Beyond Acne





On top of all the other health issues that were plaguing my life - weight gain, hair loss, insomnia - the discovery one day of inflamed hair follicles on my face and neck became just another in a long line of unwelcome signs that my life was going down the drain. What I thought might only be a transient irritation soon began to come back every single time I tried to grow out my beard. This infection was different than acne, and where I used to break out after shaving when I was younger this seemed to be the exact reverse, worsening the longer I grew out my facial hair, only clearing up when I shaved, and preventing me from enjoying the accustomed laissez-faire approach to stubble that I only now begin to appreciate.

It had been quite a few years since any real acne plagued my life, and this development only compounded the disheartening destruction of my once youthful appearance, undercutting my confidence as I was only in my early thirties but looked in my fifties and sickly. I was not surprised a few years later to be diagnosed with tumours on my thyroid. My journey back to health was a long one, but resulted in a profound and unrivalled understanding of human biology and the origins and solutions to a host of diseases. But even after finding improvements in so many of my symptoms, this infection of my hair follicles persisted.

Skin problems are ubiquitous throughout life, and the many and varied forms make it seem like there is no possible way to get out from under them. Acne plagues us when we are young and supposedly healthy, then just as that goes away other skin maladies like rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis, or vague problems like my beard infection set in. My book, Fuck Portion Control, has a chapter on acne which includes some other information on skin health and maintenance. But the primary pathology of all skin conditions originates in the way our body handles the mineral iron. 

Because most pathogens require iron in order to grow and cause health problems, our body directs iron removal largely through the skin rather than into the intestinal system where such pathogenic bacteria would easily cause severe harm.  This is one of the reasons why a mother’s milk is so low in iron, as it avoids passing inappropriate bacteria into the infant’s stomach that could endanger the baby’s life. This sequestration of iron works very well for most of our lives until we begin to accumulate so much that by sheer volume it begins to saturate all tissues, including the intestinal system, and which accounts in part for the development later in life of things like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), or even more serious conditions such as cancer. 

But when it comes to the skin, this evolutionary strategy comes with some liability, as the presence of excreted iron then has the potential to feed bacteria, yeasts, and parasites on the surface of our bodies rather than the interior. Our body has also developed strategies to deal with this, such as the acidic oily layer you wash off every day with soaps and harsh cleansers, that is chemically designed to inhibit the growth of such microbes. 

Hitting puberty, our sex hormones increase both the absorption and metabolism of iron, and accounts in part for the development of acne, as the increased iron in turn elevates iron excretion through the skin. This is made exponentially worse, however, by the saturation of foods with fortified iron, which is basically just plain iron shavings and not the safer, food-bound types that would come from an otherwise healthy diet.

Those with severe acne issues have proportionally higher levels of iron consumption or absorption (as absorption is increased by certain hormones such as estrogen and thus can be variable between individuals, in addition to diet). You may or may not be aware of anyone on iron supplementation to supposedly address conditions like anaemia, who by virtue of their diet are exposed to just as much iron as the rest of us, which is strangely ignored by most medical professionals who continue to throw more and more iron at patients hoping anything will work.

Anyone who eats even one or two servings of meat a week will be exposed to more than enough iron to be healthy, and issues like anaemia actually originate from the body’s ability to use and manage iron rather than exposure to it, which is governed by things like vitamins A, D, and Riboflavin (B2). For example, the protein hepcidin in the body regulates iron release from the liver and spleen and is in turn promoted by the presence of both vitamins A and D, so a deficiency of either vitamin in turn lowers hepcidin which in turn directs iron toward tissue storage rather than use in metabolic pathways. During chronic deficiencies of vitamin A or lack of sunlight as can occur with excessive sequestration indoors, iron saturation slowly increases over time and an individual can develop iron excess in tissues even while suffering from anaemic conditions, and adding iron supplementation merely serves to exacerbate this and feed pathogenic gut bacteria while doing nothing to raise hepcidin.

