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Acne Medication Is Not An Acne Solution

Updated: Jun 13

Acne affects millions of people worldwide, and I know firsthand the distress and frustration it can cause as you look for a million different solutions to clear your skin permanently and nothing works. In the past, it felt like I've tried every possible supplement or trick to clear my acne and spent hundreds of dollars in the process. In the pursuit of clear skin, a lot of people turn to acne medication, hoping for a quick fix. However, the reality is that these medications often come with a host of side effects and fail to address the root cause. When you stop taking them, your acne typically will come back with a vengeance so it's never a permanent solution. The most common acne medications doctors prescribe are doxycycline, tretinoin, spironolactone, accutane, and birth control. So let’s explore each medication and why natural methods offer a more effective and sustainable approach to achieving clear skin.


Pile of different pills and medication

Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash


Birth Control Pills: Doctors Favourite Acne “Cure”


Most women, at a very young age, are prescribed birth control which we’re told will regulate our hormones, help our acne and control our period symptoms... sounds great right? But what we aren’t told is the negative effects birth control will have on our body that we will be left with even long after we come off. Hormonal birth control, such as the pill, works by suppressing ovulation and all your natural hormones. It completely shuts off communication between your brain and ovaries. This means you're not actually getting a real period cause you are not ovulating- any bleed on the pill is simply just a withdrawal bleed. It also does a pretty good job at suppressing sebum hence why it temporarily "clears" your acne. Lets dive into a few issues that can arise from taking birth control:


1. Impact on Gut Microbiome:


Similar to antibiotics, the pill disrupts the delicate balance of the gut microbiome. The synthetic hormones kill all of your beneficial gut bacteria, likely leading to gut dysbiosis. Disruption in gut flora can have many consequences for your overall health, including worsened immune function, poor digestion, nutrient deficiencies, barrier permeability and overall intestinal inflammation which can all cause acne.


2. Nutrient Depletion:


Long-term use of hormonal birth control can deplete the body of essential nutrients and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E. These nutrients play crucial roles in skin health, immune function, and hormone regulation. This is another reason why most of the time, your hormones are a mess post pill! Deficiencies in these nutrients can exacerbate acne symptoms and really slow down your metabolism... we see it all the time in our practice! When my clients come wanting off the pill, I typically start with recommending an HTMA test, as it gives you the best picture of what minerals and nutrients you need to target for a smooth transition.


3. Hormonal Imbalance:


Birth control doesn’t just mess with your hormones while you're on it, the effects can be long-lasting! When I came off the birth control pill my skin absolutely exploded with new acne that had been suppressed while I was on the pill. It’s also important to note that because birth control is filling your body with synthetic hormones, your natural hormone levels take the backseat and you can't just expect them to go back to their normal job as soon as you come off. This transition takes time and it can mean irregular periods, no periods at all, acne, hair loss or infertility after discontinuing birth control! While hormonal birth control may provide temporary relief from acne, it does not address the underlying hormonal imbalances driving acne. Unfortunately, this means when many women are ready to come off birth control, their acne comes back in full force as hormone levels try to rebalance.


Given the potential drawbacks of hormonal birth control for acne, I always encourage my clients to talk to their doctor about taking a more holistic approach and addressing the true root cause. This includes optimizing diet, nutrition and minerals, supporting gut health, managing stress and toxins, and adopting a non toxic skincare routine. Unfortunately, following the use of birth control, many people find themselves at their doctors office navigating a lengthy list of medications to try and alleviate their acne.


The Truth About Other Acne Medications


Doxycycline


You might have heard of people using doxycycline for their acne, but what you might not know is that it’s actually an antibiotic. It’s often prescribed by dermatologists and doctors for its. antibacterial properties, in order to treat acne. However, while it may initially provide relief from acne symptoms for some, its long-term use can lead to a lot of complications and health risks. So let’s talk about some of the effects that taking doxycycline can have on our bodies:


1. Disruption of the Gut Microbiome


One of the biggest issues with doxycycline is its impact on the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome serves as a vital part of our overall health and influences tons of processes throughout the body. One of its main jobs is to help us digest food and absorb nutrients. It also helps our immune system by fighting off harmful germs and tolerating harmless substances. Unfortunately, doxycycline wipes both good and bad bacteria leading to dysbiosis. When dysbiosis is present, this can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), parasites, metabolic disorders, autoimmune diseases, leaky gut and mental health conditions. Disease begins in the gut- protect your microbiome!


2. Antibiotic Resistance


Taking antibiotics such as doxycycline for extended periods of time can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to them. When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics can't work against them. Why is this an issue? If you ever get really sick with an infection in the future and antibiotics are your only option, you may be resistant to certain strains meaning they won't be effective. The same thing happens with herbs! Oregano is like nature's "antibiotic" but you still don't want to overdo it with this herb as you eventually will become resistant.


