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The Science Behind Acne: Beneath The Surface

By Ingrid De La O , November 19, 2019

It’s long being a mystery as to how we can cure acne. There are several creams and trends that have made empty promises to cure it over the years. Some successfully decrease acne with the use of antibiotics — a very high price to pay, with long-term side effects, including imbalance of the gut microbiome.

But how much do we really know? Is acne a symptom or a cause?

Over the past few years, ever since I can remember, my face has always been inhabited by at least one blemish. As a teenager, I suffered from pizza face. I even had a middle school boyfriend break up with me because he didn’t want to be seen with me. Craters as big as a pepperoni followed me throughout my adult life.

This can be really debilitating to some people to the point of depression. It’s a serious issue when you are trying to hide from the world because it can affect your relationships, your mental health, and above, all self-esteem.

Why me?

On the other hand, there are people who have never suffered from these vexations. My best friend Ilana gets one every year. ONE! Her skin is flawless with the most invisible pores.

This made me itch with curiosity. I wanted to know what it was I was staring at every time I looked at my face — my old foes appearing on me, getting a free ride, attending weddings, birthday parties, and my most intimate reunions.

I have received so many questions from people suffering from acne. People who are in the world of health and wellness continue to have this problem. So I went down the rabbit hole and ravaged through pubmed, a website with peer-reviewed journals. One stood out to me.

Old study comes back to life

In 1965, University of Chicago dermatologist, and a young scientist then, Allan L. Lorincz suggested that lipid peroxidation –occurring when fats become “rancid” and form peroxides or other oxidation products — directly causes acne. He then postulated that antioxidants are needed to decrease the amount of rancidity of these oils on the skin by reducing oxidation of these fats.

Lorincz focused most of his work on making the connection between skin diseases, biochemistry, and virology. It’s all connected. Acne is a symptom. Not a cause. And it all starts with the hindering of the chemical reactions in the body affecting the different organs, including the skin.

Let’s break it down: What we know

According to Lorincz, when polyunsaturated fatty acids go rancid, they form peroxides and other oxidation products that degrade the cells and destroy the skin. Like lava flowing from a volcano, they start degrading everything they touch. And worse! They also get stored in your adipose tissue as fat. This is one of the main causes of obesity. This is not only an acne issue. If you continue reading, you will start to see how these rancid fatty acids are the main cause of almost every disease out there.

Not only does this happen to people with acne. If you are on the standard American diet, eat out in restaurants, and cook with canola oil, this is happening not only on your skin, but all over your organs, and the one to feel the heat is the liver.

Your liver feels takes the heat

The liver is the conductor. It protects you, cleans up after you, stores vitamins and energy, holds on to toxins so they don’t get into your bloodstream, and defends other organs like the pancreas, thyroid, and brain. So if you have any diseases from the key areas I just mentioned above, then it’s highly likely that your liver is not happy.

The liver is also responsible for cleaning up after fats with the use of bile. But if you are constantly feeding your system fats that are very reactive and vulnerable to rancidity, these fats will also degrade the tissues in your liver, making it work less optimally. One common disease that I see going around, even in very fit individuals, is fatty liver disease, or non-alcoholic liver disease—which in a nutshell means that your liver is obese. This can lead to a sluggish liver. The most common symptom, is a decrease in energy, weight gain, glucose dysregulation, thyroid issues, and acne. 

When the liver suffers so does your skin. Click To Tweet

What are these fats?

These fats are everywhere. They are vegetable oils, seed oils, legume oils, and anything that is high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s). These fats are very vulnerable because of their molecular composition. They are made of long chain fatty acids with multiple double bonds, and not much hydrogen. Because the double bonds are easily destroyed, polyunsaturated fats become more prone to oxidation. They are highly prone to decomposition inside your body. Free radicals like to steal their electrons like piranhas in the open water. So even if you buy a high-end bottle of canola oil that has been sealed in fancy dark glass and kept refrigerated, by the time you open it and put the contents in your mouth, it will start forming peroxides. That’s because as soon as it comes into contact with oxygen, light, and higher temperatures like your body temperature, it will start the decomposition process affecting everything else it comes into contact with, like a wildfire causing damage to your cells, your mitochondria, and your DNA. And acne.

