What soap is best for acne?
Posted on 14th June 2020 at 20:34
Before you dive into the main content of this article, it's important to say that acne is a much larger issue than appearance, it can also affect our mental health greatly.
Acne can have a huge impact on your life, with increased rates of depression and anxiety. Sufferers are also likely to have lower self esteem and self worth. Its not just pimples and oily skin, it can have a real effect on everyday living from a mental health viewpoint.
In this article we hope to give you information on what you need to avoid if you have oily acne prone skin plus actionable steps on conquering the condition.
What soap is best for acne?
In this article we are going to cover a few topics closely related to acne and also tell you about the best soap for acne. The topics we'll be covering include:
What is acne?
Acne is a condition which occurs when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells and excess sebum (natural grease which the subaceous gland produces for your skin. The condition has no one cause, but is most common in teenagers and can still occur in adulthood.
There are 4 main factors which cause or contribute largely to acne, are listed below:
1. Excess oil production - this is when our subaceous glands are producing more oil than we need. This is very common and there can be a number of causes, such as hormones and genetics.
The one we want highlight as crucial is conditioning, and by conditioning we mean you have taught your body to produce more oil than it needs.
One of the main ingredients in soaps, shower gels and hand wash is sodium lauryl sulphate and this could be to blame for the conditioning. This chemical degreaser, which is in so many cosmetics, breaks down natural grease and allows it to be washed away.
Now your skin cells are thinking, ‘oh no, all my sebum has been washed away, I need to produce more! Lots more!’ This is where your skin cells go into overdrive, producing large amounts of sebum, which gives your skin more than it needs, leading to oily skin, which blocks pores, and leads to acne.
2. Hair follicles clogged with dead skin cells and oil - most of us have hair follicles all over our body, even for very fine hair you may not be able to see. One of the few places where there are no subaceous glands is the palms of the hands.
The majority of hair follicles have subaceous glands, which produce the oil the skin needs to keep moisturised and protected. When these hair follicles get clogged with excess sebum, then it can result in blackheads, white heads and pimples, of which there is a difference we’ll explain later in this article.
The clogged nature means the follicle has not been able to distribute the oil to the surrounding skin, which allows the follicle to fill with sebum and lead to spots.
3. Bacteria - propionibacterium acne is the name of the bacteria that can cause acne. It lives on our skin and is on the skin of most people, including those without acne.
Research suggests there are different strains of the bacteria and this can affect whether you get acne or not. The way it works is the bacteria will use the sebum as a food source and start a small infection in the skin cell. This is why acne turns red and may be sore to touch, as it is an infection and reacts like other areas of the body when you have an infection.
Again you can see the key for the bacteria to thrive is the availability of a food source (excess sebum), which can be from the conditioning of the skin cells to produce more and more by continually breaking it down and washing it away.
4. Excess activity of hormones - the hormone responsible is androgen. Androgens are hormones which turn into male and female hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.
When the body produces large amounts of gender hormones they can also stimulate the body to produce larger than normal amounts of sebum from the subaceous glands.
This is why acne is particularly prevalent in teenagers, as they are going through one of the biggest hormonal changes.
So here is a run-down of the different types of acne/spots:
Whiteheads - a whitehead is a closed pore build up of sebum and bacteria (not always P.acnes). The reason they are white and not black is air is unable to enter, which is what causes the colour change. They are also known as closed comedomes, and have a very small opening at the top of the skin, which is where, when squeezed, the spot can exit. These spots tend not to be painful.
Blackheads - a blackhead is an open pore build up of sebum and bacteria (not always P.acnes). Air has been able to enter this pore as it has not closed over, which is why the colour has changed from white to black. The reason the spot isn’t white is because the sebum and bacteria has reacted with the oxygen in the air to turn black. Again these spots tend not to be painful.
Pimples - a pimple is when you have a whitehead with an area of red around it. This is where there is a small infection to the area, indicated by the redness and swelling. Also the spot will contain puss as well as sebum which is another difference. Popping these pimples can actually cause damage by pushing the bacteria deeper into the skin, which may result in a worse infection. It may be hard to not do anything about it, but in the long term this can lead to worse infections and scarring.
Acne is most commonly found on the face, back, chest and shoulders. These are the areas with large amounts of hair follicles and therefore more subaceous glands. It is also more prevalent in people with oily skin.
What makes acne worse?
