When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self-treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

perfect skin

According to a press release that just arrived in my inbox, only 10 percent of Canadians seek medical help for acne and other skin issues.

And you know what? I totally understand why. As I discovered during The Great Oil Cleansing Method Disaster of 2010, there’s a lot to be skeptical of when it comes to acne practitioners and their standard advice for this skin issue. A quick re-cap for those of you just joining us: Since I’m always game to play beauty guinea pig (or at least I used to be), I decided to give OCM a go last year based on the hundreds of online testimonials about how it softens skin, erases pores and wrinkles and generally makes complexions look as close to flawless as it gets. OCM involves cleansing your face with a blend of castor oil and either olive, jojoba or some other type of oil.

Never has the term “epic fail” been so appropriate. (Which is why there is ALSO a lot to be skeptical of when it comes to folk treatments!) Even though I hadn’t any serious skin issues to start with, the infection that it caused—after just three or four tries—was so severe that I self-treated AND sought medical advice… AND frantically Googled in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who knew how to fix whatever it did to my skin.

Thankfully, things are pretty much back to normal now (more on that in a sec) but what remains are some pretty strong opinions on the whole subject of conventional versus mainstream acne treatments. Let me share.

IF YOU’RE IN THE SELF-TREATMENT CAMP, YOU KNOW THAT…

Just because a study doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Scientist in Lab When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

Doctors love studies. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve interviewed a dermatologist who has dissed the ingredient du jour just because there hasn’t been a published peer-reviewed paper in the Annals of Dermatology. Okay, mostly they’re right—there ARE a lot of sketchy things in the beauty industry. Hope in a jar and all that. But at the same time, it costs money—a LOT of money—to run a study, and if there’s no cash to be made off the subject then guess what? The study ain’t happening. This is why we still don’t know that much about how (non-patentable) natural ingredients affect the skin. To my knowledge, there is no study on cod liver oil and acne, but I’m constantly receiving testimonials about how much it has helped people’s skin. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this post for more deets.

Doctors love to prescribe you The Pill.

This is just my personal opinion here, but I feel like oral contraceptives are WAY over-prescribed. It seems like the solution for everything. Bad skin? Menstrual cramps? Irregular periods? Here—try The Pill. There was a great article in Macleans a couple of years ago about the backlash and how many women are seeking alternatives. For skin, I know it can really help with acne, but it certainly isn’t a long-term solution—and because it also comes with some rather serious side effects, going on it should be a last (not first) resort.

Many of them also love Accutane.

accutane When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

This one drives me insane. If I may share my experience? During the worst of my OCM disaster, I was seeing an MD (not a derm, mind you) at one of Toronto’s top acne clinics. After a couple of weeks on antibiotics, when I told him I wasn’t seeing any improvement yet, he told me that “if they were going to work, they would have by now”—and that my only other option would be a six-month course of Accutane.

I was speechless. Who knew they threw in the towel after just two weeks and just handed the stuff out like candy? Meanwhile, the risks and side effects are so serious that class action lawsuits in the U.S. have been successful. Like The Pill, I think it’s a last-resort treatment, and thankfully, the next doctor I went to (a real derm this time) agreed. He told me I hadn’t been on the antiobiotics long enough—six weeks is the normal timeframe to see results—and under his care, the OCM thing is just a bad memory now. I can’t believe the other doctor would’ve prescribed it to me for a self-induced short-term skin infection… and I’d STILL be taking it if I hadn’t ran out of that clinic!

Other oral medications have unpleasant side effects too.

Besides the two big scary ones I mentioned above, there are antibiotics and a diuretic drug called Spironolactone, which is prescribed off-label for acne because of its anti-androgen effects. Their side effects can be manageable in the short-term, but I’m not so sure that being on them for many months is a good idea. Antibiotics destroy your good bacteria along with the bad… and the diuretic properties of the Spiro deplete essential minerals and nutrients from the body.

Topical solutions can irritate and dry out your skin.

Retin A Micro When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

I can still remember yet another doctor’s advice to me, years ago, when I’d asked what I might do to tackle the handful of breakouts I’d get like clockwork to coincide with my menstrual cycle. She advised applying a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide over my entire face, which I argued made my skin very dry and flaky. “Well, you’ll just have to be flaky then!” was her response.

Um, what? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just have the two or three pimples. The same thing goes for prescription treatments like Retin-A. I’ve even tried a flake-inducing, sulphur-based medication called Sulfacet-R, which was completely useless according to the derm that ended up saving my skin. When your infection is very deep in the pores (thanks OCM!), topical solutions simply can’t reach it.

Lots of these treatments are expensive—and may not produce permanent results anyway.

If you have a good drug plan, then any prescription treatments shouldn’t put too much of a ding in your pocketbook. (Us self-employed types aren’t so lucky.) But has anybody noticed how many of the new breed of skin doctors tend to push expensive laser treatments along with products from their own skincare lines? It’s possibly a bit shady if you ask me. Laser treatments especially. While I know first-hand that they can work miracles for other skin issues (keep reading and I’ll tell you how), for active acne I’m just not convinced that the results will last. At least one top dermatologist who also teaches at a Canadian university has confirmed this for me.

