If you’re considering going on Accutane to treat your acne, it’s normal to be wary about developing the various side effects linked to the medication. Known medically as isotretinoin, Accutane is typically used to treat severe forms of acne and cystic acne, and for some, it works. However, there are natural alternatives to Accutane that you should try out before taking Accutane.
Accutane can be dangerous, and it doesn’t come without its side effects. Having battled acne myself as a young adult and fixed it by changing my diet, I’d never advise anyone to jump into taking Accutane before testing other methods first. In this article, I’m going to go over some natural alternatives to Accutane that you should try out before going on prescription medication to treat your acne.
What Is Accutane?
Accutane, medically known as isotretinoin, is an anti-acne treatment used to treat the most severe and resistant forms of acne, typically cystic acne.
Taken orally, Accutane is usually prescribed on a 4-month basis and has enjoyed a relatively high success rate in patients suffering from severe acne breakouts. That being said, Accutane requires a prescription from a doctor, and anyone with acne shouldn’t jump into taking the medication without knowing what Accutane does to the body.
What Does Accutane Do?
When taken orally, Accutane works by shrinking the oil glands that produce sebum in the skin. This results in a less oily complexion and therefore reduces almost entirely the possibility of excess oil clogging your pores and leading to eventual pimples.
In short, Accutane blocks the skin’s oil production, leaving you with drier – but pimple-free – skin. However, Accutane can cause several side effects and shouldn’t be your first solution if you’re battling acne and struggling to see progress.
Why Is Accutane Dangerous?
Accutane is dangerous due to a number of side effects that can incur from taking the medication. Here are just a couple of common side effects you can expect if you start treatment:
As my colleague Ashley once explained, exposing your skin to direct sunlight while taking Accutane can cause serious sunburn and skin sensitivity. If you live in a hot climate, you might deal with frequent sunburn and skin irritation while on Accutane.
Another risk associated with Accutane is weight gain, and this is caused by a mix of lethargy and lack of exercise. Accutane causes sluggishness, which can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, while also making the body more sensitive to exercise-induced injury. This combination, along with water retention, can cause Accutane users to suffer from weight gain.
While the FDA doesn’t recognize depression as an Accutane side-effect, around 1 to 11% of Accutane users develop depression during their treatment. While there is currently limited evidence as to what causes this, those with histories of mental health (or family members with hereditary mental health conditions) should be cautious about taking this medication.
Another potential risk associated with Accutane is liver problems, with 15% of patients taking Accutane reporting liver abnormalities when tested. This is why it’s important not to drink alcohol while taking Accutane, as the risk associated with liver problems increases significantly.
When the skin becomes dry and starved of natural lubrication, some Accutane patients also notice that yeast infections can become common reoccurrences throughout the length of their treatment.
If you’re female, you might also notice that you suffer from vaginal dryness that can subsequently lead to yeast infections or general bacterial infections. When the skin around the vulva becomes thin and sensitive (due to dryness), you’ll also potentially suffer from chronic itching and redness until the end of your treatment.
Some Accutane users (both male and female) are also susceptible to developing “dry mouth”, a condition associated with the development of yeast infections. This is caused by mouth dehydration linked to isotretinoin.
The use of Accutane can also cause hair loss in some people. This is fairly common and is actually listed as a side effect by the FDA. Typically, hair thinning stops once you stop taking Accutane. Depending on your age and gender this can be a very serious or unimportant side effect. Because of this it’s important to discuss this possibility with your doctor in order to understand the risks.
Risks for Pregnant Women
If you’re a pregnant woman or plan on becoming pregnant within the next 6 months, you should under no circumstances take Accutane. Not only is it dangerous for you, but isotretinoin is also associated with birth defects and deformities, as well as miscarriage and stillbirths.
The FDA characterizes the risk of severe birth defects while using Accutane as “extremely high”, making it a strong possibility rather than a rare or uncommon side-effect. Even if you’re not planning to have a baby, I would advise against using Accutane if you’re not regularly using at least one method of birth control.
Weakened Skin Barrier
If you begin taking Accutane, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will have a weakened skin barrier. Because Isotretinoin prevents the body from producing as much sebum oil, virtually everyone who takes it has dry skin. For some users, this is mild, but for many Accutane users, there is severe peeling and shedding of the skin daily. This dry skin is much weaker than normal and can lead to more frequent bruising, chaffing, and splitting. In order to mitigate these risks, you should invest in a moisturizer designed to help reduce the dryness caused by Accutane.
Energy Loss and Fatigue
Several studies have noted a loss of energy in participants who take Accutane. This could be mild or severe, depending on the dosage and individual. Typically, a low dosage amount will show little to no energy loss, whereas a high does make you much more likely to feel prolonged stretches without energy.
What Are Some Natural Alternatives To Accutane?
So as you can tell, Accutane comes with a pretty heavy load of potential side effects. So, what are some natural alternatives to Accutane, and do they actually work?
Here are some natural alternatives to Accutane that have been proven to provide results when it comes to clearing skin and putting an end to constant breakouts:
Diet And Lifestyle Changes
As someone whose acne cleared up through diet and lifestyle changes, this will always be my first suggestion to anyone looking for effective methods to clear up their acne. Forget about changing up acne from one skincare brand for another – most anti-acne treatments can actually worsen your acne problems, especially if you’re dealing with something like fungal acne.