There are evidence based studies that illustrate what causes acne to worsen. Others are merely folklore and should be ignored. Here are the proven factors that affect acne:
Hormones - these definitely play a factor in acne and high production of male and female hormones cause an excess production of sebum from the subaceous glands. Any medication which contains hormones or therapy which uses hormones can affect skin. This can include oral contraceptives, IVF treatment and treatments for menopause.
Medication - steroids that increase levels of testosterone can have an effect on sebum production. Particularly steroids, but also any medication that contains testosterone and lithium.
Stress - scientists still don’t know exactly why stress causes breakouts and flare ups but they do know cells which produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones. These stress hormones may have a similar affect to androgens and trigger a response from the subaceous gland to produce more sebum. Exercise is a great solution and doing 30 minutes every day can help reduce stress levels.
Greasy environments - if you work in an environment which has a lot of grease and oil present, such as a fast food restaurant, then this can cause acne to worsen. This is because oil from the environment can stick to the skin and further block clogged follicles. If you have to work in this environment regularly wash exposed areas of skin.
Diet - we’ve left this one to last because it contains some bad news. Chocolate has been shown to make acne worse. More studies need to be done on the subject to figure out why, but it is probably best to avoid if you want to ease your acne. Other foods that have also been shown to worsen acne symptoms are complex carbohydrates such as white bread and chips. Another one is skimmed milk which has been studied and is most likely to exacerbate acne symptoms; full fat milk is the best option for people suffering from acne. The best choice for your skin is to eat simple foods such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrain or granary breads and maintain a healthy diet.
Can soap cause acne?
This is a difficult question because soap doesn’t cause acne, but certain types of soap can exacerbate conditions which cause acne and oily skin. It is rare to hear of a soap causing acne.
Soap with a large amount of chemical surfactants or drying ingredients such as palm oil can cause the skin to over produce oil as it continually gets washed away by these harsh chemical cleaners.
Palm oil is a cleaner in soap, so if a soap bar is largely made up from palm or palm kernel oil then it will be just as harsh as a chemical based soap.
When buying a soap for acne or oily skin, you should always make sure the soap contains a wide variety of skin loving ingredients and not solely palm oil and chemical surfactants as these ingredients can condition the skin to over produce oil.
Acne soap should also always be scented naturally as the essential oils used to scent the bar will contain antibacterial agents which can prevent propionibacterium acne from causing acne.
Are scented soaps better or worse for acne?
The best soap for acne will contain essential oils as a scent rather than soap scented with fragrance oils. This is because most essential oils are antibacterial, and can stop or inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Fragrance oils are synthetically made and often contain a cocktail of harmful chemicals such as parabens and phthalates. Also because they are exempt from revealing their ingredients, we don’t know exactly what is in them to decipher if they contain any helpful ingredients.
We do know that they contain parabens to extend shelf life and phthalates to enhance a scent and make it smell stronger for longer. Both of these ingredients are potential carcinogens.
By using a natural soap for acne that has been scented with essential oils, you will be preventing the spread and inhibiting the growth of the bacteria responsible for acne.
There is no way to get rid completely of the bacteria that causes acne from our skin as it is naturally produced. But we can combat it by using a naturally antibacterial soap on it every day.
There are also other antibacterial soaps out there which tend to have the ingredient triclosan or triclocarban in. These soaps are antibacterial, but with the use of chemicals. Also they tend to be very cheaply produced with palm oil and have drying qualities.
When choosing a soap for acne you should make sure its scented naturally and made with a variety of skin loving ingredients, not just palm oil or palm kernel oil.
If you want to know the best choice for a naturally antibacterial soap, then we would tell you to use a citrus based soap. Orange, Lemon are particularly powerful antibacterial essential oils. But our entire collection has essential oils that have antibacterial properties.
We also like our eucalyptus soap which has great antimicrobial properties. This means it inhibits the growth of bacteria and stops it spreading.
This is the soap we would recommend using if you are in the middle of an outbreak as it will inhibit the spread of the bacteria.
Is facial and body acne the same?
Essentially acne on the face and acne on the body are the same. Both are where skin cells clogged with oil have come into contact with propionibacterium acne bacteria causing an infection.
Acne tends to occur on the face, upper body and back as these skin cells tend to produce the most oil from within the skin cells glands.
Both of these areas also tend to have more hair cells, which is where a lot of oil producing glands are located.
