Natural vs Synthetic Acne Treatments

There is a lot of public bias both for and against natural treatments.  On the pro side is the sentiment that natural treatments are safer, less toxic, and better for the environment.  On the con side is the lack of scientific rigor and evidence for natural treatments that is often associated with synthetic treatments.  Tea Tree Oil vs Benzoyle Peroxide.png

The good news is that the public is more interested in natural treatments and that has brought the scientific community on board.  This series of articles will explore the scientific literature for natural treatments to common problems – most of which have synthetic treatments with unwanted side-effects – to sort out the Pseudo-Science from the real Science.

Today, we talk about Acne.  Why is it so important to talk about this?  Because Acne often causes significant physical and psychological problems such as permanent scarring, poor self-image, depression and anxiety.1 No wonder we spend in excess $3,000,000,000 (that’s three billion) a year in the USA on the treatment of acne.2

Tea Tree Oil (TTO) is one such natural product that the scientific community has weighed in on and it turns out that it is as just as effective as common synthetic treatments, specifically Benzoyl Peroxide (BP), in the topical treatment of Acne.3  TTO also has significantly lower side-effects, and possible no side-effects under the right conditions.4

The most common side effects of synthetic acne treatments are:

  • Topical treatments cause dry and irritated skin that can result in itching, burning, and heavy peeling.
  • Topical treatments can cause discoloration of the skin.
  • Oral treatments can result in upset stomachs, dizziness, light headedness, and can counteract birth control resulting in pregnancy.  (Woah!)
  • One of the most effective oral treatments can also cause severe birth defects, negatively affect your liver and your cholesterol levels, as well as increase the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.  As I showed earlier, acne is already linked to a higher risk for depression.  It’s sad to me that one of the most effective treatments for acne increases this risk even more?!?5

The side-effects of Tea Tree Oil?

  • Allergic irritation of the skin if the oil has degraded as the result of photo-oxidation.6

According to the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually.7
  • Approximately 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least minor acne.8

Acne is caused by overactive oil glands that produce too much oil that combines with skin cells to plug pores. When the pores in the skin become clogged, bacteria on the skin multiply, causing skin lesions.9  TTO is an antiseptic that kills the bacteria on the skin that causes skin lesions.  Now, the difference between an antiseptic and an antibacterial is that antibacterials enter the body and antiseptics do not.  How’s that for not putting dangerous chemicals inside your body?

What does all this mean?  Well, the way that I interpret this is that TTO should be the first step in the treatment of Acne.  Why?  Because, although it is slower working than its BP counterpart, it is just as effective and has significantly fewer side-effects.10  If this treatment proves to be too weak then, and only then, should we consider more synthetic treatments.

In conclusion, I will quote directly from a scientific review of TTO, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties:

“A paradigm shift in the treatment of infectious diseases is necessary to prevent antibiotics becoming obsolete, and where appropriate, alternatives to antibiotics ought to be considered…Unfortunately, the medical profession has been slow to embrace these therapies, and good scientific data are still scarce. However, as we approach the “postantibiotic era” the situation is changing. A wealth of in vitro data now supports the long-held beliefs that TTO has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.”11

Be sure to follow this series as I attempt to weed out the pseudoscientific bullsh*t (PSBS) surrounding personal care products.  Btw, there’s also some really strong evidence that TTO is extremely effective at getting rid of dandruff!  Maybe I’ll do more on that in the next article.  

If there is something that you would me to cover feel free to reach out to me either here, on the website, on twitter @kaiyanaturals, or on Facebook @kaiyanaturals.  Also  please, please, please share or comment on this article.  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below

Until next time, stay natural my friends!

Seriously, please share and comment below I’d really appreciate it.


References:

1. Strauss JS, Krowchuk DP, Leyden JJ, Lucky AW, Shalita AR, Siegfried EC et al. Guidelines of care for acne vulgaris management. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2007;56:651-63.

2. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. The British journal of dermatology 2013;168:474-85

3. Medical Journal Australia 1990 vol 153 A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne

4. Clin. Microbiol. Rev. January 2006 vol. 19 no. 1 50-621 January 2006 Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties, C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley

5. http://www.healthline.com/health/acne-treatment#SideEffects9

6. Hausen, B. M., J. Reichling, and M. Harkenthal. 1999. Degradation products of monoterpenes are the sensitizing agents in tea tree oil. Am. J. Contact Dermatitis 10:68-77.

7. Bickers DR, Lim HW, Margolis D, Weinstock MA, Goodman C, Faulkner E et al. The burden of skin diseases: 2004 a joint project of the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the Society for Investigative Dermatology.Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2006;55:490-500.

8. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. The British journal of dermatology 2013;168:474-85.

9. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. The British journal of dermatology 2013;168:474-85.

10. Medical Journal Australia 1990 vol 153 A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne

11. Clin. Microbiol. Rev. January 2006 vol. 19 no. 1 50-621 January 2006 Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties, C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley

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