Adult Acne Due to Allergy

Someone commented:

I had awful adult acne, hideous cystic lumps that left scars. My college pictures are hard to look at. This continued into late twenties. It was [due to] a food allergy [that] took forever to figure out: black tea. Especially Oolong. [Oolong and black tea are usually distinguished. Black tea is "fully-fermented", oolong "semi-fermented". -- Seth] My face would begin to itch within minutes of drinking, and the breakout came the following day. But it took years to notice the connection. . . . Green tea is no problem. Coffee is no problem.

In response to my questions, he verified the connection:

On Tuesday night, I drank two cups of strong black tea.  Itching began within a hour, and mouth sores hit 18 hours later.  Now at 48 hours, very slight acne breakout, but not bad at all.

Part of figuring out the problem was realizing that face itching was a bad sign. The black tea –> itching connection was relatively easy to notice. Another difficulty was the wrong ideas he’d been taught:

To figure out the tea, I first had to unlearn things that turned out to be wrong. Unlearning seems to be much slower than learning.

First, when I was in high school, acne was widely considered to be partly a hygiene problem.  So I spent vast useless effort washing several times a day, while possibly missing signals that the cause was something else. Later, in college, I tried washing my face only with water, and then not at all. This turned out to have no effect on acne.  That was the first clue of wrong learning.

Second, in high school I drank a lot of grapefruit juice. The citric acid was extremely painful on the mouth sores.  I somehow concluded, maybe just emotionally biased by the sharp pain, that grapefruit juice was causing the sores. In college I didn’t drink grapefruit juice, but there was no effect on mouth sores.

Third, a received wisdom was that acne is hormonal, and there was not much you could do but try to manage it.  So I didn’t even try to look for an environmental cause, until I was still suffering from acne well into my twenties.

These three wrong conclusions probably cost me years.

Not to mention the astonishing claim of dermatologists that acne is not caused by diet. This list of what to do about acne from the American Academy of Dermatology says nothing about food. It is plausible that in this situation — in 2014, after hundreds of years of experience treating the problem and thousands of medical journal articles about it — the overall effect of doctors is to make things worse.

6 Responses to “Adult Acne Due to Allergy”

  1. Alex Blackwood Says:

    It’s infuriating that for a variety of conditions doctors say, “diet does not affect xxx.” They can correctly say, “We do not have evidence that diet makes a difference in xxx,” but instead go for the broader, false, “We have evidence that diet does not make a difference in xxx.”

    Personal science has been a lifesaver for me in navigating the gap between those two statements.

    Seth: There is plenty of evidence that diet causes acne. E.g., dairy. Dermatologists ignore it. Then they claim the opposite. That they are not ridiculed for doing this is interesting.

  2. Frankr Says:

    Dermatology should be viewed as an industry, like any other. They don’t want to loose customers.

    It’s kind of like how the tobacco industry for a long, long time, refused to admit the connection between smoking and cancer.

  3. MikeW Says:

    A while back I read a paper where they analyzed the sebaceous gland output of 10 adults, and found that each individual’s sebum had a distinct, markedly different, fatty acid/wax ester profile. Maybe that’s one reason bloodhounds can tell us apart, but it also explains why acne sufferers blame a wide variety of trigger foods for their blocked pores (for me, it’s definitely cheese and trans fat, but I don’t have any problem with chocolate or tea).

    I feel some sympathy for dermatologists, who can hardly be expected to determine an individual’s unique food sensitivities in a 15-minute office visit. But they could do a better job of pushing patients to pay attention to their diets and do their own experimentation.

  4. Ward Says:

    Sounds like a possible histamine reaction to me. Teas cause exactly this reaction in folks who are are histamine intolerant.

  5. John Smith Says:

    The Antropops taught me that acne is the body disposing of bad blood associated with unsuitable or unwanted DNA in the maturing person. Hence, if it persists into full adulthood, it would indicate a person not fully coming to grips with the traumas of youth. And lets face it, all of us thought we were badly done by, aye?

  6. Sara Lake Says:

    I had terrible adult acne and spent years looking either spotty or patchy because my skin turned a nastly mottled colour. Even when not really ‘breaking out’ my skin was bumpy all over my face. I found the cure accidentally when I started taking niacin (B3) for my cholesterol. The acne went away in less than two weeks. I’ve heard of the same thing happening to someone else but with B5. I now only need to take niacin about once a month (100mg) to keep the acne gone. It takes about 6 months for it to recur if I stop completely.