Hair is one of the places where bacteria can linger, so if you are suffering from acne, keeping your hair off of your face is a good idea as it limits the possibility of bacteria being transferred to your skin.
If you have long hair then try tying it back for a few weeks. Also removing a beard or any facial hair can also help.
Facial areas are also commonly touched throughout the day, this can be through nerves or habits. To help stop the spread of acne you need to make a conscious effort to not touch your face or affected area.
In fact areas such as your armpits, toes and groin area can harbour bacterias that lead to acne, so it is important to not touch oil rich areas, such as your face and chest after touching these areas as this can cause a flare up of acne.
One of the key factors to body acne is sweat. Whilst sweat is not actually the problem and is thought to be antibacterial and even removes oil and toxins from glands.
It can spread bacteria, especially if left on the skin for a long time. If you are suffering from acne and know you are planning to do exercise or something which makes you sweaty, it is best to plan to have a shower as soon as possible after the activity.
It is also important to wash the clothes you exercised in before you wear them again as these clothes can harbour bacteria.
So yes, facial acne and body acne are the same and by removing the common problem of bacteria that causes them both, you can combat the condition.
The best soap for body acne or facial acne, is one that is naturally antibacterial and will combat the bacteria that causes acne.
It’s also hugely important that the soap is natural, as chemical based soaps can strip your skin of all of its natural grease, causing it to overreact and produce lots more.
Best soap for acne
The best soap for acne and oily skin is a natural soap which will be gentle and not irritate the skin. Most common soaps, shower gels and hand wash contain harsh chemical ingredients which can irritate the skin and cause a reaction.
Ingredients like surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulphate, break down grease and allow it to be washed away.
When you wash away all the grease from your skin, your subaceous glands can react in two ways:
1) It can continue making the same amount of grease which can lead to dry skin and eczema, or;
2) It can trick your skin into making more sebum as you have low amounts. This can lead to overproduction and oily skin, which can then lead to acne.
The most common surfactants you will find in your soaps and body washes are: sodium lauryl sulphate, sodium laureth sulphate and sodium coco sulphate.
All of these sulphates are common ingredients in wash products and other cosmetics such as make up, and are used for a variety of reasons.
The first is a foaming agent so a mass of bubbles is produced for a psychologically enhanced experience, but with no other benefit.
These surfactants act as an emulsifier, which breaks down grease, but also rids the skin of its naturally good oils.
Finally, they are super cleansing in removing dirt, grease and oil, but in which they are so powerful they are used in washing up liquid and laundry detergent, so not really made for your skin!
Natural soap is best for acne because it contains no irritants to skin and is gentle. It will also wash away any dirt, bacteria and dead skin cells on the skin, without breaking down the natural sebum within your skin cells.
This means your subaceous glands will not panic because all the sebum will not be stripped off your skin and thus will not over-produce more.
Soap by nature is antibacterial. The way it works is the soap loosens the dirt from the skin and is suspended within the soap.
When you wash the soap away, you are also washing away the bacteria present in the soap. All this is achieved without the use of antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan.
Triclosan is one of the main chemicals used in antibacterial products and is bad for the environment and your skin.
If you want to know more on why triclosan is bad for you and your planet please read our article “is natural soap antibacterial?” for more detail about how bad it is for you and the environment.
Acne and oily skin is most commonly an issue on areas where there are a lot of oil producing glands which tends to be around the face and upper torso. Natural soap is again the best soap for your face, because it is extremely gentle and skin on the face is more sensitive and thinner than the rest of the body.
When using natural soap for acne we recommend washing once or twice a day and trialling the soap for a minimum period of a month. This will allow your skin to get back into its natural balance, especially if you have been using soap with chemical cleaning agents in, and allow your skin more time to get used to the new skincare regime.
Also with acne, it is best to take an approach of ‘the more I do, the better it will become’ mantra. By this we mean taking an active involvement in each factor listed above, such as eating healthily and avoiding negative stressors, you will then notice an improvement in your skin.
We promote using natural soap to combat acne, particularly our orange & lemon soap which has powerful antibacterial properties within the essential oils that scent it. We also recommend our eucalyptus soap which has super antimicrobial properties within the essential oils that can vastly limit the ability of bacteria to spread.
Thank you for reading our article all the way to the end on this important issue, if you have the time we'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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I hope you have enjoyed this article, and we have plenty more on the benefits of natural soap located on our blog.
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