3. Yeast Infections


I’ve had many clients come to me in the past who have been on antibiotics and simply can not get rid of re-occurring yeast infections! Usually, when we run a Gi map test we find out that there is a disruption of the gut microbiome, which can pave the way for opportunistic pathogens, such as Candida, to overgrow and cause infections. Yeast infections can cause itching, redness, and discomfort, and can affect various parts of the body, including the mouth, throat, and genital area. Long-term use of doxycycline can increase the risk of developing recurrent or chronic yeast infections, which is never pleasant to deal with.


4. Photosensitivity


Another side effect of doxycycline is photosensitivity which is essentially an increased sensitivity to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight while taking doxycycline can lead to severe sunburn, blistering, and skin damage. This sensitivity to light happens because the drug can soak up UV rays and create harmful substances that damage skin cells and DNA! The sun is one of the most healing things for our bodies and we want to avoid anything that would prevent us from enjoying its benefits! Think about when you go on vacation- your skin drastically improves with all the sun and that's not a coincidence.


6. Deprivation of Essential Nutrients


Many doctors will advise anyone on doxycycline not to eat dairy because calcium can react with doxycycline in a process called chelation. This process forms a compound called chelate which is hard for your intestines to absorb making the doxycycline less absorbable and less effective. High-quality dairy can be one of the most healing foods for our skin and avoiding it deprives our bodies of essential nutrients, like calcium, that we need to function. Calcium is essential for our bodies (if you want to learn more in depth about this, read our blog about dairy and acne).


Spironolactone: A Temporary Fix for Hormonal Acne


Spironolactone works by blocking testosterone receptors and suppressing androgen levels. It does this by forcing your body to retain potassium and excrete sodium which inhibits an adrenal androgen hormone called aldosterone. However, your acne is likely to reappear once the medication is discontinued unless the underlying androgen dominance and sodium/potassium imbalance is addressed. If that wasn't enough, deficiencies in calcium, zinc, and folate may occur during and after spironolactone usage, alongside potential estrogen dominance, irregular blood sugar levels, and the presence of thyroid antibodies. If spironolactone has helped clear your acne temporarily, this is inferring that you have androgen dominance and thus need to work on adrenal health (specifically the balance between cortisol and aldosterone) and eating more potassium rich foods! This is something I see often in my practice and I work with clients to rebalance through proper nutrition, lifestyle and supplements.


Potential Risks of Tretinoin: A Closer Look at Synthetic Vitamin A Derivatives


If you’ve ever done a deep-dive into the skincare world, I’m sure you’ve heard about Tretinoin. Tretinoin is a prescription-strength retinoid designed to tackle skin issues from an outside in approach which as we know, is not a permanent solution to acne or a solution at all. Let's unpack some crucial details about this...


Retinoids work by encouraging skin cells (in the lowest layer) to divide. This means you will get new epidermal cells migrating up to the top layer of your skin. So basically when you use retinoids on a regular basis, you get new skin cells appearing more frequently which results in an exfoliation process. This sounds good in theory but it ultimately accelerates the aging process as your skin cells don’t have an unlimited amount of times they can divide. We want to preserve these skin cell divisions for when we are older! Retinoids also weaken your skin barrier which is very damaging and destructive to your skin. If you suffer with dry skin, oily skin, acne prone skin, psoriasis, eczema etc. your skin barrier is already very weak!!I know all the retinol skincare marketing sounds enticing but I highly recommend approaching skin health from the inside out!


The Potency & Adjustment Period:


Tretinoin's potency sets it apart from other skincare products. As a prescription-strength medication, it packs a powerful punch, thanks to its synthetic retinoid composition. However, this strength comes with a drawback: it can take your skin months, and sometimes even years, to acclimate to its effects. Before Tretinoin starts to work for many people, you'll likely navigate through a period of adjustment. This means dealing with dryness, sensitivity, flaking, and irritation until your skin get used to the harshness of the product.


Your skin is a resilient organ capable of maintaining its health through natural means. While Tretinoin offers a short term solution, it's essential to consider alternative approaches that nourish your skin from the inside out without compromising your skin barrier and increasing your toxic load. Whole food sources rich in vitamin A provide a gentle yet effective way to support your skin's health. Incorporating foods like beef liver, cod liver, sweet potatoes and carrots into your diet can supply your body with the vitamin A it needs to thrive. Unlike synthetic derivatives, these natural sources offer a holistic approach that benefit your overall well-being, including your skin. Don't want to eat beef or cod liver? We love to utilize whole food supplements when there is gaps in your nutrition! You can head to my shop for a discount on a high quality grass fed beef liver supplement from Nutrimal and/or a natural wild-caught cod liver oil supplement from Rosita.