The lava that flows in your organs

This decomposition process eventually creates chemicals like aldehydes, which are considered carcinogens. This could be one of the primary causes of cancer, diabetes, and obesity, and probably most diseases today. That’s because the standard American diet is heavily composed of these types of fats. Glucose is not to blame. Glucose in a diabetic and obese person can’t get into the cells, because polyunsaturated fats cause inflammation on the cell membranes. So nothing can get in and nothing can get out of the cells, hindering energy production, literally throwing a wrench in the cogs of the cell. Are you constantly tired? Do you have low energy? Can’t sleep? Keep reading. Have acne?

This decomposition process also affects animals that are raised in conventional farming. These animals are fed food high in polyunsaturated fats, like corn and grains, and are given corn and grain oils to fatten them up. The animals store the food in fat tissue, and we get animal products that contain aldehydes and rancid fats. We are eating these types of fats everywhere we go.

Don’t worry. If you keep reading, there’s a rainbow at the end of this post.

Introducing  Cutibacterium

I will connect all the dots once I tell you how bacteria and the fats you are eating work in synergy. But first, let me introduce you to Cutibacterium formerly (Propionibacterium acnes or P.acnes). The bacteria directly linked to acne. Regardless of its name, there is nothing cute about it.

Cutibacterium has shown the ability to make enzymes that degrade the skin and compromise the immune system. It’s like a robber who cuts the cables to keep the alarm from going off. It just wants to feed on rancid fatty acids, and while it’s doing that, it forms biofilms, or strong shells that protect it from every anti-acne cream, soap, and even antibiotics that you put on your face.

Cutibacterium is also present in healthy adults, but it is not detectable in preadolescents. People with acne have higher concentrations of this bacteria and its biofilm.

Cellular Junk

One of the chemicals Cutibacterium generates is propioni, the acid that is responsible for the smell of sweat and Swiss cheese. Used as a preservative in packaged goods, it inhibits the growth of mold. It’s also really good at killing other good bacteria. It’s territorial, and wants you to continue eating those rancid oils so that it can produce long chain fatty acids, mainly 13-methyltetradecanoic acid. These fatty acids act like dynamite blowing up your cells because they induce apoptosis and cell death. When a cell dies, it explodes with sebum and cellular debris, its preferred source of nutrients. This creates inflammation, acne, black heads, and is also related to enlarged pores, the more sebum the bigger the pores. 

How do we stop this from happening?

We are back to the beginning, back to 1965 when Dr. Allan L. Lorincz suggested the use of antioxidants. He had successfully seen clients with acne issues suddenly free from acne as a result of using Vitamin E, the master antioxidant. It prevents the formation of free radicals that are out there scavenging on PUFA’s. In nature, polyunsaturated fats go hand in hand with Vitamin E. But when the fat is isolated and refined, there’s no longer vitamin E in the seed oil.

I have found that mitolife has the highest quality Vitamin E, this capsules have helped me tremendously with my acne. 

Antioxidants are key

It has long been postulated that acne was caused by hormonal changes. Teenagers and their hormonal changes are associated with acne. Like French fries and ketchup, they go together. Especially in women, when the time of the month comes, there’s a sudden influx of acne. Again this is blamed on hormonal changes. But what if I told you that a lack of antioxidants is to blame? We live in an environment that is full of free radicals, including pollution, smog, processed foods, and stress. Stress is a free radical factory. And so, we are in need of more antioxidants than ever before.

A study showed that women have lower levels of antioxidants during that time of the month. Together with a standard American diet, this opens up the door for lipid peroxidation and the degradation of the cells, and DNA. What happens when the DNA and the cells become affected? So do your hormones.

It’s all linked together, like a big janga puzzle. I can continue to link more:   high levels of cutibacterium are found in people with Alzheimer’s Disease; Alzheimer’s Disease is inflammation of the brain; the inability to produce energy is caused by inflammation of the cells.

