The successful treatment of acne with a natural approach takes real commitment on the part of the patient but I have had many excellent results over the years with a great many people and the following article describes what I have found to consistently help the most.

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Diet; does it really matter?

Much of what you read from the conventional medical literature will tell you that diet has nothing to do with acne and that it only happens because of hormonal changes that start around puberty. It all sounds scientific and reassuring but the assertion that diet doesn't matter is simply wrong, and badly misleading.

Question: What percentage of young adults in modern civilization get at least some acne?

: 96%

Question: What percentage of young adults living in traditional hunter-gatherer tribes (the few that remain) get at least some acne?

Answer: 0%

The leading cause, or at the very least a major part, of the widespread acne in our culture is the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates and processed foods and how they impact on our body, our blood, and our hormonal balance, especially insulin levels, which in turn affects our sex-hormones.

Cleansing Diet

For most people to get a long term cure from their acne they will need to eat a diet that keeps sugars and artificial foods down to at least some extent.

How strict a person needs to be in this regard is going to vary a great deal so, without seeing someone in person, what I would recommend is to go to a fairly strong level of a 'cleansing diet', as linked at the end of this section, and at the same time use some cleansing herbs as described further below to accelerate the whole process along.

All going well you will get some really significant improvements happening in your skin within a reasonable time frame from starting all this, e.g. well within a couple of months. You should then be able to get a much clearer impression of how strict you have to be because when things are better it is just so much easier to see what makes you worse!

I typically give this diet to my patients who come to me for help with their skin. I suggest you read about the diet to form your own view of how achievable you think it will be but what I can tell you is that my own patients nearly always say that they find it quite do-able and that they also nearly always say they feel much better on it in general - read more here


Cleansing the blood

All the doctors of the ancient world were herbalists and every tradition of medicine, except for modern Western medicine, saw acne as a sign that you need to clean the blood.

I personally rely on tongue diagnosis to get a gauge of how much a person needs to focus on internal cleansing. People who get chronic or severe acne almost always have a dominance of 'dampness' in their constitution and they will usually have some degree of coating on their tongue - the heavier it looks the more they typically need to cleanse. I've talked about the cleansing diet above but in terms of herbal medicines two of my favourites to help acne are Dandelion root (more about it here) and Burdock root (more here).

These herbs work by deeply cleansing the liver and the blood and I have developed a lot of trust in their action in regards to helping acne, in fact I can't remember a single case where there wasn't at least some significant improvement from using them if taken in sufficient doses for long enough!

What does sufficient time and dose mean exactly? You must understand that different herbalists will have different methods but speaking for myself I will typically use a daily dose of around 4-6 mls of these two herbs combined (i.e. 2-3 mls each) in tincture form for so long as they are clearly helping and this can easily be for several months or more.

Another method I have found to be particularly effective and that I especially use for a few weeks in the beginning of the treatment program when the patient's condition is quite bad is to use a high dose of Burdock and Dandelion roots in decoction form.

Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)

Dandelion & Burdock Decoction

In the evening take 8 grams of the dried, cut root of each herb (16 grams in total), place in a saucepan and pour over approximately 3 cups of freshly boiled and still-hot water. Allow this to soak overnight and then in the morning bring it up to the boil then turn down but allow to vigorously simmer for around 5-10 minutes. You should be left with about 2 cups after the simmering and some water absorption into the roots and you then strain this decoction into some kind of container, e.g. a drink bottle or a thermos.

It is up to you whether you drink it hot or cold, it will work just as well either way. These two cups are an entire day's dose but should not be taken in one sitting. Divide into at least two doses or drink throughout the day. Most people find it quite palatable and many say they enjoy it!

Note that this the above method is very potent and high-dose herbal medicine and you must carefully listen to your body for how long to stay with this. For some people two weeks is ample, others can take it a longer. Trust your instincts, if you feel intuitively good about taking this medicine but then one day just find that the taste and feel of it repels you then take a break and try again a day or two later and see if your feelings have changed.

Deeper detoxification

It may be that Dandelion & Burdock alone would be enough to cleanse your system sufficiently for your skin to get much better but it is also possible that you need to go further and deeper.

I cannot advise you about that without seeing you in person but what I can encourage you to do is if firstly learn more about this important subject by reading the article what is detoxification here and then, if it is necessary for you to go deeper, consider using herbs such as Juniper and Celandine, which are I believe are, respectively, the two strongest cleansing herbs for the kidneys and liver and I have an article that describes a particularly effective way to use them both here.

Chelidonium majus (Celandine)


Cleansing the skin

Cleaning the skin is where many commercial acne treatments start and stop and many of my patients have tried every mask, exfoliant, cleanser, lotion, cream, antibiotic and antiseptic there is. The pattern is typically one of a temporary improvement with an eventual re-worsening.

It is noticeable that after a certain amount of such chemical applications that the skin start to get a ‘raw’ damaged appearance. It is easy to overdo the chemicals, especially on the face, and especially when you want the spots gone by yesterday!

Tea-tree wash

I keep it very simple and very natural when it comes to external treatments for acne. I often recommend a daily wash of tea-tree oil diluted about 1:20 in water (you can carefully build up the strength of this if needed) washed over the face and allowed to naturally evaporate. I also usually suggest using a clay mask two or three times a week and have seen that these two methods usually make a great deal of difference towards the cure.

Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea-tree)

Clay Masks

Clay has been with us as a treatment for acne for thousands of years but it can sometimes make things seem worse before they get better so you must carefully read and understand the following if you will use this ancient treatment for the skin.

