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Natural Alternatives to Isotretinoin (Accutane)

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Isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) is a powerful treatment against acne, but it also has many side effects. Are there natural alternatives to isotretinoin?

What is Isotretinoin? Isotretinoin is a powerful retinoid medication taken orally to treat moderate to severe acne. The medication, formally named Accutane, is strong and has many side effects.

However, many individuals with acne feel they have no choice but to take such a strong medication to eliminate acne. Isotretinoin is taken twice daily for several months until acne symptoms fade. Isotretinoin is considered a parent form of vitamin A, but is much stronger than the vitamin itself, and is not an antibiotic, which is often prescribed in the treatment of acne. Rather, it is simply an organic compound found in many natural sources.

How Isotretinoin Works

Isotretinoin works by reducing the amount of oil produced on the skin. It can reduce inflammation, and reduce the number of hair follicles that get clogged on the face. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Dermatoendocrinol, Isotretinoin is the only current medical treatment for acne that addresses all causes of acne. Most patients who take Isotretinoin show significant improvement even years after taking the medication. The medication works by influencing cell-cycle progression (to prevent the development of new acne), reduces sebum production (reducing clogged pores), reduces the amount of P.acnes bacteria on the skin, and reduces inflammation.

According to the study, a strange effect of Isotretinoin is that it influences the number of bacteria on the skin and inside pores even though it is not an antibacterial substance itself. It simply alters the environment inside skin pores, which makes them less favorable to colonization by P. acnes bacteria. The effects extend beyond the original dose of the medication.

Risks and Side Effects of Isotretinoin

Although Isotretinoin is quite effective against acne, the high likelihood of dangerous side effects deters many people from trying the medication. For example, women taking Isotretinoin must use two forms of birth control, as the high dose of the medication can cause severe birth defects. That side effect alone prevents many women from using the medication.

Other serious side effects are also present and can result in headaches, rashes, itching, difficulty breathing, swelling, bleeding gums, bone pain, chest pain, fainting, increased heart rate, joint pain, hearing problems, nausea, depression, aggression, suicidal thoughts, pressure on the brain, seizures, bruises, severe stomach pain, bowel problems, vision problems, skin infections, and many others.

Common Isotretinoin Side Effects
  • Chapped lips
  • Extremely dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Dry nose and nosebleeds
  • Dry eyes
  • Burning pain
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Skin infections and rashes

Isotretinoin interferes with many other medications and supplements. Most doctors recommend patients carefully consider all risks before taking Isotretinoin to treat acne. Isotretinoin is slightly safer for men to take than women, simply because men cannot get pregnant. Isotretinoin is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to a fetus. Women must be pregnancy free for two months before they can start taking Isotretinoin and be on two forms of birth control throughout treatment and for two months after treatment is completed.

Natural Alternatives to Isotretinoin

Because Isotretinoin and similar retinol medications used to treat acne are so dangerous, many acne-sufferers wonder if there is an alternative, or if they must suffer from acne for the rest of their life. Although not as universally effective as the medication Isotretinoin, the following natural alternatives to Isotretinoin provide effective acne treatments without the dangerous side effects.

Vitamin A

As indicated by the success rate of Isotretinoin, vitamin A is highly effective as a treatment for acne. However, supplementing with vitamin A on your own can be dangerous, particularly if you are female and could get pregnant. Before supplementing with vitamin A on your own, check with your doctor to see what safe intake levels are and whether you are deficient in the vitamin.

A study from 2014 published in Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology found that most patients with acne were deficient in vitamin A, zinc, and vitamin E.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a vitamin that works in conjunction with vitamin A to improve the appearance of the skin. Vitamin E is essential for the health of the muscles and blood, but more importantly for acne, maintains the right balance of vitamin A, K, iron, and selenium- all-important vitamins for keeping healthy skin.


Zinc, as the 2014 study showed, is often too low in individuals with acne. The study authors were not sure what caused zinc levels to fall, but upping zinc levels could significantly reduce the presence of acne on the skin. Zinc helps acne in three ways: one, it reduces oil production; two, it protects against bacterial infection; and three, it fights inflammation, which are all important steps for clear, healthy skin. Only a small amount of zinc is required each day to provide benefits.


A study from 2008 published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease found that many patients with acne are low in selenium. Low selenium levels are actually a common problem in the United States as selenium levels ingested through food have fallen (selenium was usually present in dirt). Selenium stimulates antioxidants that fight cancer and promote healthy skin growth. Selenium also works with vitamin E to reduce acne and fight inflammation.

Gum Guggul

According to Web MD, gum guggul can reduce inflammation and redness in acne. Gum guggul also has antibacterial properties and can help reduce the production of sebum, which is a common contributor to acne. One study cited by the University of Michigan found that gum guggul was as effective as the antibiotic acne treatment tetracycline when treating cystic acne.

Methylsulfonyl Methane

MSM is a type of sulfur that has been used successfully in the treatment of acne. Simply enough, MSM works to cut down on oil and sebum production in the skin. MSM can be taken internally or used topically.


Probiotics help fight acne from the inside out. Essentially, probiotics provide the right bacteria to fight P. acnes bacteria in the intestines, where it originates. Probiotics may not provide a full acne cure for everyone, but numerous studies leading as far back as 1961 have found that supplementing with probiotics can reduce acne in about 80 percent of patients.

Fish Oil

Just like probiotics, fish oil works from the inside out to prevent and cure acne. Omega-3 fats, unlike the more common omega-6 fats, are anti-inflammatory. If you increase your intake of omega-3 fats (found in fish oils) and reduce omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oils), you will likely see improvement in acne.

Not all acne is caused by inflammation, but since many Americans have far too much inflammation in the diet, anything that helps relieve some inflammation will benefit skin health.


In addition to the above vitamins and other supplements, your diet plays a big role in acne. Although no foods are tied directly to acne, the more junk food and inflammation-causing foods you eat, the higher your chances of seeing acne breakouts on your skin. In general, try to avoid junk foods and stay away from high levels of vegetable oils. Vegetable oils contain omega-6 fats, which cause inflammation.

Follow the basics of this diet for healthy skin:

The Acne Diet
  • Vegetables with every meal
  • Unprocessed meats
  • Organic Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Fruit daily
  • Avoid junk food
  • Avoid sugar
  • Avoid large quantities of processed grains

Topical Treatments

Numerous natural topical treatments can also work effectively for acne. Tea tree oil, fish oil, coconut oil, and zinc in ointment form can work to heal acne faster and prevent further infection. Avoid topical treatments that are harsh, abrasive, contain chemicals, use soap, or are largely water-based. These treatments can actually make the skin worse because they strip your natural acne-fighting barrier and strip oil from the skin. This can trigger the skin to make even more oil, which leads to further breakouts.

Do Less

Many acne medications and washes tell users to apply them two or more times a day. However, the over-stimulation of the face can actually make acne worse. You don’t need four different medications, washes, and creams to prevent acne. In a lot of cases, these treatments are simply irritating the skin and exacerbating the problem. Instead, wash your face once a day, at night, at most. Use the gentlest wash you can find avoiding the ingredients listed above.

A natural, oil-based cleaner containing ingredients like tea tree oil, coconut oil, zinc, or vitamin A will provide maximum benefit. You never have to scrub your face to prevent and cure acne. Natural

Alternatives to Isotretinoin Exist

Acne is frustrating at any age, but particularly once the teen years are past and adulthood has set in. Although almost no one will notice acne as much as you do, it is still minorly embarrassing and can be a source of stress. If you are thinking of trying the medication Isotretinoin, wait until you’ve tried a few of these natural remedies before jumping into such a potentially dangerous medication. With a few of these natural acne remedies set in place, you may soon find that you are acne-free in just a few months without any dangerous side effects.





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