Low levels of antioxidants could be a gene mutation

There are other reasons for having low antioxidant levels. A large number of individuals have gene mutations like the GSS gene. Glutathione is the body’s master detoxifier and antioxidant. Your cells make glutathione, unlike Vitamin E which you have to get from food. Mutations in the GSS gene cause glutathione synthetase deficiency. These gene mutations prevent cells from making adequate levels of glutathione.

I found this mutation by scavenging through my genomes and was surprised to see that this mutation is very common in people who grew up in a heavy metal environment. The house in Mexico in which I grew up and the house in which my mother grew up had high levels of lead. But it’s not just in your house. Heavy metals in the water and the food supply, and the levels of exposure your mother had, get passed on through generations. Studies have shown the inability to make proper levels of glutathione in second generations after the mother has been exposed, hence this gene mutation.

You can find more information on your genes through 23 and Me, downloading the raw data and plugging it into other websites like geneticgenie.org.

What’s for dinner?

Eating a clean diet with grass-fed animal products, organic produce, and clean, whole foods can help alleviate most of these issues. Eat more foods with polyphenols. Foods, high in antioxidants reduce inflammation of the cells. Fruits like maqui berry, acai, and blueberries, are high in antioxidants. Incorporate them into your diet as a snack. Mushrooms like Chaga contain extremely high levels of antioxidants. Have it as a tea or sprinkle on your food. It’s delicious.

Foods you should to stay away from

Conventional farm raised meats, have high levels of toxic fats. I think I said it before and will say it a million times, always eat grass-fed pastured raised meats.

Organic in meat and dairy is no longer good enough. Pastured raised. Animals need to eat grass and be on the grass. Plain and simple.

Do you have high cholesterol? Even the eggs you consume can come from chickens that are fed corn, high in PUFA’s. Organic eggs are from chickens that are fed organic corn. Pastured raised eggs, are the cleanest and they are more nutrient dense.

List of oils you need to stay clear of

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (yes! Heat destroys the double bonds. Eat it raw)
  • Avocado Oil (also eat raw)
  • Canola Oil (The main cause of diabetes and Alzheimer’sDisease. It’s the most used)
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil
  • Omega 3 Fish Oils (yes! Sorry, highly prone to oxidation)
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Margarine
  • Corn Oil

Cook with these instead

Be mindful of what you put on your skin

Today’s makeup, moisturizers, and other beauty products are mostly made up of rancid oils and could promote the growth of cutibacterium.

Simply abstaining from wearing makeup or other moisturizers is a good idea when acne and inflammation are on the face. You don’t want this to continue to spread even more.

Destroying the biofilm

As previously mentioned, the biofilm formed by cutibacterium is really hard to remove. A good example of biofilm is dental plaque–a slimy build up of bacteria that forms on the surfaces of teeth. People with acne have high amounts of biofilm. Several naturally occurring molecules and compounds are toxic to Cutibacterium . Some essential oils high in antioxidants, such as rosemary oil, tea tree oil, clove oil, and oregano oil contain antibacterial chemicals that can break biofilm in cutibacterium. This is key, destroying the biofilm, and a high dose of antioxidants. Biofilm deposition in the brain may also contribute to senile plaques in people with Ahlzeimer’s.

The elements sulfur and copper have also been shown to be toxic towards many bacteria, including Cutibacterium. Raw honey has also been shown to have some antibacterial properties that may be active against Cutibacterium.

Further reading:

What are free radicals?

This DIY antioxidants drops make your skin glow

INGRID DE LA O TUSOL Wellness Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer Ingrid De La O is a wellness expert living in Los Angeles. She’s been featured in NYT best selling books, #1 iTunes podcasts, and been written about in magazines such as Vogue, The Guardian, Malibu Magazine and more. Born and raised in Mexico City, she's the co-founder and health formulator at TUSOL Wellness. She's passionate in everything biohacking and loves to spend time learning everything there is to know about your cells. Ingrid has spent years studying functional nutrition and is a superfood expert. She formulated the TUSOL smoothie collection that cured both her Crohn’s Disease and postpartum depression within a period of four months

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