One of the good things about the job I do is that I come across interesting stuff all the time. For example Hinoki Oil, which is the oil obtained from the leaves and roots of Chamaecyparis obtuse, Cupressaceae. The shrub from which it is derived is commonly known as either Hinoki or Hinoki Cyprus and is common in Japan. The wood from it is used to make incense sticks. So it is something that is quite exotic to me, but presumably is commonplace in Japan. Continue reading
Sarah on my Facebook asked me if I had come across Skinetica. As it happened I had because I had been sent a sample of it when it came out, though I hadn’t taken a lot of notice of it. I get sent a fair bit of stuff and unless it grabs my attention I tend to ignore it. But as someone was asking, I had a quick look at it. Continue reading
If acne wasn’t bad enough already it can often leave scars on the face which can, in some cases, last a lifetime. Fortunately severe disfigurement as a result of acne is rare, but unfortunately there isn’t a huge amount that can be done about it. A paper published last month shows that at least some work is being done to overcome this problem. Continue reading
One of the drawbacks I have found with setting myself up as an internet guru is that the more questions I get the more I realise how little I know. Take this one from Rebecca.
Hello. First off, I am not entirely sure if this is a type of scientific problem that is addressable, or even common, but I thought it was startling and strange. I have always had good skin, no acne problems as a teenager. I would get the occasional pimple but it was never anything severe. I think that is pretty lucky. However, when I met my boyfriend (now fiance) he introduced me to coconut oil, to cook with. I had never heard of it, much less tried it. Fast forward a few weeks. I began breaking out like crazy, but after several months I noticed it was only on my cheeks. I was devastated, and since I have quite a healthy diet I tried everything from making sure I had a clean pillow case, washing my face am and pm, everything. I would get at least one new blemish a day. I did some online research, which I am not sure how trustworthy that can be, but I found that coconut oil could have been the culprit. I have since stopped cooking with it (note: I never used it directly on my skin, only ingested it) and my skin has improved dramatically. I no longer get any blemishes. I read that coconut oil can release liposaccharides and these can let gut bacteria into the bloodstream. This in turn was causing my body to try to fight this off, and I think it manifested as acne, but only on my cheeks. Do you know if this is really the case? Could I just be allergic to coconut oil? I can hardly believe this substance did so much damage. Do you think others have this problem? Is it common? My fiance can eat the coconut oil on food with no trouble at all. I am glad I found a solution for myself but I am just wondering at the science behind it! Thanks!
Well that one has me baffled, other than to say we are all different. I have never heard of this happening with coconut oil before, and given that it is staple food ingredient across wide stretches of the globe I can’t imagine it is very common. Continue reading
A question from Talia
I’ve got cystic acne. Currently I am on prescription medication, but before I was, I would get people stopping me in the street suggesting home remedies for the problem. One unusual one, offered by an East Indian man, was to apply jasmine oil to the pimples. I never tried it (it’s expensive stuff — I assume anyway that he meant jasmine essential oil) but am wondering what the benefit would be? I’ve also heard lavender oil similarly suggested. (Tea tree oil is also classic and common recommendation — but that one I did try, though to no effect.) I know in the case of tea tree oil it’s supposed to be antibacterial — would this hold true for the floral oils?
I have looked at data for both lavender oil and tea trea oil which is supportive of them working against acne. But I haven’t done a systematic review of the literature on either. I am afraid the project I was working on got cancelled before I could do the job properly. Continue reading
Acne is a miserable condition, particularly severe acne. When I used to work in research into acne I often used to get people asking me if it was affected by what they ate. A lot of people claimed that chocolate, particularly Mars bars for some reason, seemed to make their spots worse. I used to reply by quoting what I think is the consensus amongst dermatologists. Studies have failed to pick up any link between diet and acne.
I am a big fan of the scientific method and I think it is an amazingly powerful tool for solving problems – so when people apply a scientific approach to answer a question like the effect of diet on acne my initial reaction is to accept this.
But it is also true that sometimes you have to question what you have previously believed. Anecdotal evidence is weaker than evidence from proper trials – and anyone who eats a bar of chocolate one day and gets an outbreak of acne the next day could simply be coincidence. But the number of people who have told me this is very large. And they all seem to report the same thing – the timescale is from a few hours up to about a day. It has been troubling me for some time.
The trouble is, you can prove anything if you are selective with the evidence. To really make some progress you need to explain all the observations. Why are so many people convinced that chocolate is a cause of acne? But also why have dermatologists and doctors not picked up on the link?