Eventually enough iron can be given to a person that it starts to spill out of storage by sheer volume and so raises ferritin in the blood stream that can then be measured and used to support a supplement’s effectiveness, but this reflects serious cellular damage as ferritin is an intracellular product and not a serum product, which indicates that cells are so overloaded with iron they are then being destroyed during metabolic activity.

Avoiding sources of excess iron while also getting plenty of natural foods which promote vitamin activity, as well as generous sunlight exposure for vitamin D, can regulate iron activity. Synthetic Vitamin A as a supplement can be very toxic, however, as it stimulates excessive iron release from organs and can overload other systems and is not a solution for skin problems. The primary concern should simply be to avoid sources of iron fortification and excess. Raising the metabolic rate as outlined in my book will also reduce the tendency of a sluggish metabolic rate to absorb excess iron, as well as other strategies such as the use of riboflavin or progesterone and molybdenum to help manage iron as well. 

But the beard infection I suffered or that of dermatitis, while promoted by excess iron, also involves other microbes that, once established, are difficult to get rid of simply by managing iron stores. It turns out that my condition was caused by demodex mites which grow on hair. Nearly everyone has these mites, but they become problematic during issues that affect the immune system and the skin. They can cause problems which are easily mistaken for acne, and cause a person to attempt therapies for acne which are then ineffective because the wrong pathogen is being treated. Demodex infections typically cover splotches of skin rather than even distribution as which happens with acne, and are always resistant to acne treatments.

Other skin conditions caused by things as dermatophyte, which are fungal infections, appear even less like acne but can be just as persistent as demodex mites, and can be confused with skin deficiencies rather than that of a pathogen. Even persistent flaking of the skin is also caused by fungus, as the skin does not naturally flake to such an extent even when it is less healthy than desired.

The good news is that these conditions are actually pretty easy to treat. Besides improving the overall health through an appropriate diet such as is discussed in my book, and reducing exposure to excess iron, all these kinds of pathogenic infections can be treated effectively with sulphur. There are some products available which contain sulphur in creams to apply to the skin just for such problems and are quite effective, although they are usually of a formulation that includes undesirable ingredients which aren’t healthy for the skin or body. Because the skin is a living organ, nothing should ever be put on the skin that you would not put in your mouth and is one of the reasons why the products on Absolutely Pure are so good for your skin.

A great way to make your own topical sulphur therapy is to buy some sulphur powder (also listed as sublimed sulphur or flowers of sulphur) and adding just a pinch to a healthy, organic oil such as organic shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil or one of Absolutely Pure’s products.  Much caution is required when buying and using powdered sulphur, however, because while it is pleasant and helpful on the skin it will painfully sting and irritate the eyes, so getting it anywhere near the eyes is dangerous, and sulphur is quite potent in even tiny amounts, so using an excess in this preparation can cause some to contaminate the eyes even if care is taken to avoid them. Seriously, only a tiny pinch mixed into 1/2 cup or more of good, organic fats is plenty to address these skin conditions and eliminate them in a matter of days. This topical application is also rapidly effective against conditions like toenail fungus, yeast infections, jock itch, skin tags, warts, and of course, acne. It will smell a little, as sulphur binds to the iron excreted through the skin and is a sign of its mode of action taking place and sulphur-iron compounds smell like rotten eggs, so it’s good to do at a time that will not bother you or the people around you, but it’s not so strong that you would be ostracized if you happened to use a little before work.

In addition to fixing the diet to address the underlying causes that lead to and promote these conditions, it is necessary to stop washing the skin with soaps and cleansers, to retain the natural acidic barrier that protects us from such pathogens (which is also promoted by the use of natural fat products like shea butter, coconut oil and tallow). These skin problems aren’t difficult to treat, it’s only that the knowledge to do so has been sparing, so don’t suffer needlessly through them. Eating to support healthy skin is similarly also not an unpleasant task, and more on how to restore the health and eliminate metabolic conditions, lose weight permanently, restore hair growth and some youthfulness can be read about in my book, Fuck Portion Control.