Dealing with bad, cystic acne can be frustrating and challenging. Most of us with acne end up in a dermatologist’s office trying a bunch of prescription creams and topicals in the hopes that it will magically clear up.
But when those don't work (since they don't deal with the underlying problem), the last solution doctors often offer is Accutane.
Accutane (isotretinoin) is a potent prescription medication used to treat severe acne. But it comes with some pretty severe potential side effects too. These isotretinoin accutane side effects can include:
- Allergic reactions, such as skin rashes, itching, hives, swelling of the face, tongue, lips, and throat
- Hearing loss, ringing in the ears
- Increased pressure around the brain, including severe headaches, blurry vision, nausea, and vomiting
- Liver injury, including right upper belly pain, loss of appetite, yellowing of skin/eyes, unusual weakness or fatigue
- Mood and behavioral changes, such as anxiety, nervousness, confusion, irritability, hostility, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, feelings of depression
- Pancreatitis, including severe stomach pain that spreads to your back or gets worse after eating or when touched, fever, nausea, vomiting
Long term side effects from accutane have yet to be scientifically studied. However the Facebook group “Accutane Survivors, Roaccutane, Isotretinoin Injuries & Side Effects” currently has over 15,000 members. And a recent April 2023 scientific study analyzing seven interviews from post-accutane patients found a report of the following accutane long term side effects:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (digestive) - 85.71% experiencing persistent term side effects
- Ocular symptoms (vision) - 85.71% experiencing persistent term side effects
- Neurological symptoms - 57.14% experiencing persistent term side effects
- Psychiatric symptoms - 100% experiencing persistent side effects
- Sexual dysfunction - 57.14% experiencing persistent side effects
But what do you do when accutane fails? Or accutane is not working? Or your acne came back after taking accutane? Or you just simply don’t want a natural alternative to accutane because the list of side effects is scary to you?
If you're seeking natural, holistic alternatives to accutane, you're in the right place. In this blog post, I’ll explore various holistic approaches to managing acne and achieving clear, healthy skin without harsh prescriptions. And give you the resources and support you need to truly have the clear skin success your heart desires.
What Accutane does...
Accutane is a prescription drug targeted to permanently reduce oil production in the skin. It does this by attempting to permanently shrink our oil glands.
But because this is a systemic drug, it can also reduce fluids in our digestive system, brain, spinal fluid, and reproductive system too. The effects of accutane are so intense for women that are required to sign up for the iPLEDGE program, which requires that they:
- Must understand severe birth defects can occur with the use of isotretinoin (accutane)
- Must not be pregnant or breastfeeding
- Must have two negative pregnancy tests before starting
- Must take a pregnancy test every month while on Accutane
- Must use two different forms of birth control while under Accutane
- Must agree to see their health care provider every month during treatment for health check
Understandably, more people are looking for natural, healthy alternatives to accutane. Whether they have experienced accutane relapse (acne coming back after taking accutane) or simply looking for a last resort before accutane.
Natural alternatives to Accutane...
There are holistic ways to dial-down the oil our skin makes - ones without nasty side effects. It's all about hormones! Specifically, androgen ones.
Androgen hormones, testosterone and DHT, are in charge of our skin's oil production. When these hormone levels are too high, we experience an excess amount of oil production in our skin, increasing the risk of clogged pores and acne.
But good news - our body wants to produce a healthy amount of these hormones. It is outside factors that elevate these hormones - and those outside factors can be changed!
By focusing on naturally normalizing healthy androgen levels, we can naturally reduce and stabilize our oil production without using harsh prescriptions or topicals.
For the past 12+ years, I have been successfully and naturally treating acne clients by balance their acne hormones without the need for harsh prescription drugs like accutane, antibiotics, spironolactone, or birth control pills. And the good news is, you can do this too!
Here are the main alternative ways to treat hormonal acne naturally + holistically:
Diet + Nutrition.
What we eat has a significant impact on our skin's condition. We literally are what we eat. Our body breaks down the food we consume and uses it as material to build what our bodies are made of.
What we eat is also one of the largest, if not the #1, influencer on the balance or imbalance of our hormones. What we eat has a hormonal reaction in our bodies that can be balancing or imbalancing depending on what we consume.
One the positive side, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides essential vitamins and antioxidants that support skin health. A wide variety of pesticide-free, organic plant-based and whole foods supports a healthy body, balanced hormone levels, and a strong immune system.
What we don’t eat is equally as important as what we do eat. Removing high hormonally imbalanced foods like dairy and drastically reducing your added sugar intake can significantly improve your acne as well. These and other foods can drive hormonal imbalance that is near impossible to correct with skincare products alone.
In my experience, diet is the #1 driver and balancer of acne hormones. When used properly though, it is also the most powerful tool I have ever seen to lift people out of even the most persistent cystic and hormonal acne.
The main pitfalls here are making the right changes and keeping them consistently enough. Most clients I have worked with have either never tried making changes to their diet or made some changes, but not consistently enough or for long enough.