Personally, I am very lucky in being one of the very small number of people who has never suffered from acne either as a teenager or as an adult. I am also someone who likes to experiment, so I have over the years tried a number of diets. Not one of them has had the slightest impact on my skin – which has always remained resolutely healthy and in good condition. In fact I have never really found that changing my diet has had very much impact on my day to day life.
That is until very recently. I have just been trialling a raw food diet. The principle behind this one is fairly simple. You just eat uncooked fruit and vegetables. The is in effect to avoid eating large amounts of sugar or simple carbohydrates. I don’t know if this is obvious to non-chemists, but eating bread is very similar to eating to sugar from a nutritional point of view. The body breaks down the carbohydrate to sugar very quickly. Try keeping a bit of bread in your mouth for a few minutes, chewing it occasionally. It will soon begin to taste sweet. Eating a lot of sugar very quickly gives your body the problem of dealing with it. The body responds by producing insulin. The suggestion is that once the insulin has dealt with the sugar spike it then depletes your blood stream of sugar making you feel hungry and short of energy – so you feel like a snack. This cycle leads to continual munching of sweets and crisps between meals while also making you feel tired.
That at any rate is the theory – but theories are only interesting if you test them. I have to say that this raw food diet does seem to bear out the claims made for it. I feel less hungry during the day and have more energy. (This isn’t a diet that you could stay on for very long. It is deficient in proteins and fats, and if you kept on it for more than a few weeks you would get ill and eventually die.)
I was mulling all this over and I remembered a piece of medical technology that I had come some time ago aimed at diabetics. This is a way of monitoring blood sugar levels, which are key if you are a serious diabetic, by microanalysis of sweat. The reason this wasn’t easy, and the idea behind the patent granted, is that normally excess sugar in sweat is absorbed by the eccrine glands. The eccrine glands are of course precisely the thing that is inflammed in acne!
So maybe if the eccrine glands have to handle a large amount of sugar in the blood, this could provide food for the bacteria that are living there and lead them to multiply and cause a flair up in the acne. This would only happen in an individual who was already predisposed to acne and had a population of bacteria in their glands. This would explain why I can cheerfully knock back a king size Mars bar with no effect on my particular skin. It would also be a temporary effect. Once the high sugar spike had passed there would be no new influx of sugar to the glands and the bacteria would die off and the spots would recover. But most importantly, knowing the way the body works to maintain itself in balance, if you ate chocolate regularly, say once a day, the body’s immune system would probably find a way of dealing with the infection. So my idea predicts that people who eat chocolate, or any other very rich sugar source, infrequently would be then ones who get the spots.
This explains why surveys haven’t found the link. If you look at a large group of people the ones who eat lots of carbohydrate won’t show up as the ones who get the most acne. In any case, the key factor would be food that gets converted to sugar quickly. So things like chips, white bread and sweets are all equally likely to raise blood sugar levels. But I don’t think most people would see the link. So if you try cutting out chocolate for instance, but eat a sandwich instead, it would probably not have make any difference.
I am still thinking about this idea. I am surprised it hasn’t been suggested before – but I haven’t found anything like it via Google yet. If anyone can point me to any work that has been done in this area I would be very interested. I am also looking through the scientific literature to find evidence that either supports or contradicts it. So far I have found a paper that points out that a society with a very different diet to the Western one has a very low incidence of acne indeed. The Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and the Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay don’t eat what we eat and they don’t get acne. Of course there are quite of lot of other differences as well, so on its own this observation doesn’t prove very much. But it is at least consistent with the idea that sugar levels in the diet might contribute to acne.
What I would really like would be to find someone who believes that chocolate, or some other sugar rich food, brings them out in spots. If they could induce an acne outbreak, then go onto a largely raw diet for a couple of weeks, and then have another chocolate binge that would be a really strong piece of evidence in favour of the theory.
In the mean time, to answer my question: yes I think there might be cases where avoiding a high sugar and high carbohydrate diet might be beneficial for acne. Any observations or references relevant to this would be much appreciated.
You might also be interested in a product for acne that probably doesn’t work.
Arch Dermatol. 2002 Dec;138(12):1584-90. Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J.
Eli Lily Patent on Blood Sugar Monitoring Device
A new health water is about to appear on supermarket shelves in the UK. It is called Beauty and contains an active ingredient called Praventin that can “reduce the development of the bacteria responsible for many skin impurities”. Although I am quite keen on the notion that drinking water can be good for your skin, and I have a page up about it, I was instantly suspicious of this offering.
Acne is still not very well understood. It seems to start with an overproduction of sebum and is then made worse when bacteria invade the glands and cause inflammation resulting in the unsightly red spots we have all seen/had/are currently suffering from. Continue reading