Holistic Nutrition for Clear Skin – Part 2: The Drawbacks of Conventional Treatments for Acne

This is Part 2 in my series Holistic Nutrition for Clear Skina series of blog posts all about using nutrition, lifestyle changes, and smart supplementation to reduce acne and support healthy, glowing, clear skin. Click here to read Part 1: Initial Thoughts About Acne  or click here to jump to Part 3: The Root Causes of Acne.

Holistic Nutrition for Clear Skin – Part 2: The Drawbacks of Conventional Treatments for Acne

The Usual Recommendations for Acne

I thought it was important to spend a little time talking about the standard treatment for acne.  After all, the Canadian Dermatologist’s Association states that “acne is the skin condition most commonly seen by doctors and the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada says that acne “affects 90% of teens and up to 1 in 5 women.” It’s a common, pervasive issue, and obviously seeking out treatment occupies a lot of people’s energy and time.

Now, I think I should say here that I really appreciate being able to go to my family doctor when I need to. There is real value is having different healthcare practitioners for different health concerns and I appreciate having access to healthcare! It’s a gift!

That said, when I went to my family doctor several years ago to discuss my skin (which wasn’t terrible, but was enough to bother and frustrate me), my options were topical treatments, or going on the pill. My skin wasn’t bad enough to warrant the use of Accutane and anyways, I was frightened by that. I wasn’t an RHN at the time, but I knew I didn’t feel comfortable with those options. So for many years I continued on my merry (not so merry) way of trying to find the miracle ‘product’ at the drugstore that would fix my skin (or at least, not make it break out more). I spent a LOT of money and energy trying to find that miracle acne product. Quite frankly, I never found it.

As a rule, I would say most people visit the drugstore, the doctor, or the dermatologist to help them find a treatment for acne. And from there, the options are usually products or pharmaceuticals or both.

The most common treatment options tend to be:

  • a topical cream/lotion that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide or something similar
  • oral antibiotics
  • the birth control pill
  • Accutane

The Pros and Cons of Conventional Treatments

Conventional treatments can work – obviously they do something helpful or medical offices wouldn’t just keep prescribing them and people wouldn’t keep taking them/using them. If you’re having success with a conventional treatment like one of the ones listed above and want to continue using what’s working for you, I can definitely understand.

In general, though, there are two significant drawbacks/concerns to conventional treatments for acne (or conventional treatments for most things):


    Topical treatments – like those that contain benzoyl peroxide – can lead to burning, redness, or itchy, irritated skin, and can often disrupt your skin’s natural microbiome; oral antibiotics are hard on your gut microbiome (which is important for healthy skin); and drugs like Accutane come with their own laundry list of side-effects, including birth defects and possible liver damage. And of course, there is the Pill, which is also not without side effects. I don’t have room here to do justice to a full and balanced discussion on the Pill, but I really like Dr. Lara Briden’s blog and she has some food for thought articles about the pill’s effects on your natural hormones.


    Conventional treatments neither address nor solve the underlying issues that contribute to acne. Remember that silver lining we talked about in Part 1 of the series? Acne is a pretty good flag that there are some imbalances or deficiencies in your body that need your attention. Most conventional treatments just paste a band-aid over the issues – they mask the symptoms. But, whatever underlying issue (hormonal imbalance, gut dysbiosis, etc) existed before you started applying that cream or pill will still be there afterwards and for some people, may even be worse (for anyone struggling with skin issues after coming off the pill, here’s another great Dr. Lara Briden article on dealing with post-pill acne).

Take Accutane for example: Accutune reduces sebum production and (as I understand it) goes so far as to address the problem of the p.acnes bacteria, the bacteria that thrive in clogged pores (sebum contributes to the clogging) and lead to the swelling, pus, and pain of acne. But it doesn’t ask WHY that bacteria was thriving in the first place, or why the pores were clogged, or why there was excess sebum being produced, and so on.

I’m not saying any of this to be doomsday or scary or to make you feel bad for having used (or currently using) a conventional treatment. Please don’t feel bad! I just want you to know that there is another way, one that works with you instead of against you.

Figuring out and addressing your body’s areas of imbalance is the way to truly manage acne over the long term. It’s an approach that has no negative side effects – one positive ones. Focusing on nutrition, stress management, sleep, skin positivity, and smart supplements will not only help you with acne, but will also help you with improving skin health, vibrancy, and radiance (because did I mention conventional treatments also often have lots of chemicals and other additives? Your skin may not react to them, but that doesn’t mean your body likes them!).

To Sum It Up:

If you’re desperate to manage your acne I can completely understand looking for any solution that will work – but please, understand that nutrition can be that solution or at least a significant part of that solution. A focus on nutrition and nourishment (along with lifestyle practices and wise supplement choices) only offers positive side effects – not just for your skin, but for your health and energy and mood and overall vitality. While it might take longer to see results than with a drug, and will require you to have a sense of adventure and curiosity (and patience) with your skin and with the process, you’ll arrive on the other side with healthier skin and a sense of personal empowerment. And I think that’s pretty powerful.

Look out for the next post in the series – Holistic Nutrition for Clear Skin Part 3: Root Causes of Acne – to learn more about what the root causes are and how they impact your skin.

Also check out these other healthy skin & radiance posts:

© Emily Joldersma, R.H.N. Eat Well, Live Vibrantly

10 responses to “Holistic Nutrition for Clear Skin – Part 2: The Drawbacks of Conventional Treatments for Acne”

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