One of the joys of aromatherapy is the knowledge that acne can be successfully treated, without potentially dangerous drugs or chemicals.

The condition - commonest in adolescents, but sometimes persisting well into the twenties - is due to over activity of the sebaceous glands in the skin (q.v.) combined with bacterial infection. Too much of the oily substance, sebum, is poured onto the surface of the skin. There, dirt from the environment, particles from clothing, and dead cells which are always flaking off from the surface of the skin, stick to the sebum and form a 'breeding ground' for bacteria. Pores become blocked, forming blackheads, and the congested hair follicles become infected, giving rise to the familiar 'spots'. Liquid seeps from these and infects the surrounding tissues.

An aromatherapist will tackle this disfiguring state in several ways. Essential oils are used to treat the skin externally to help clear the infection and reduce the amount of sebum produced. Massage may be used to stimulate the circulation and help the body t6 eliminate toxins. The aromatherapist will advise on a non-toxic diet - probably the most important part of the treatment - and make sure that the young sufferer is taught a proper skin hygiene routine. The collaboration of the acne sufferer in his/her own treatment is vital, and can help to alleviate some of (he feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that are common with acne.

A variety of essential oils may be used to help this condition, and the therapist will sometimes try a number of different oils until the best one for the individual is found, and may also vary the oils from time to time during the course of treatment. The most helpful oils include Lavender and Bergamot, which are both bactericidal. Lavender is also soothing and healing, and promotes the growth of healthy new cells, Bergamot is astringent, as well as anti-depressant (useful, because many young people become understandably depressed about their acne, and the depression may even make the condition worse). Oil of Geranium can be used to balance the secretion of sebum. These oils can be used on the face ( diluted in a carrier oil) in facial massages, and mixed into creams and skin cleansing and toning lotions for use between treatments.

Rosemary and Geranium, among other oils, are used for body massage to stimulate the lymphatic system, and so help clear the body of toxins. As the condition improves, wheatgerm oil may be blended in a carrier with Lavender and Neroli to reduce any scarring.

Treatment may need to be continued for many weeks, or even months, and it is even possible that the condition may appear to get worse initially, so careful counselling of the young person is needed to avoid discouragement.

If acne is seen in a person past their mid-twenties, it is possible that it is due to an allergy, and a different approach will be needed (see ALLERGIES). (See also entries under SEBUM, SKIN, etc.).

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