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Acupuncture for Acne: Is It Effective?

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Acupuncture is the Chinese healing art that many Americans are unaware of. However, according to several recent studies, acupuncture is highly effective in reducing acne breakouts. Find out more below:

Acne is an annoying and often painful problem that affects millions of people each year. While acne is typically most prominent during the teen and young adult years, many adults suffer from acne throughout their lives.

Acne is a difficult challenge to face, because so many people have a strong opinion on the condition, calling it “gross” or “ugly.” This creates a self-esteem problem in many teens and adults with acne, which can have lasting effects for a lifetime.

Acne Treatment Effectiveness

Because of the cosmetic and social nature of acne, there are hundreds of treatment options, all with varying success rates. Two common topical treatments, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, are used to clear the skin.

Benzoyl peroxide is an organic peroxide prepared through intentional synthesis. It is an oxidizing agent that works to clear the bacteria P. acne from the skin while encouraging cell turnover.

Salicylic acid is a synthetic form of willow bark. It has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, opens pores, prevents clogging, and fights P. acne bacteria. In most cases, acne patients will build up a tolerance to both of these substances.

Since acne is caused by a prevalence of a certain bacteria in the skin and intestines (P. acne bacteria), a lot of prescription medications are antibiotic in nature (usually tetracycline, erythromycin, or trimethoprim). The trouble with these antibiotics is that acne returns (and is sometimes worse) after a patient stops taking the antibiotics. The health website, Patient.co.uk suggests that some patients may need to take antibiotic acne medications for up to 5 years.

In addition to the extended use of antibiotics, there are some studies that indicate that acne patients can build up a tolerance to antibiotics, making them less effective. A 2011 study published in the Archives of Dermatology looked at 83 patients on antibiotic acne medication and found that within two months, the patients showed a 40 percent resistance to clindamycin, a 10 percent resistance to tetracycline and a 44 percent resistance to erythromycin.

Acupuncture- An Alternative Option

Acupuncture has been used to treat hundreds of conditions in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is used less often in the United States, mainly because the idea of a needle in your skin that can cure real health issues seems far-fetched. However, there are numerous studies that prove that acupuncture is effective at improving acne symptoms. If you have tried all the other options, acupuncture could be the answer.

Studies Backing Acupuncture for Acne

In a 2003 study published in Mediators Inflammatory, researchers looked at the anti-inflammatory properties of acupuncture. In the article, the researchers concluded that acupuncture may have anti-inflammatory effects and fight acne due to the stimulation of beta-endorphins, substance P, CGRP, and cytokines. Low-dose acupuncture should be more effective, to prevent the high concentration of CGRP in the body (which can lead to inflammation).

A 2008 study conducted by Yichun College in China looked at 52 people with acne. 26 were treated with Western medicine, while 26 were treated with acupuncture. The acupuncture group received daily treatments in the areas of Hegu (LI 4), Fenglong (ST 40), Xuehai (SP 10), and Sanyinjiao (SP 6). The Western group received Isotretinoin Capsules (10 mg) once a day. After a period of 4 weeks, the groups were tested for signs of acne. In the acupuncture group, 11 percent showed remarkable recovery, 53 percent showed marked improvement, and 23 percent showed some improvement. 11 percent showed no improvement. The IC group had 15 percent show remarkable improvement, 42 percent showed marked improvement, 26 percent showed some improvement, and 15 percent showed no improvement. The researchers averaged the effectiveness of acupuncture for acne at 88 percent and the effectiveness of IC for acne at 84 percent.

In 2009, Tianjin University of TCM in China looked at 1,613 case studies about acne and acupuncture conducted over a period of 40 years. After evaluating the studies in combination with western medicine studies, the researchers found that found acupoint stimulation treatments were as effective, and possibly more effective, than many Western acne treatment methods.

A 2010 study conducted by Kyung Hee University in South Korea looked at the effectiveness of Ah shi point acupuncture on acne. Over a period of 6 weeks, 36 patients with acne were either given general acupuncture treatments or general treatments plus Ah shi treatments. Each patient received 12 treatments. At the end of the study, all patient groups showed reduced inflammation, fewer acne lesions, and improved Skindex-29 and baseline scores. There was no significant difference between the Ah shi group and the regular acupuncture group.

How Acupuncture Helps Acne

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting hair-thin sterilized needles into the skin. This stimulates certain areas of the nervous system and brain to make changes in the body. Acupuncture has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions for over 2,000 years. The assistant clinic director at The YinOva Center in New York City, states that acupuncture treatments are more than simply sticking needles into the skin. Typically, patients also take Chinese herbs and supplements as well as weekly acupuncture treatments. This gives a full-body approach to clearing acne that treats more than the symptoms of acne but also approaches the cause from the inside out.

According to the assistant director, Mary Sabo, acupuncture treatments are more effective because they treat more than the symptoms of acne. Acupuncture treatments do not have painful side effects, like bleached skin, itchy skin, or flaking skin. Acupuncture for acne targets specific areas of the body that are known to trigger digestion and the immune system and to reduce inflammation. In the study of over 1,300 clinical trials about acupuncture, it was found that the most effective treatment combined acupuncture with herbal medicine.

Basically, acupuncture triggers the body to fight against acne bacteria, while herbal supplements give the body the tools it needs to fight inflammation, acne bacteria, and improve the digestive system, making it easier for the body to remove toxins from the body. The above studies indicated that general acupuncture is as beneficial as acne-specific acupuncture, so if you cannot find a licensed acupuncturist that performs acne-specific treatments, weekly visits for general pain and brain stimulation will also provide visible benefits within just a few weeks.

