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My teenage son has acne. Is there anything he can take, in addition to eating a healthy diet ?

Acne is a condition which affects mainly the face, back and chest - those parts of the skin where there are hair follicles and active sebaceous glands, which produce oils or sebum. It shows up as blackheads, whiteheads and redness due to inflammation. The most common type is acne vulgaris, characterised by inflamed, pus-filled spots.

The facts that more teenage boys thans girls suffer from acne and that people with no male hormones (eunuchs) do not suffer at all give some insight to the mechanism behind it. The amount of the male hormone testosterone in the body increases at puberty (in girls too, although not as much as in boys) and triggers the production of sebum and keratin. Keratin is the main constituent of the outer layer of skin, and an excess can block pores, as can too much of sebum. It has now been found that it is not just the increase in testosterone - which happens to all teenagers - but excess testosterone to an even more powerful version of the hormone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which may bring on acne.

With the increase in keratin, a blockage forms which in turn creates a build-up of sebum behind it and shows up as a blackhead. As the pore becomes blocked, it provides an ideal breeding ground for the bacterium Proprionibacterium Acnes, which normally lives harmlessly on the surface of our skin. P. acnes's ideal party environment is one with no air and plenty of sebum to feed off - so it is easy to see how it has a field day and creates an infection in the skin, causing the inflammation and soreness of a spot. If this inflammation gets out of hand, it can spread through to deeper tissues and, if it does not break through to the surface, it causes a cyst under the skin.

The main consideration diet-wise is to ensure an all-round healthy diet which focuses on plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, and wholegrains with some protein in the form of fish, lean meat, soya products and beans or lentils. Sugary, processed and fatty foods should be avoided. He should drink six to eight glasses of pure water daily and where possible use a pH balanced skin cleanser. As far as supplements are concerned, make sure he is supplementing with at least 3,000 mcg (10,000 IUs) of vitamin A (Retinol), 25 mg of zinc and 200 mcg of chromium daily. Probiotic supplements can also help, especially if your son has been treated with antibiotics.

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