The Balancing Act

People who have not used clay masks before need to know that the immediate affect can be to make the spots seem bigger as all that blocked up sebum is drawn to the surface but that this is not a bad sign as the pore soon starts to 'breathe' again and the spots tend heal much faster once that starts happening.

Also don't be surprised if your skin seems to get noticeably drier, at least at first. This is because of the natural action of the clay having the effect of drawing out the oils from your skin. Resist the urge to re-moisturise your skin, in fact try to avoid putting anything on it for a good 12 hours after doing the mask if it all possible.

What should happen is that your oil glands will start to produce a thinner, less sticky oil to naturally re-moisturise your skin and ultimately this good balance of a healthy amount of oil that doesn't block your pores is what will enable you to have good skin for many years to come.

The Technique

Clay masks are very easy to make. There are a number of products that contain premixed clay but I prefer to use a powdered clay that you can make thicker or thinner to your preference, plus they are much cheaper. We don't sell any products online but I think you will be able to obtain a powdered clay if you have a look around without too much trouble.

It doesn't matter too much if the clay and water mix is relatively wetter or dryer so long as it can be spread over the skin in a mask that is thick enough to draw out the debris as it dries out ( a thin 'Pea-soup' is one commonly given guide for consistency). You apply the wet clay to the face or areas of affected skin then go relax somewhere comfortable and wait for the mask to dry out and start to crack.

When it is dried it will wash off with water but if you have used a good amount of clay then you may need to clean it off over a bowl and then tip that over your garden as too much clay can clog your pipes!

The Options

Any clay can potentially help but if you have a choice there are some subtle differences as follows.

~ Pink Clay:       
Balancing. For sensitive, easily damaged skin. Gently cleanses, tones & softens skin

~ Yellow Clay:
Tonifying. Stimulates circulation, absorbs impurities. Tones & strengthens skin

~ Green Clay:    
Cleansing. The strongest detoxifying clay. For oily skin or blocked pores. Potent

~ Blue Clay:       
Purifying. Similar to green but more gentle. Opens, relaxes & cleanses the skin

~ White Clay:    
Delicate. Easily the most gentle clay. Will soften skin whilst lightly cleansing



Whilst hormones are unlikely to be the only issue, they are still usually a major part of chronic acne. Changes in puberty that involve the increase of hormones called androgens cause an increase in the production and the thickness of the oil (sebum) from certain glands (sebaceous) in the skin.

It will be sufficient for some people to eat less refined diet and to use some cleansing herbs internally and externally. However there will also be instances where some help from Nature to remedy a deep-set hormonal imbalance will be one of the best things you could do.

Finding a good herbalist

Most of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for self-care at home but if you have a more serious health problem underlying the acne, such as a hormonal imbalance, then I urge you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to help guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

That said, I want to share some experiences about two hormonal herbs that I have found to be particularly beneficial to many people with severe acne for whom a cleansing diet and herbs would not have been quite enough to really turn things around.

Vitex (chaste-tree)

Vitex can be a great hormonal balancer and it be a true ally especially to women who get a patterning of deeper (cystic) spots around their chin and jawline and an association of breakouts to other hormonal signs such as premenstrual tension or painful periods but, as I describe in its article, this is by no means a herb for everyone and you have to treat it with a great deal of respect!

I will often use Vitex for about three months at levels a bit higher than average when treating acne (e.g. about 2 mls of the tincture in a day) and then given a break for 1 or 2 months before maybe doing a second course depending on how much they have improved or whether they slip back when they stop having it. I have also used successfully used Vitex for men with bad acne though I will use a much higher dose in their cases, maybe as much as 6 mls in a day.

If you will consider using it then I recommend you learn a lot more about it starting here.

Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-tree)


Sarsaparilla & Licorice root

Another medicine that I use for both men and women that can help with hormonal balancing is the herb Sarsaparilla (detailed write up here). This herb can be especially useful if the person has had acne for many years and they have the kind of deep, cystic lesions that are slow to heal and never really come to a head.

In such cases I always use the Sarsaparilla along with Licorice root (more here) and I think the steroidal saponins in both these herbs are why they have the potential to help so much with hormonal balancing. I will typically use an equivalent of about 1-2 grams of these herbs in combination a day; usually in tincture form where that equates to about a tea-spoon a day.

Smilax officinalis (Sarsaparilla)


Mental health matters

I have worked with a great many people with really quite severe acne and the truth is that I have had a very high percentage of success along the way however I can tell you from long experience that you will need to be patient with this approach and also that it may be very important for you to take good care of your mental health along the way.

Acne is unlikely to cause physical pain but there can be no doubt that it has the power to cause a great deal of mental pain. People care about how they look, and so they should, and visible acne can truly be a torment.

'Stress' is a big subject and I don't want to oversimplify it but I do recommend two things in this area to anyone who would embark on a holistic cure of their acne. The first is to regularly talk about how your skin makes you feel with whoever will lend you a sympathetic ear. Just get it out in the open as it will do you much more harm if you keep any bad feelings about it bottled up inside.

The second is to do things that you know relax you, regularly! People who are stressed stop doing the things that make them feel good. Of course this is when they need to do them the most but that's just how we tend to react to stress - we get tenser we stop doing things that relax us! Ask yourself if you think you are stressed and then ask yourself how much you are doing those things that you know help you to relax... ,

If needed I go into this subject in a lot more depth in an article on tension & anxiety found here. If it suits you it may also help to use some of the music or relaxation exercises I have put together here.


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, there are many other old ways of healing from Nature that you might like to learn more about and if so, then a good place to start would be to learn about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as helping you to treat and prevent acne. There is a brief introduction to the subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd