Acne can be a real pain to deal with, and I know this firsthand from my own experience with the condition. When I was in middle and high school, I dealt with really bad breakouts and acne. 

Teenagers are ruthless and I felt like nothing I did could make it go away. I was desperate to find a solution, so I turned to the typical treatments prescribed by my doctor – topical creams, oral antibiotics, and birth control at the age of 14.

While I eventually “grew out of it”, I’ve still struggled with sensitive skin that can breakout easily. I now also have a sensitive digestive system which I attribute to the many rounds of antibiotics I’ve taken over the course of my life.  

The antibiotics always left me feeling sick and weak, and the birth control made me feel like a completely different person in addition to completely throwing my hormones out-of-whack. Although my acne would clear up temporarily, I felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back when it came to my overall health.

After becoming an esthetician and working at an organic, holistic spa for several years, I’ve learned the importance of taking a more natural and holistic approach to acne treatment. I’ve seen firsthand how focusing on nutrition, gut health, and hormone balance can help address the underlying imbalances in the body that contribute to acne. 

While conventional treatments like antibiotics, birth control, and Accutane may seem like enticing quick fixes for acne, they often come with a host of long-term side effects that can be dangerous to one’s health. 

As a former esthetician and now acupuncturist and functional medicine practitioner, I’ve seen the harmful effects of relying on pharmaceuticals for acne treatment. I find it important to bring awareness to the potential risks associated with these medications which aren’t always made clear during your visit with your dermatologist. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the dangers of relying solely on pharmaceuticals for acne treatment and explore more holistic and natural alternatives for achieving clear and healthy skin.



Antibiotics have long been hailed as a miracle cure for acne, but their impact on the gut microbiome should not be ignored. The gut is a bustling hub of microorganisms, responsible for everything from nutrient absorption to mental health regulation. 

They help to digest food, produce essential vitamins such as vitamin K and biotin, and support the immune system by producing antimicrobial compounds. Additionally, gut bacteria help to maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining, regulate inflammation, and modulate the gut-brain axis, which is the bidirectional communication system between the gut and the brain. This means they help regulate mood, energy, and mental health too!

Antibiotics work by killing off bacteria, but unfortunately, they do not discriminate between harmful and beneficial bacteria, and can therefore disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome. While antibiotics can be helpful in clearing acne in the short term, they can throw off the delicate balance of your gut microbiota, leading to even more health issues, such as anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. 

Imbalances in the gut can also lead to increased insulin resistance and elevated levels of androgen hormones, both of which are associated with acne development. So it can actually make acne come back worse later on.

Another potential side effect of antibiotics is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, which can cause diarrhea and other digestive symptoms.

In addition to antibiotic-associated diarrhea, antibiotics can nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. This is because antibiotics can irritate the lining of the digestive tract, leading to inflammation and discomfort.

Moreover, antibiotics can also contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance, which occurs when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics that are meant to kill them. This can make it more difficult to treat infections in the future and can lead to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Although antibiotics can be crucial in saving lives in certain situations, it is important to protect and foster the health of our gut microbiome as much as possible and to avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily.

The root cause of acne often lies within the gut itself so instead of relying on short-term solutions such as antibiotics, a more holistic approach to addressing acne involves focusing on improving gut health. 

So what can you do?

This can be achieved through adopting a paleo-style diet, identifying and treating gut infections, and promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. 

By taking these steps, you can achieve not only clearer skin but also a wide range of full-body health benefits, such as improved digestion, reduced inflammation, and a stronger immune system.


Birth control pills are typically prescribed to teenage girls and young women to regulate hormonal imbalances that can lead to acne. 

Birth control may provide temporary relief for acne by adding synthetic hormones but it does not address the underlying causes of acne, such as poor diet, stress, and gut health issues. This makes it simply a band-aid solution, masking the imbalances lurking beneath the surface.

Additionally, long-term use of hormonal birth control can have serious negative impacts on a woman’s health, including an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

More commonly it depletes the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut microbiome and allows the other non-beneficial and even harmful bacteria to overgrow. This dysbiosis or imbalance allows for fungus and yeast to overgrow within the body (‘candida’) and can result in a range of health issues, including poor digestion, mood swings, and inflammation. 

Additionally, hormonal birth control also depletes B vitamins and folic acid, which are essential for energy production, nervous system regulation, a balanced mood, and proper brain function. It also depletes magnesium, a mineral that plays a crucial role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. It also leads to a reduction in zinc, a mineral that is essential for immune function, wound healing, and maintaining healthy skin.

But wait, there’s more! It also depletes:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Copper
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

These deficiencies coupled with an impaired gut can make it harder to get pregnant after getting off birth control too. Interestingly, the same nutrients that are depleted by birth control are also essential for a healthy pregnancy and are included in prenatal vitamins.

Even if you’re not trying to get pregnant but simply want to stop taking the pill, you may experience Post-Birth Control Syndrome.  

In short, birth control may provide temporary relief for hormonal imbalances like acne, but it ultimately creates an even more imbalanced system, leading to potential health issues down the road.

ACCUTANE (isotretinoin) 

Accutane is a powerful medication that’s prescribed for severe cases of acne that don’t respond to antibiotics, creams, or contraceptives. While it can be incredibly effective and life-changing for some people, Accutane is also known to have some serious side effects that can affect both your body and gut health with long-term consequences.

The largest public concern with this medication has been birth defects for those taking it while pregnant so there are strict regulations on prescribing Accutane to women who may become pregnant on it. You have to take 2 pregnancy tests prior to getting a prescription and use 2 types of birth control if sexually active.

If a substance is harmful to the growth and development of a baby, it is probable that it can also be detrimental to the mother’s well-being.

Accutane works by reducing the amount of oil produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands, slowing down the growth of skin cells that may clog pores, and killing the bacteria in your pores that cause inflammation.

I think of Accutane as killing a fly with an atomic bomb.  Instead of harmonizing and balancing it is very aggressive and leaves a lot of damage in its wake.

Oil is like a lubricant for our skin and long-term this reduction of oil can lead to dry, flaky skin that is more prone to wrinkles and fine lines. This can be particularly problematic for individuals who use the medication at a young age, as the skin is still developing and may not be able to fully recover from the effects of Accutane.

In addition, Accutane has been linked to a number of other skin-related side effects, including increased sensitivity to sunlight, thinning of the skin, and increased risk of infection. These effects can further contribute to long-term skin damage and may even increase the risk of skin cancer.

One of the most concerning side effects of Accutane is its impact on the digestive system. The medication can cause inflammation in the gut, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloody stools. This can damage the gut lining, leading to a condition known as a leaky gut syndrome, which can allow harmful toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream.  A leaky gut is a precursor to most autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s, Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus.

Accutane can also have an impact on liver function, as the medication is processed by the liver. It has been shown to cause an increase in liver enzymes, which can indicate liver damage. In some cases, this damage can be severe enough to lead to liver failure.

Another potential side effect of Accutane is its impact on bone health. The medication has been shown to cause a decrease in bone density, which can increase the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. This can be especially concerning for young people, who may be taking Accutane during a critical time in their bone development.

In addition to these side effects, Accutane can also have a negative impact on mental health. The medication has been linked to an increased risk of depression and suicide, and it is important for anyone taking Accutane to be closely monitored for signs of these conditions.

Dealing with acne can be incredibly frustrating, especially when it feels like nothing is working and you just want a fast solution. 

However, it’s important to remember that simply treating the surface symptoms of acne with quick-fix solutions like pharmaceuticals may have long-term consequences for your health. 

By taking the time to address the root causes of your acne through a functional medicine approach, you can not only achieve clearer, healthier skin, but also improve your overall health and well-being. While it may require a bit more patience and effort up front, treating the underlying imbalances in your body that contribute to acne can help provide long-lasting relief and a more holistic approach to health.


Here are 10 things you should try before resorting to pharmaceuticals (or even during if you choose to go down that route!):


1. Get acupuncture to help reduce inflammation, regulate hormones, and promote blood circulation to the affected area.

2. Eliminate inflammatory foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten and processed foods from your diet.

3. Support liver detoxification through consumption of cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and other detoxifying foods.

4. Get functional medicine testing to address nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to acne

5. Address gut issues, such as dysbiosis, inflammation, malabsorption, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or leaky gut syndrome, that may contribute to inflammation and acne.

6. Consider supplements

    1. Probiotics and prebiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome
    2. Zinc and Vitamin C to help with healthy cells
    3. Omega 3’s to reduce inflammation and nourish the skin

7. Reduce stress through practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

8.Use non-toxic skincare products that won’t irritate or clog the skin. 

My favorites are:

    • Skin careLiving Libations for cleanser, moisturizers and serums
    • Makeup: Ilia, RMS Beauty, 100% Pure

9. Increase physical activity to improve circulation and support overall health.

    • Go on daily walks a few times a day to get vitamin D and move your body
    • Get 1 hour of exercise 3-4x a week that makes you sweat

10. Support lymphatic drainage

    • Dry brushing, jumping on a trampoline, infrared sauna, or lymphatic drainage massage

Ready to explore alternative solutions for clearer skin? Click here.

“If you’re struggling with acne and looking for a personalized and holistic approach to treatment, contact a functional medicine practitioner today to schedule a consultation and start your journey towards clearer, healthier skin.”