None of these things get at the underlying cause of acne.

And this brings me to my main gripe about medical solutions. The industry’s bag of tricks doesn’t include anything that actually cures the problem; it’s all about “managing the disease.” And I think that’s an unfortunate way of looking at it because my view on acne is that there’s ALWAYS an underlying reason for it.

HOWEVER. I STILL BELIEVE THAT MAINSTREAM MEDICINE CAN HELP WHEN…

Natural options can only do so much.

Cod liver oil heart300 When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

As most of you know, I’m a raving lunatic when it comes to cod liver oil. I can’t recommend it enough—and as long as you are taking the right brand (Green Pasture) and in the right amount (about 1-2 tsp is what the Weston A. Price foundation suggests) then I believe you WILL see an improvement in any skin issues.

But that said, even upping my dosage wasn’t enough to combat the vile powers of the OCM-induced skin infection. Nor were the dozen other home remedies I tried via places like EarthClinic.com. (Yes, I’m a closet beauty hippie.) That’s when it really is time to see a professional. Just make sure that you see an actual dermatologist, not just an MD who tells you he/she specializes in acne. I still regret visiting that acne clinic and receiving such poor advice.

You’re experiencing psychological suffering from your acne.

This one I totes understand. Is anything worse than feeling like you have to hide because of your skin? It just plain sucks. The problem with pursuing natural options is that it can take longer to see results. Cod liver oil takes at least a month or two to start producing a gradual improvement, and doing things like pinpointing suspected food allergies via an elimination diet also takes time. But some people are desperate for a fast fix NOW. I get it. Even in my sitch I wasn’t prepared to wait it out, so there was no question that I’d take antibiotics along with my cod liver oil. So I think short-term meds definitely have their time and place, in order to get you to a level where you can explore other (safer) options.

You’re at risk of scarring.

ice pick scars When it comes to acne, there are two camps: Those who self treat and those who run to the derm. Which side are you on?

The worst present that acne leaves behind with some people are those deep ice-pick scars. Even though resurfacing lasers are getting better and better at dealing with them, it’s best to not add that problem to your life in the first place… so I fully support medical intervention to prevent the problem from getting any worse. In my case, I had a different problem: post-inflammatory pigmentation, which is just a skin colour change instead of a real scar. The laser solutions for this are QUITE fast and amazing. I did a couple of rounds of the Vbeam vascular laser with my derm and it really made a difference.

Tell me:

Are you a self-treater when it comes to acne and/or other skin issues?
Or do you prefer to head straight to the dermatologist’s office?
What acne treatment has worked best for YOU? (PS: If you haven’t tried cod liver oil, this is the time in the post when I push that on you. Just because I want to help.)

19 Comments

Julie
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 12:36 am

I just suffered from a break out and I was suggest evening primrose oil. Awesome stuff and it got rid of my PMS as well.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 9:37 am

I’ve heard good things about it too! How much did you take and for how long until you saw a result?

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Adalu
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 1:00 am

I declare myself as a self-treater, although I would like to talk about my acne problem with a dermatologist. But I guess the main obstacle to not do it is the money. Right now I’m trying some pills a friend recommended me, they are called Nature’s cure acne treatment. One box is for 30 days, and I’m just in my 16th day. But I definitely want to try the CLO! read everything you said and you convinced me! :)
I’m just so tired of having acne, I think just with waxing is more than enough for my face haha. Anyways, I’m also trying to drink more water and doing exercise everyday. And hopefully, with all that… my face decides to glow :D
thank you very much for your advice! just what I needed it in the time I needed it :D

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 9:41 am

Are you noticing any changes with the Nature’s Cure pills? Just looked them up… not sure how I feel about homeopathic stuff. If you try CLO let me know how it goes!

PS – re: waxing, are you doing brows or other areas on the face? If the latter I just found out about this really cool gadget that gives you the same results as threading, at home: http://www.epicarehome.com/ I would really recommend it!

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Nomadic D
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 4:28 am

I’ve always self-treated, though there was a time in college when I did try some prescription topical stuff, none of which worked. I’m definitely going to try out the cod liver oil when I make my next trip to the states (no idea where to even begin to look for it here in Spain), but for now I feel like my skin has finally calmed down. Could just be age, lifestyle, diet, who knows. Or it could be that I chucked most of my skincare products (I was a totally junkie and would try anything) and simplified to a variation of Daniel Kern’s routine from acne.org. His products are cheap and simply formulated and non-irritating and I’m a big fan. Yeah, it’s benzoyl peroxide all over your face, but in a very low concentration, so I don’t get any of that itchy red flaky side effects.

http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 9:44 am

That’s great about your skin! I know another reader (Skybluesky) uses Dan’s product(s) I think and has been really happy. I just find with cod liver oil I don’t even have to worry about what I put on my face at all. Here are the recommendations of CLO brands in Europe:

In Europe

BEST:

* Natural Food Finder: naturalfoodfinder.co.uk/products carries Blue Ice High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil, biokult, raw honey, coconut oil, high vitamin butter oil
* Red23: red23.co.uk carries Blue Ice High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil
* Q Naturals Webstore – Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver and High Vitamin Butter Oil http://www.qnaturals.nl