The key to clearing acne with food therapy is to make the right changes for long enough. So they often give up because they’re not seeing the changes they would expect. Working with a qualified holistic acne nutritionist can be a game changer when it comes to clearing acne naturally.
Stress has a big influence on the way we go about our daily lives. Stress is often linked to acne, but in actuality, it may not be the way we commonly think….
For most of us, when we are stressed, other things in our lives change. Mainly, most of us start eating worse foods and our cravings for sugar go up. Our willpower is lessened and our susceptibility increases.
It’s less often the stress that is causing our acne than actually the foods we eat because we’re stressed out. And there are biological reasons for this too - which is why it is way harder to eat an apple than to grab that donut when we’re frazzled.
Managing stress can significantly contribute to clearer skin. Not just because it helps our immune system cope better. But also that having lower stress levels gives us greater capacity to make other, healthy choices in our lives.
Sleep is the time our bodies do the greatest healing work. It is the reason you wake up with less redness in your skin, or that pimple having healed up some and moved along.
We live in a sleep deprived society. The average American gets approximately 6.8 hours of sleep per night (down from 7.9 hours in the 1940s).
Lower sleep increases stress in our bodies and greatly slows down our skin’s healing time.
Going offline at night and getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep per day greatly increases your skin’s healing time, keeps stress levels lower, balances hormones, and supports our immune system.
Some supplements can be utilized to help balance acne hormone levels naturally as well. Accutane works by attempting to naturally shrink our oil glands, which are controlled by our androgen hormones. But there are more natural approaches to this as well.
Several herbal supplements have been associated with naturally balancing acne hormones and noticeable acne improvement. These include natural, herbal acne supplements like saw palmetto, licorice root, and reishi mushrooms.
These supplements have been scientifically linked anti-androgenic activity. In addition to a holistic acne diet, lifestyle, and skincare plan, they can help us to successfully reduce inflammation and balance hormones - potentially leading to clearer skin.
Spearmint or Green Tea.
Spearmint and green tea have been scientifically shown to carry anti-androgenic properties. Regularly consuming at least two cups per day can help normalize acne hormones, reducing breakouts and redness.
Check out this article, Herbal Supplements to Naturally Clear Hormonal Acne, for more information on how these herbs can support clear skin.
- Skincare. The foundation of any supportive acne treatment is a consistent and suitable skincare routine. This includes gentle cleansing, exfoliation, and moisturizing.
I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to skincare. Using just what we need, not more and not less, when it comes to treating acne.
I generally recommend to keep to a gentle cleanser, two different acne exfoliating products (AM + PM), a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. Of course, all of these should be 100% non-comedogenic, and acne-safe products.
All the skincare products in a routine matter, though especially important are the acne exfoliating products helping to fight breakouts. I highly recommend the Skin Nutritious Power Duo, which is a highly potent combination of mandelic acid + benzoyl peroxide that powerfully fight hormonal acne breakouts, pigmentation, and scarring.
Conclusion: While Accutane is a powerful acne treatment, it may not be the right choice for everyone due to personal choices and potential side effects. Fortunately, there are several natural alternatives that can help manage acne and promote clear, healthy skin. Remember that what works for one person may not work for another, so it may take some trial and error to find the best natural remedies for your specific skin type and needs.
If you've tried making changes but aren't seeing results, it may be time to seek professional support. Holistic dermatologists are in high demand and desire, but unfortunately don't really exist within the medical system. Nutrition, lifestyle, and supplement guidance is not a deep part of the curriculum in medical schools. In fact, dermatologists receive less than 20 hours of nutritional training during their entire careers.
Alternative natural, holistic acne treatment providers:
• Skin Nutritious holistic acne clinic. Based in San Francisco, offering highly successful in-person and online natural acne treatment services. The initial acne new client visit includes comprehensive root cause identification and an individual diet, lifestyle, and skincare plan customized to each client. The signature Acne Healing Journey program has an over 95% success rate clearing acne in just 3 months. Learn more >
- Holistic dermatologist. Very few holistic dermatologists for acne exist because in order to practice holistically, they need to be operating outside of the medical system. Not only are they a rare find, they are also not typically covered by insurance. We greatly look forward to the day that holistic health providers covered by insurance is the norm!
- Naturopathic dermatology. Naturopathic doctors that specialize in treating acne may also be a great alternative to the dermatology route. I highly recommend working with ND's who only specialize in skin.
Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or making significant changes to your skincare routine. With the right approach, you can achieve the clear, radiant skin you've been striving for without resorting to harsh prescription medications like Accutane.
If you need support, please reach out. You can book a free acne discovery call with me to learn more about how we can get you naturally acne-free.
Elise May, CN + LE, is a holistic acne specialist and founder of Skin Nutritious.
Since 2009, she has helped over 1,600 clients overcome acne with a unique blend of coaching, treatments, and holistic acne skincare. She has a diverse holistic background as an esthetician, acne nutritionist, and wellness coach.
Work with Elise in San Francisco or through her virtual acne clinic. Learn more >