Herbal Supplements for Acne

Since acupuncture works best when combined with herbal supplements, if you want maximum results, you should add some of the following supplements to your daily routine along with weekly acupuncture treatments:

Skullcap root

This tropical plant offers protection from some of the redness associated with acne. Skullcap root blocks the production of tyrosine in the skin, which reduces the amount of melanin the skin produces. Skullcap also fights swelling and inflammation.

Amur cork tree bark extract

This bark extract is used to fight inflammation in the face and reduce the size and redness associated with acne flare-ups.

Angelica root (also known as Dong quai)

A 2003 study from China published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, showed that angelic root suppresses neutrophil chemotaxis (responsible for the spread of P. acne bacteria on the skin), similarly to the antibiotic drug erythromycin.

Licorice Root

The same study indicated that concentrations of licorice root contributed to antibacterial activity against P. acnes, without the build-up of tolerance associated with common anti-acne antibiotics. Licorice root offers anti-inflammatory properties and is effective at eliminating toxins from the skin (P. acne is one of the main bacterial toxins it removes).

Red peony

Red peony is used to fight inflammation and has a “cooling” effect on the skin. This is theorized to help cut down on acne flare-ups by preventing the spread of the bacteria and reducing overall inflammation.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

This sulfur compound is converted to DMS inside the body (which will eventually be converted into dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)). This is an essential form of sulfur that is necessary for producing collagen and helping the skin naturally fight the concentration of P. acne on the skin. The anti-inflammatory properties help heal acne cysts and prevent new cysts from forming.

Gum Guggul

Gum guggul is the sap of the Guggul plant. It contains a natural steroid that is used to fight inflammation in the body. The steroid in the sap can prevent swelling, relieve cysts, and prevent scar formation.

The Acne Fighting Diet

Acupuncture advocates also recommend eating a diet designed to help cure acne from the inside out to help restore the effective balance of the body’s systems to remove all signs of acne. When combined with herbal supplements and acupuncture, diet is a highly effective method for clearing acne.

A 2009 study conducted by The Johnson & Johnson Skin Research Center looked at several past studies about foods and how they relate to acne formulation. The study specifically examined the link between Omega 3 consumption, vitamin A and D consumption, and the results of a low-glycemic (few refined carbohydrates) diet. The study found that although there have yet to be any definitive studies absolutely proving the link between diet and acne, acne is much more prevalent in Western societies (typically low in Omega 3s, vitamin A and D, and high in refined carbohydrates).

Omega 3s: According to the study, most Americans have a ratio of Omega 6 and 3 acids somewhere between 10:1 and 20:1. In non-industrialized populations, the ratio is closer to 3:1 or 2:1. These populations also rarely suffer from acne. What does this mean? An imbalance of omega 6 acids leads to overall inflammation in the body. Inflammation causes the body to respond with outward side effects, like acne and redness. The more omega 3 acids a person has, the lower their risk for inflammatory diseases. Sebum production is also increased through the consumption of dietary fat, according to some studies cited in the Johnson and Johnson review.

Vitamin A and D: Vitamin A and D are essential for skin health. Vitamin A and D are antiproliferative (stopping the growth of malignant cells) vitamins. A and D are also responsible for producing skin hormones and benefiting the immune system. Vitamin A products are used routinely to treat acne, but the role of vitamin D in skin health is only now under study. In recent studies, the Johnson and Johnson review found that vitamin D is helpful for boosting the immune system, reducing autoimmune disorders, and lowering the rate of infectious diseases.

Low-Glycemic Foods: Is bread responsible for your acne? According to some studies cited in the Johnson and Johnson review, it’s possible. A study of people living off the coasts of Papua New Guinea and other hunter-gatherer cultures showed that these cultures do not suffer from acne. Their diets consist of low-glycemic foods, like vegetables, fruits, and lean protein (as well as large quantities of fish). Another study showed that a high-glycemic diet led to longer durations of acne, while low-glycemic diets lead to a shorter duration of acne.

Low-Glycemic Foods
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Lean protein
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Bran
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts
  • Dairy

Probiotics: Some studies have indicated that probiotics can also have a positive effect on acne. Rather than simply having an antibacterial effect, probiotics help restore bacteria in the intestines that fight P. Acne bacteria from the source. Consider taking probiotics as giving your body weapons to fight against invaders. The right number and type of weapons will go a long way toward clearing acne symptoms on the outside of the body.

Just this year, the University of Alberta released a study looking at probiotics to reduce acne symptoms in a group of 30 women. Within a month, all the women showed fewer acne lesions on the face. The researchers recommended that patients take probiotics in combination with any existing antibacterial products for acne.

Stopping Acne from the Inside Out

Acne is a serious problem that many people face. Americans suffer from acne more than other cultures due to the lack of acne-fighting nutrients in the standard American Diet. However, diet alone does not account for all cases of acne. Genetics can also play a role in how susceptible a person is to acne, or how prevalent the P. acne strains of bacteria are in the intestines and on the face. However, no matter how susceptible you are to acne genetically, the right treatment methods will help fade and eliminate acne on the face and the rest of the body. Acupuncture can help stimulate the body and restore the acne-fighting elements of the body. Changing your diet, supplementing with acne-fighting foods, and getting weekly acupuncture treatments will help fight acne on all fronts. With this multi-pronged approach, you should see your acne start to heal within a month.





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