GOOD:

* Healthspan Ltd., 0800 73 123 77, healthspan.co.uk
* Goldshield, goldshield.co.uk
* Lysi, nordicstore.net

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Nomadic D
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 10:00 am

wow, thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely try and get my hands on some. I still do get the occasional breakout, especially the hormonally driven ones, but none of that horrible cystic stuff I used to get in my early twenties. Sure would be nice to be totally happy and carefree with my skin though, going to give the cod liver oil a try. I’ll let you know when I start and how it goes.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, May 23/2011 at 5:16 pm

Please do! Fingers crossed it works for you :-)

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Lisa P
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 9:25 am

I self-treat, but I would like to start seeing a derm. I’m nearly 40 and I just have to bite the bullet and ask for a referral.

I think of all the money I’m wasting on over the counter creams at drug and department stores, when I’d probably be better off with a prescription for Retin-A.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 9:46 am

If your skin can handle it then Retin-A might be good just because it’s anti-aging as well as anti-acne! What’s bothering you about your skin now and what OTC stuff has failed you?

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Lisa P
Thursday, May 12/2011 at 1:40 pm

I like the sound of anti-aging AND anti-acne!

I did have some pretty good results with Dr. Murad Resurgence products, but nothing that blows me away (I need to stop watching the Joan Lunden infomercials on Sunday morning).

Instead of spending money on department store moisturizers, which I’m sure are just chock full of heavy duty oils to make your skin feel moist, I think I need to get something more intense for my lines, like SkinTx or Retin-A. Maybe even a touch of botox or a filler?

I just need to find a good derm in Toronto who likes the natural look. I’m afraid they’re going to take one look at me and start signing me up for tons of expensive treatments.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, May 23/2011 at 5:20 pm

I hear you. I would try Dr. Nowell Solish for natural-looking injections. I know he’s a big proponent of peptides as well for anti-aging.. although if you went for a consult I’m sure he’d have more specific advice and maybe even put you on a prescription regimen. He is great – really helped me after this disaster: http://beautyeditor.ca/2010/11/15/my-brief-traumatic-foray-into-the-oil-cleansing-method-or-how-overreaching-can-sometimes-backfire-on-your-skin/

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J.
Friday, May 13/2011 at 6:15 am

I do both, go to get treatments a couple of times a year.

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J.
Friday, May 13/2011 at 7:04 am

And I’m norwegian, so I’ve been force feed cod liver oil since infancy. I do jet peels and use PCA products :)

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, May 23/2011 at 5:23 pm

Nice! I think we have jet peels here in Canada but I haven’t heard much about them. Are they just for acne? Do you have much downtime?

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J.
Monday, May 23/2011 at 5:45 pm

Skin gets a bit flaky, but not so much. Just last a week or a couple of days, and my skin looks so much nicer :)

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Anya
Sunday, May 15/2011 at 4:42 pm

I credit Accutane for saving my skin on two separate occasions (10 years apart). I took it in high school after battling awful cystic scarring acne after everything else failed. And I took it again 2-3 years ago after struggling with adult acne for a year. Tried Retin-A, antibiotics, all kinds of spa treatments, diet, you name it…

Yes, there is a risk but these days one is monitored very closely. For example, I had to have blood tests done on a weekly basis and avoid alcohol, sun exposure and Vitamin A at all costs while I was on it. Yes, it sucked: dehydration, joint pain, loss of appetite… But it was all worth it to have my confidence back.

In my case, the drug didn’t cause any permanent damage.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, May 23/2011 at 5:29 pm

I hear you – acne is such a confidence killer. When nothing else works and you’re scarring then of course Accutane can make sense. Just glad your liver got through it ok! I am surprised at how often I’m hearing that people require multiple rounds of it though…

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Leigh
Monday, March 3/2014 at 2:34 pm

I’m so thankful I stumbled upon your site. About 3 weeks ago I started using OCM and my face is HORRIBLE. Huge cystic acne lesions. I’ve never had anything like this before! I had some mild acne in college (I’m 46 now) and pretty much have clear skin with maybe a pimple or two each year. Now I have huge cysts all over my formerly pretty skin! Just today I did the OCM again (before finding your blog) and I thought my skin felt great but looked horrific. After finding your blog, I immediately went in and rewashed my face (first time in 3 weeks!) and my skin felt better almost immediately. The cysts are still there and I’m going to make an appointment with a Derm to make sure that is the cause of things but it’s the only thing different. I started actually using grapeseed oil as a moisturizer about 3 months ago and haven’t had a problem. Then one day I woke up and had like four cysts on my face at once. Not to gross you out but they had whitehead appearance and I tried to pop (i know, i know) and only clear liquid came out. Which told me this wasn’t a pimple. So I got online and found OCM which claimed to be perfect for this problem. So I’ve been slathering oil on my cystic acne and guess what? It’s gotten worse! I wish I would have done more research before jumping into it. But here I am. Now it’s time to work on healing this mess. Thanks again for your helpful site.

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