In my eBook Unmasking Acne, I talk a lot about how changing my diet helped me overcome severe cystic acne. The science is simple: if you have acne-prone skin, certain foods and drinks are going to inflame your skin and trigger a breakout. Similarly, foods filled with natural antioxidants are going to help keep your skin balanced, clear and free from nasty breakouts.
You can take a look at my eBook if you want to know more about my story, where you can also find hundreds of foods ranked according to their acne-inflammatory potential. Spoiler alert: so many foods marketed as “healthy” or “superfoods” are actually causing your breakouts!
Retinoids vs Accutane
Given that Accutane is itself a derivative of Vitamin A, many acne sufferers might opt for topical retinoid treatments (such as retinol) in order to try and treat their acne. Retinoids can help acne by stimulating collagen production and triggering skin cell repair.
Retinoids can also be used effectively to treat existing acne scarring, as the increase in collagen production helps to fill any scar tissue and render the skin more uniform and even in texture.
However, it’s important to be careful when applying retinoids to the skin. It’s essential to begin with a small dose of a high-quality retinoid buffed into a moisturizer, before applying a retinoid directly to your face. There are high-quality retinoids available over the counter, while certain higher-concentrate retinoids are available by prescription only.
When it comes to Retinoids vs Accutane, retinoids are one of the most effective topical treatments for reducing cystic acne. While the side effects of retinoids can include dry skin and acne purging, they’re typically much safer than an Accutane prescription, with the potential to be just as effective.
Antibiotics vs Accutane
Another alternative to Accutane is taking anti-bacterial antibiotics. This is typically prescribed if you have mild to moderate acne and helps to rid the skin of the bacteria causing the breakouts.
While this can be an effective method in clearing up clogged pores and cyclical breakouts, it’s a pretty temporary quick-fix and doesn’t deal with the problem or cause of your acne directly. Taking antibiotics to reduce acne can also lead to antibiotic resistance, especially if your prescription isn’t paired with benzoyl peroxide.
While the side effects of antibiotics are less numerous than with Accutane, taking antibiotics is still not a long-term strategy for dealing with acne, and not a method I’d personally recommend.
Benzoyl Peroxide vs Accutane
When it comes to topical products, benzoyl peroxide is another Accutane alternative that has proved to be popular with acne sufferers. Benzoyl Peroxide kills bacteria on the skin and helps to avoid clogged pores, in turn reducing breakouts and pimples.
Used as an antiseptic, Benzoyl peroxide can cause mild skin irritation but can still be used up to twice a day in any normal skincare routine. You can find Benzoyl peroxide in many drugstore cleansers and face washes, although be careful about not using too high a concentration to begin with.
Benzoyl Peroxide and Accutane are pretty different so it’s difficult to compare them fairly, but I’d always recommend trying Benzoyl Peroxide before jumping on Accutane. Just be careful not to be too abrasive on your skin.
Steroid Injections vs Accutane
Another popular treatment that acne sufferers are using instead of Accutane is steroid injections, also known as cortisol injections. Steroid injections for acne work by safely shrinking more severe boils, cysts and nodules.
While steroid injections can work for reducing large or treatment-resistant boils, nodules and cysts, it’s again not a long-term strategy. In addition, there’s a risk of scarring, hyperpigmentation, skin depression, as well as the typical bodily side effects associated with steroid injections.
That being said, if you’re looking to take Accutane because you’re suffering from large cysts, steroid injections might be a viable option, more preferable than opting for the isotretinoin prescription. Steroid injections can target several cysts at the same time, although you do need to wait around 6 weeks between appointments if you want to re-inject the same cyst more than once.
What’s The Best Natural Alternative To Accutane?
In my view, making radical diet changes is the best natural alternative to Accutane. While this may not work for 100% of acne cases, it’s going to markedly improve the condition of your skin, while also perhaps giving you some insight about foods that trigger or inflame breakouts.
Having a clean, non-refined diet where certain antioxidant-filled foods are prioritized is always going to be better for your skin than a diet full of refined sugars or overhyped “health foods” that actually inflame your skin. Even if your diet doesn’t completely fix your acne, it’ll still improve the condition of your skin and make any acne treatment process run smoother.
If you’ve taken Accutane for the complete prescribed period and you’ve not noticed any marked difference in your skin, I’d recommend doing some research on underlying health conditions that can cause acne. From fungal acne to candida, there are plenty of medical conditions that list acne or frequent breakouts as a symptom, so getting checked out by a dermatologist is a good idea. I’d also encourage anybody dealing with acne problems to take a look at their diet and make changes where possible. Try to eliminate foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body, as these may be a direct cause of your breakouts.
If you’ve tried every single other possible method and nothing is helping to clear up your acne, Accutane might be a good option. However, if you’re experiencing new breakouts and haven’t yet tried some of the above-mentioned natural alternatives to Accutane, I’d recommend giving them a go first. Accutane should always be a last resort option when treating acne. Not only do you need to moderate your lifestyle during the length of your treatment (no direct sunlight exposure, no alcohol, limited exercise) but the medication can also incur some nasty side effects.
While some patients do notice significant improvements and swear by Accutane for “saving” their skin, not all acne is caused by an overproduction of oil. As I pointed out earlier, it’s important to find out what’s causing your acne if you want to know how to treat it effectively.