Acne (including acne vulgaris and cystic acne) is a very common affliction that often begins in adolescence and can continue into adulthood. Often dismissed as an insignificant problem that will go away with time, severe acne can result not only in tissue scarring, but may contribute to lower self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Oily skin, painful cysts, and other symptoms may resist mainstream treatments (such as topical medications, oral medications, and steroid injection), which do not address the root causes of acne. New crops of pimples and cysts may continue to break out even if other areas of your face or body are finally healing. In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in alternative treatment options, including nutrition, herbal medicine and acupuncture. Although more comprehensive clinical studies are needed to fully understand the mechanisms of acupuncture treatment for acne, preliminary research indicates that a series of treatments can significantly relieve acne symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of recurring outbreaks.
Causes of Acne
Acne results from an excess of skin oil and dead cells that become trapped in hair follicles. The follicles become inflamed and the pores rupture under the skin. The inflammation spreads to the surrounding skin tissue, creating a chain reaction. The key to successful treatment is lowering inflammation, and stopping the chain of events.
While genetics plays a role in acne, lifestyle pulls the trigger. Hormonal imbalances, stress and nutritional deficiencies are important triggers for the outbreak of symptoms. Hormonal imbalances during adolescence may continue into adulthood. An excess of androgen (a sex hormone) may cause increased production of skin oils that results in acne formation. In women, cystic acne is related to polycystic ovary syndrome. It’s important to treat the underlying cause so that acne does not recur.
Drawbacks of Western and Mainstream Acne Treatments
Since the exact mechanisms of acne are not completely understood, Western approaches to treatment often struggle to work effectively. Some people may find that oral medications clear up their acne symptoms for a period of time, only to find that the treatment stops working as well after a period of time. What works for one person may have no effect on another. Most notably, many of these medications lead to unpleasant or severe side effects, including skin sensitivity, skin redness or irritation, dry or flaky skin, weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular problems or breast cancer, breast tenderness, painful periods, depression, and other unwanted complications. For this reason, many people with persistent acne problems are eager to explore alternative treatment options.
Research Regarding Acupuncture Treatment for Acne
The available studies on the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for acne symptoms, though limited, hold promise. One systematic review of randomized controlled trials found that “acupuncture and cupping therapy used alone or in combination with pharmaceutical medication appeared to be more effective than pharmaceutical medication alone in increasing the number of cured patients with acne” and that “acupoint-stimulation therapies combined with other treatments were significantly more efficacious than other treatments applied alone.” Another systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that the limited studies demonstrated that “acupuncture and auricular acupressure were not statistically different to guideline-recommended treatments but were with fewer side effects.” From the available data, it appears that people with acne who received 30 minutes of acupuncture treatment every other day for a total of ten treatments reported moderate to significant improvements to their acne symptoms.
Acupuncture Mechanisms of Treatment
A growing body of research indicates that acupuncture has widespread effects on the endocrine and immune systems, and helps reduce inflammation throughout the body. While the exact mechanisms through which acupuncture helps treat acne have not been studied, it’s likely that acupuncture contributes to hormonal regulation. Western medicine also recognizes that stress can trigger or worsen acne symptoms, and acupuncture treatments can often ameliorate symptoms of stress within the body. During your initial consultation with your acupuncture therapist, you’ll discuss the specific symptoms you’ve experienced and your desired outcome so that you can develop a personalized treatment plan.
If you are looking for lasting relief from acne symptoms in the Portland area, contact Inner Works Acupuncture today by calling (503) 227-2127 to make an appointment.