you touch an infected pimple, the angrier and more unsightly it’s going to become. If you try to pop cystic acne, you’re just going to spread the breakout underneath the skin. In addition, you can easily end up with scarring that lasts well beyond a pimple, possibly even forever. Two words to remember with cystic acne: Hands off!

Ice It: You can apply an ice cube directly to a breakout for several seconds to constrict the small blood vessels feeding the painful cyst. The ice helps immediately decrease the size and redness of the offending acne.

Mirror Mirror: It’s a good idea not to obsess over your cystic acne. The more you stare at it in the mirror, the more likely you will want to pick at it and think negative thoughts, both of which will only make you look and feel worse. Stop yourself from visually and mentally obsessing over your cystic acne, and make sure you’re thinking positive, skin-clearing thoughts!

Your Towels and Pillowcases: Something you might not think about is what else touches your face daily, like towels and pillowcases. To reduce the chances of irritation and sensitivity, it’s a smart idea to avoid washing these items with strong detergents and bleaches. Instead, opt for natural and unscented laundry products. You also want to change your towels and pillowcases frequently to avoid the presence and spread of bacteria, which only make your acne worse.

Topical: Some oils can be applied directly on the trouble-spots.  One drop on a finger-tip and dabbed on the spots or area of concern. Only a few oils are safe for neat or direct application – such as Tea tree or Lavender; other oils should be mixed with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil, or even coconut oil.
Jojoba oil helps to break up sebum that contributes to pore-blockages. It is also a beneficial carrier oil that boosts skin health by working as a protectant and cleanser.
Generally, coconut oil is good for the skin – it hydrates and is able to penetrate your skin on a deeper level than most skin-care products because of its low molecular weight and the way it bonds with proteins.  It may be too thick for some skin types but is generally very soothing.

Final Thoughts
Acne is a sign that something is out of balance.  While these essential oil treatments can help to prevent and minimise breakouts, it is important to address the underlying factors.  A comprehensive natural health assessment is the best approach.

Contact Sheena Hendon Health to help you combat teen and adult acne by finding the cause and treating cause and symptoms

Face Wash for Clear Skin: This face wash contains probiotics that aid in restoring correct skin acidity, thus counteracting acne-causing bacteria.
Combine the following ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon organic coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons manuka honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 20 drops Doterra tea tree oil
  • 2 capsules of probiotics

Warm the coconut oil and honey until they are liquid enough to mix together.  Break open the probiotic capsules, empty into the mix, adding the apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil.  Mix thoroughly with a hand blender. Then pour the mixture into a convenient bottle and store it in a cool place.

Natural Acne Scar Diminishing Treatment: For a natural facial treatment for unsightly scars caused by acne, make a paste by mixing the following ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons raw manuka honey
  • 1 teaspoon organic rosehip oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops tea tree oil
  • 3 drops frankincense oil

Wash and dry your face, then apply the paste over the affected area.  Leave for an hour before rinsing off.

The following essential oils have some special skin-healing properties.  Ensure you have them in your skin-care kit.

Tea Tree Oil: Some tea tree oil benefits include its antimicrobial and antifungal properties.  Treatments containing tea tree oil are widely available, and they are a common choice among people who self-treat their acne. Tea tree products may reduce the number of acne lesions – they have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities that are important for the treatment of acne. This is backed up by a study in which the number of acne lesions and their severity were monitored over one and a half months.  The tea tree-treatment was more than three times more effective than the placebo in reducing lesion count and almost six times more effective in reducing the severity of acne.  This study showed that tea tree oil is an effective and natural treatment for mild to moderate acne. However, skin reactions to some tea tree products are also quite common – often due to inferior or oxidised essential oil, so a good quality, therapeutic grade oil is very important.

To use tea tree as an essential oil for acne, add 2–3 drops to a tablespoon of jojoba or coconut oil or a gentle liquid soap and apply topically to the area of concern with a clean cotton ball. It can be added to a gentle foaming cleanser or mixed with water in a spray bottle and spritzed on the face (avoiding the eyes) or body.

