If you suffer from adult acne, you might be willing to try anything to clear your skin. I know firsthand: I suffered from severe cystic acne for many years and I went to my doctor desperate for answers. I was offered one of the most common Western medicine “solutions” for adult acne: the pill. I was assured it would work like a miracle cure for my skin, so I gave it a shot. I was willing to try anything to say goodbye to acne forever. Well, two weeks on the pill and not only did it not help my skin, I was experiencing migraines, vision loss, and heart arrhythmia.
If you’re thinking, “Gosh, well, I’m glad there are other drugs and products I can try!” I have bad news: the other “miracle cures” in the Western medical arsenal fall into the same “do more harm than good” category. But don’t panic! There are simple steps you can take that are far cheaper, far safer, and far more effective than any drug or skincare product.
I want to save you the time and money that I lost—and the frustration I experienced—pursuing acne cures that don’t work. In today’s blog I’m going to walk you through six “miracle” acne cures that don’t actually work (and that almost always make your overall health worse)—and outline what you can do instead.
False Acne “Cure” #1: Hormonal birth control
Hormonal birth control is one of the popular physician-prescribed remedies for acne. Here’s how it works: the pill balances testosterone (and other androgens) in the body with estrogen and progesterone (which are contained in the pill in synthetic form). High levels of androgens can trigger oil production in the skin, so when estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are in better balance, the skin tends to clear up.
But! This handy-dandy “balancing” act brought on by the Pill is all smoke and mirrors. The synthetic hormones in the Pill pave over the deeper imbalances—rather than address them at the root—and when a woman goes off the pill, all of those imbalances come roaring back. The acne comes back with it, often worse than before. At the same time, the pill causes other problems around the body. It disrupts your microbiome (a healthy gut is essential for bringing your hormones back into balance) and depletes you of important, hormone-protective micronutrients.
False Acne “Cure” #2: Antibiotics
Antibiotics are important life-saving drugs; we wouldn’t want to live in a world without them. But even a short course of antibiotics can wreak havoc on gut health, just like the pill. And considering that the average course of antibiotics for acne is three to four months, the impact on your gut can be much greater. So just like hormonal birth control, antibiotics might clear up your skin while you’re on them, but they’re ultimately making one of the root causes of acne worse. (If you need antibiotics for a necessary, non-skin related reason, always follow up a course of antibiotics with a course of probiotics.)
False Acne “Cure” #3: Spironolactone (Aldactone)
Spironolactone is a synthetic hormone that is prescribed to treat hormonal acne. It works by blocking androgens (male hormones) that can contribute to acne along the chin and jawline. If excess androgens play a role in your acne, spironolactone can bring about superficial results. But hormonal acne is always caused by more than one hormone imbalance in the body (as well as other factors)—and spironolactone, by blocking the action of one entire group of hormones, makes other hormonal imbalances (like estrogen dominance) worse.
Estrogen dominance is when estrogen is high relative to progesterone, and it is its own root cause of acne. So while you may experience results while taking sprionolactone, you are fueling a different fire beneath the surface, one that will make your acne come back when you stop taking it—and one that will ultimately make your skin worse. Plus, spironolactone is a synthetic, and just like I don’t recommend synthetic hormonal birth control, I don’t recommend spironolactone. It’s been associated with a long list of side effects—including irregular menstrual bleeding, breast tenderness, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, headaches, dry mouth, lower back pain, breast lumps, and weight gain (to name just a few).
If you’ve read articles or seen research espousing the relative safety of spironolactone, consider this 2017 study that looked at ten randomized controlled trials on spironolactone safety and found that “all [the] trials were assessed as being at a ‘high risk’ of bias, and the quality of evidence was rated as low or very low for all outcomes.”
False Acne “Cure” #4: Isotretinoin (originally Accutane)
This drug is prescribed as a last-ditch effort to ease hormonal acne (though most conventional practitioners haven’t had patients try diet and lifestyle modifications before suggesting this drug). Isotretinoin is almost always the “plan z” option because its side effects are so severe. In fact, the drug is so toxic that it is only available as part of a registered distribution program called iPLEDGE, which mandates that all isotretinoin prescribers are registered as approved prescribers, all pharmacies that dispense it are registered as approved pharmacies, and all wholesalers that sell it to pharmacies are approved wholesalers!
Why this intense level of regulation? Isotretinoin causes severe birth defects, and even the smallest exposure can trigger changes in a fetus. For this reason, women who use the drug must simultaneously be on hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy. (This fact alone should keep you away from isotretinoin.)
But the horrors of this drug don’t stop there. The drug has caused some patients to become depressed and suicidal; other studies link the drug to violent and aggressive behavior; and the original patented drug, Accutane, was pulled from the market when many users found that it caused them to develop Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS). This drug may clear your skin while you take it, but the devastating side effects aren’t worth the risk.
False Acne “Cure” #5: External skin care products
While what you put on your skin is hugely important for skin health (and overall health), no product on its own will fix hormonal acne. That’s because, as the name implies, the root of the problem is what’s happening on the inside of the body. External products can never fully address internal problems and hormone imbalances.
What’s more, the toxins found in most conventional skincare products are endocrine disruptors, which make hormone problems worse. So it’s critically important that you shop for clean skin care and beauty products. Otherwise, your skin care routine becomes a lose-lose-lose situation: you’re not addressing the internal cause of your acne, you're loading your skin with toxins, and—in most cases—you are spending a lot of money on products that promise results but don’t deliver.
So what’s the real solution for acne?
The secret to clear skin is all internal, and it involves three key steps:
- Biohack your hormones. Instead of using drugs to suppress symptoms, address the root causes by learning how to biohack your hormones with food and exercise. You’ll want to prioritize hormone balancing foods, understand and manage your blood sugar (poorly controlled blood sugar fuels all hormone imbalances), learn what foods to avoid if you suffer from hormonal acne, and sync your diet and exercise routine to the four distinct phases of your 28-day hormone cycle. If you’re not currently tracking your cycle, get started STAT! Download the MyFLO app to begin Cycle Syncing® your diet and lifestyle so they work for you, not against you.
- Optimize your micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiency is one of the root causes of hormonal acne (along with a disrupted gut microbiome). Your vitamin and mineral optimization plan is two-fold. One, avoid things that deplete the body of important skin-health micronutrients—like coffee, certain medications (like the pill), over-exercise, and sleep deprivation. Two, replenish the micronutrients you’re missing. The five formulations provided in our Balance Supplements include essential micronutrients that promote skin health.
- Avoid toxic exposures & opt for organic foods. I mentioned above that many conventional skin care products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals. But these health-damaging toxins live in a host of everyday products, from household cleaning supplies and lawn chemicals to the pesticides and herbicides on non-organic food. Opt for organic food when possible and read labels very carefully. Even some “green” cleaners can contain dangerous ingredients. When you skirt dangerous toxins, you not only protect your delicate endocrine system, your body gets to spend less time detoxing—and more time balancing hormones and healing skin. It’s a win-win!