Chinese herbs work better than retinoids for acne

A couple years ago, I remember cruising the pharmacy aisles looking at the anti-acne products with my then 14 year old daughter. Because her Dad uses herbal medicines to treat the skin, she insisted on the opposite – over-the-counter pharmaceutical chemicals! Ugh, thought I. What irony. Flashes of my mother telling my stubborn teenage boy self, “it doesn’t matter what I say, i just know that you will say the opposite!”. Yes Mom, how very correct you were.

So I entertained my daughter as we looked at different products, me trying to find the one with the most “natural” ingredients, and her trying to find the most expensive one with the fanciest looking label. Of course I was constantly explaining to her my Chinese medical theories, that acne is stemming from an internal imbalance and as such needed medicines to work from the inside out. Of course I was also explaining to her that refined sugars can contribute greatly to acne, and should be reduced or eliminated from her diet. And of course I was also explaining to her that many of the ingredients in the products she was interested in can be quite strong on the skin, offsetting its delicate balance and drying it out too much. But we are talking about a teenager here, one that kept reminding me that she is “her fathers daughter” after all. (Is the need for independent exploration and rebellion a genetic trait???)

So we finally decided on a product, or in other words, I finally gave in. I don’t remember which one it was, but I am sure it contained one or all of the most common chemicals – benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids. Well it wasn’t long afterwards that she cried out in embarrassment that her face was excessively peeling, a “told you so” result of the over strong acne remedies for sure.

So in retaliation, I dove into research and dug up an interesting study showing that Chinese herbs actually work better than retinoids and antibiotics in controlling acne! Of course I loved finding this news, as it always feels better when we can use science to win our arguments. Mostly though, it is nice to see when science actually confirms my own clinical findings, which is that herbal medicine is good at controlling acne.

My daughter is a smart cookie, and so it didn’t take her long to figure out that she could control her acne best by, yes, avoiding sugar. As an external product she finally noticed that the one I recommended, which is a mix of different Chinese herbs, worked pretty good to keep the bigger ones from getting too crazy. She still didn’t want to drink my herbal tea, for fear of its taste, but she is a teenager after all.

Pretty much everyone on Earth will have to suffer with a bought of acne at some time in their teenage life. Acne could thus be considered a normal part of growing up, a reflection of the body trying to figure out its ever changing and developing hormone balance. The good news is that teenagers, like my daughter and myself, will eventually outgrow their problem and acne will become a thing of the past.

Wishing you health,
Dr. Trevor Erikson