This article contains general information only and does not recommend or endorse any particular treatment. It is not intended to replace the advice provided by your own doctor or medical or health professional.
When Beata was 30-years-old, she developed a serious case of adult acne on her face. As she tells SBS, the effects of the health condition ran more than just skin deep, temporarily changing the way she viewed the world.
“I’m not really happy to remember the time,” Beata says on the new SBS series, Medicine or Myth? “It made me so depressed because I actually looked horrible. I didn’t want to go out of the house and I didn’t want to go to work.”
Beata, who was born in Poland, explains that she was put on medication to control the acne. However, the results were only short-term as the acne returned three months later. Beata says she also experienced several side effects from the medication.
“My grandmother used to say to put the sauerkraut on the pimple. And since I did that, I never had [acne] back.”
Desperate for a solution, Beata turned to traditional family wisdom and alternative treatment. “My grandmother used to say to put the sauerkraut on the pimple. And since I did that, I never had [acne] back.”
Applying sauerkraut – shreds of raw cabbage fermented by various lactic acid bacteria – to your skin sounds drastic and possibly even futile. But Beata believes the topical application of homemade sauerkraut cured her adult acne.
SBS's new series, Medicine or Myth?, follows everyday Australians as they pitch their diverse and sometimes divisive health remedies to a panel of medical experts in the hope of being selected for a real-world trial.
Beata fronts the show’s panel and proposes her remedy, explaining that homemade sauerkraut initially reduced the redness and inflammation of her acne. She believes that applying fermented cabbage over her face for six months made her acne go away.
“After six months I actually had no acne,” Beata tells Medicine or Myth? "And I discover the new life.”
Sauerkraut is often regarded as a gut-friendly, anti-inflammatory food due to the changes of lactic acid bacteria flora that occur during fermentation. But helping the gut to generate good bacteria is a very different effect than eradicating pimples on the skin. So if sauerkraut does beat pimples, why does it work?
Beata thinks it may be the various bacteria and probiotics in sauerkraut that help the skin.
Almost a decade ago, researchers in Portugal looked at the topical application of probiotics on skin dysbiosis: a state of microbial imbalance that can negatively impact skin function. They wanted to know whether probiotics could restore the microbial balance and if so, could they be applied topically to the skin?
Their study, published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology in 2016, shows that some probiotics prevented some microbiological imbalances (but not all). The paper suggests that probiotics “may be successfully used in the future as a complement to conventional therapies in the treatment of a range of skin disorders”.
However, no research has been conducted into the topical application of sauerkraut for the purpose of preventing or eradicating acne.
Cabbage also contains vitamin C and A – both vitamins are thought to be good for the skin. But again, the science world remains unsure whether applying a vitamin-rich food product on your skin is as effective as eating it.
Can one remedy treat all?
The fact is that when it comes to treating any illness or health condition, it's always helpful to understand its full nature and even the cause if you know it.
There are many different forms of acne lesions and kinds of acne conditions. Some breakouts may be caused by a hormonal imbalance while others are triggered by excess oil production, diet, certain medications or stress.
The show’s panel of medical experts – including Associate Professor in Immunology Ashraful Haque – also make the point that different types of acne will require different forms of treatment.
“It'd be interesting to know what the microbial composition of your sauerkraut is,” A/Prof Haque tells Beata on Medicine or Myth?. “There’s a possibility that [your sauerkraut] might alter some of those microorganisms on the face for some individuals who have the right type of acne.”
So even if Beata's fermented cabbage remedy did work for her, it may still not work for everyone with acne.
More long-term studies into the various types of acne and the topical application of sauerkraut to the face are needed before the remedy can be recommended.
Are alternative remedies simply a myth or do they have a place alongside modern medicine? Medicine or Myth? follows everyday Australians as they pitch their diverse and sometimes divisive health remedies to a panel of medical experts, led by Dr Charlie Teo, in the hope of being selected for a real-world trial.
#MedicineorMyth eight-week series starts on Monday 20 May at 8.30 pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.
Watch Episode 1 here
"Sauerkraut in German is 'sour cabbage' and I love it for the taste and it's a great source of vitamins and probiotics." Matthew Evans, Gourmet Farmer Series 4