Accutane: Last Resort with Lingering Risks


Accutane or isotretinoin (a synthetic vitamin A derivative known as a retinoid), is often praised as the ultimate solution for severe acne. How it works is pretty straightforward: it curbs oil production in the skin. However, it's not a first-line treatment. Dermatologists reserve it for cases where all other options, including topical and oral antibiotics, have fallen short and you're probably wondering why that is.


The Risks Of Accutane


Accutane isn't without its risks and side effects. While it can bring relief from acne, the benefits are often short-lived. Within months of completing treatment, acne can appear again and sometimes even worse than before. Accutane contains synthetic retinoic acid, which interferes with the body's natural production of retinoic acid. Natural retinoic acid, also known as vitamin A, is crucial for skin health and various bodily functions. Moreover, synthetic retinoids like Accutane can strain our livers, a vital organ for detoxification that is essential for managing acne. These also disrupt iron recycling and significantly impede thyroid conversion, leading to metabolic dysfunction—the underlying cause of ALL acne and skin conditions.


As for side effects, Accutane has a long list. From dry skin and lips to fatigue and slow wound healing. Some of the of the more severe side effects of Accutane include joint and muscle problems, increased brain pressure, vision issues, rashes, allergic reactions, high cholesterol, and even mental health struggles like depression and suicidal thoughts. There are also things you need to avoid while on Accutane to protect your health such as sun exposure, alcohol consumption, and certain medical procedures are off-limits! Doctors will also tell you that regular lab tests are a must to monitor liver function and other vital markers. This should tell you everything you need to know... why are you taking something that is SO damaging to your liver that you have to get frequent blood work done? For women of childbearing age, rigorous birth control measures are non-negotiable due to the severe birth defects associated with accutane.


So, why is Accutane still prescribed despite its risks? For one, both patients and doctors crave quick fixes, often overlooking the potential pitfalls. Additionally, dermatologists face time constraints, which limits their ability to tailor treatment plans to each persons unique needs, meaning these medications are never designed to treat what’s actually causing your acne, but rather suppress your symptoms.


While Accutane may offer a temporary shortcut to clear skin, it's important to consider holistic alternatives. These methods, come without the list of side effects and you actually end up with side benefits instead! Accutane may seem like a beacon of hope for those battling severe acne, but you should talk to your doctor and weigh its benefits against its potential risks. Informed consent is the most important thing! Remember, your journey to clear skin is unique, and a personalized approach is key to achieving lasting, permanent results.



The Natural Solution: Addressing the Root Cause


Holistic Approaches to Clear Skin


Unlike acne medications that offer temporary relief, holistic methods focus on addressing the root cause of acne to achieve permanent results. In my practice we prioritize factors such as gut health, hormonal balance, detoxification and nervous system so that clients can nourish their bodies and skin from within. I often recommend functional testing in order to get a more comprehensive picture of what's going on in your body as we are all bio-individual. If you want to start the journey to clear skin naturally, here are some foundational things to start with.


Strategies for Clear Skin Naturally


  • Optimizing Gut Health: Eradicating overgrowths and parasites while building back up your mucosal barrier, healthy bacteria, stomach acid and immune system.


  • Balancing Hormones: Starting at the top of the hormone chain, addressing both the adrenals and thyroid along with optimizing ovulation.


  • Nutrient-Rich Diet: Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet with loads of bioavailable foods for mineral replenishment.


  • Stress Management: Implementing stress-reduction techniques to rebalance stress hormones like cortisol and get our nervous system thriving.


  • Natural Skincare: Choosing non-toxic skincare products free of harsh chemicals and irritants can support skin health without disrupting your skin's natural balance (see last months blog post if you want to do a deeper dive on skincare). Some of my favourite skincare products are the Fatskn tallow, Saturee oil cleanser and the Fancy Farm face mist, which are all available in my shop with discount codes!


  • Lifestyle Optimization: Prioritizing adequate sleep, regular movement, stress management all can benefit your skin!


If you are feeling lost on where to start, I offer complementary calls where we can talk about your symptoms and the best plan moving forward for you! While acne medications may offer short-term relief, they often come with a plethora of side effects and fail to address the underlying factors contributing to acne. By embracing natural methods that prioritize health and address the root cause of acne, you can achieve clear skin permanently and without compromising your overall well-being.


P.S. Watch my FREE Clear Skin Masterclass to learn exactly how to get to the root cause of your acne. This is a must watch if you are starting your natural skin healing journey! You will learn the steps I take to get my clients life long results.


None of this is medical advice.


Love Katie,

xx

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