Lavender: Lavender oil has some very unique properties that make if very beneficial for skin.  Like all essential oils, it has some inherent antimicrobial and antioxidant characteristics.  But it has unique healing properties and scar-diminishing abilities. It soothes and nourishes the skin — treating acne, healing dry skin, and reducing the appearance of dark spots and scars caused by acne. Other benefits of lavender oil include its ability to reduce stress and anxiety – often associated with acne breakouts in adults – as well as its sedating properties that improve the quality of sleep, thereby promoting healthy and radiant skin (because the majority of skin rejuvenating activity is happening while you are asleep!)

The relaxing effect of lavender is best when it is inhaled. This is best done via an aromatherapy burner or vaporiser, but can also be done by mixing with a carrier oil and applying as a chest rub.  Inhaling lavender results in lowering blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature, allowing you to feel more relaxed and refreshed.

If you have acne you’ll know that stress and anxiety are connected to flare-ups. This may be because cells that produce sebum (the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog hair follicles) have receptors for stress hormones.

Researchers believe that an increase in acne may be due to higher levels of sebum that are produced in times of stress (even just overdoing school work, sports etc); therefore, lavender essential oil has an important place in acne management.

To use lavender oil to alleviate stress, add 3- 5 drops of oil to the diffuser or apply one drop to the fingertips and dab on your wrists, back of neck or temples. Lavender essential oil is one of the few essential oils that can be used directly on the skin – so its a good idea to carry around a bottle so you can apply spot treatments during the day to help in the fight against acne.

Clary Sage: A recent study found that clary sage essential oil is an active natural antimicrobial agent. After testing the efficacy of clary sage on multiple drug-resistant bacterial strains, the oil was active against bacteria that lead to skin infections involved in acne breakouts or skin irritation.
A natural ingredient in clary sage reduces skin inflammation and works as a natural remedy for acne and skin irritations. It also regulates the production of oil on the skin, a factor that is often associated with breakouts. Clary sage not only halts the growth and spread of bacteria, it also alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, and supports hormonal balance.

Research has found that inhaling clary sage oil has the ability to reduce cortisol levels by 36 percent. Cortisol is the body’s major stress hormone, which is involved in provoking acne.  Stress is a major cause of acne in adult women because of the associated increase in cortisol. Clary sage not only lowers cortisol levels, it also has an antidepressant effect, improving mood and alleviating anxiety.

Diffusing 3- 5 drops of clary sage helps with stress, anxiety, restlessness and insomnia — all associated with acne breakouts. To kill bacteria that is clogging your pores and causing acne, add clary sage to jojoba or coconut and massage into the skin.  Or add a few drops to a gentle cleanser, apply with a clean cotton ball.

Oregano Oil: Most people know oregano as an aromatic and flavourful oregano kitchen herb. What most aren’t aware of is that it is one of the most potent natural antiseptic and antibacterial oils known. So for clear skin, you may also want to add it to your medicine cabinet. To spot treat zits dilute the oil before applying it to your skin.  Start with a 5% mix of oregano oil in a carrier oil as above (1/2 tsp of oregano oil per 50 ml of carrier oil). Then, dab the diluted mixture onto the trouble spot regularly until your skin clears up.
Juniper Berry: Juniper berry essential oil is well known for its association with detoxification.  With natural antibacterial and antimicrobial abilities, Juniper berry is a popular natural remedy for fighting skin irritations and infections.  It also has mild astringent properties, which means it is a fabulous home remedy for acne and supports your beautiful skin. Detoxifying properties help you to clear the toxins that lead to acne.

Several studies indicate that juniper berry essential oil is a powerful antibacterial agent that fights acne when used topically. This is due to specific compounds that occur naturally in Juniper berry oil, including alpha-pinene, p-cymene and beta-pinene.

Test patch a small area before using Juniper berry as an essential oil for acne.  If your skin is not sensitive to it, you can apply 2–3 drops topically to the area of concern. For sensitive skin, dilute juniper berry with coconut or jojoba oil before topical application.
Possible Side Effects: These essential oils for acne are generally safe and effective. Remember that they are very concentrated plant extracts – a little goes a long way! If you have sensitive skin, dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil before applying topically. Also, avoid exposure to direct sunlight when treating acne with essential oils. The UV rays can make your skin more sensitive and may lead to skin irritations or redness.  Reactions and sensitisation to tea tree oil is not uncommon, so it is best to always use it diluted on broken skin. If using any of these essential oils causes skin irritation, do not use that oil.

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