How to Treat Acne Without Medication

You’ve probably noticed the range of topical and oral prescription medicines that are available to help manage acne. Common ones include tretinoin (sold as Retin-A), which speeds up cell turnover and unplugs skin pores to clear them of oil; antibiotics, which kill bacteria; tazarotene (sold as Tazorac), which affects the growth of acne-prone skin cells); isotretinoin (sold as Accutane), which reduces the amount of skin oil; and certain oral contraceptives for women that reduce the effect of acne-producing hormones. Oftentimes one medicine isn’t enough to treat all of the acne conditions, and a combination of treatments must be used (such as a topical medicine applied to skin, as well as one taken orally).

While medication can do a good job of clearing acne, it also comes with a slew of side effects, including skin dryness and irritation (for topical acne products), upset stomach or lightheadedness (for oral medications), increased risk of blood clots and high blood pressure (birth control pills), and birth defects (oral isotretinoin).

Those treating acne should begin by adopting these lifestyle and diet habits, which are essential to treating acne without medication:

Stopping Dairy Consumption

Milk contains hormones that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, leading to acne. Stopping dairy consumption has been shown to significantly reduce acne for some individuals.

Cleaning Up Your Diet

Eating fewer processed foods and reducing sugar intake has a large impact on your body and skin’s health. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help control breakouts. Keeping your blood sugar steady by eating small, balanced meals throughout the day also helps fight inflammation that could be causing skin problems.


Emerging research also suggests that probiotics, whether ingested or applied topically, can be helpful in reducing acne. Impaired gastrointestinal flora can lead to systemic inflammation—the results of which often end up on the skin.

In addition to lifestyle changes, we’re also seeing more and more patients successfully treating acne with products purchased over-the-counter or from an aesthetician, or receiving treatments offered in a dermatology office or a medical spa. Many of our facial treatments, such as LED light therapy and the oxygen clinical treatment, are specifically designed to help clear and control acne. Here we discuss some of the alternative options available.

Intense Pulsed Light and LED Light Therapy

These treatments harness the power of LED, or light-emitting diodes, which deliver energy-packed beams of light into the dermis layer of the skin, energizing the cells responsible for collagen and elastin production. LED also treats mild to moderate acne by killing the bacteria responsible for breakouts. There are several kinds of LED light, and for acne, we recommend a mix of blue and red light therapy. Blue light LED works by killing acne bacteria beneath the skin’s surface. Red light LED stimulates the fibroblasts that produce collagen, which heals acne lesions and gives skin a youthful, plump look. Intense Pulsed Light has proven to be somewhat effective in treating acne on its own, but we generally recommend combining it with a photo sensitizing drug to provide significantly better acne clearing.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is another light-based therapy for those with severe acne or precancerous skin lesions, often called actinic keratosis. During the process, a solution is applied to skin, making it more sensitive to light. After the solution sits on the skin for a period of time, the doctor or laser technician uses a light device such as Intense Pulsed Light or LEDs to treat the affected area and reduce acne or precancerous lesions.

Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion

Chemical peels are extremely effective at smoothing rough, dry skin, improving the appearance of acne scars, and minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  The alpha and beta hydroxyl acids in the peels can also reduce the frequency of breakouts. Microdermabrasion uses a diamond-encrusted wand to gently whisk away the outermost layer of dry, dead skin cells. With both procedures, the top layer of skin is removed, leaving less pore-clogging debris, which leads to acne. Depending on your skin type, these two treatments can be combined for much deeper exfoliation. We usually recommend a series of treatments for the best results.

Whether you’re concerned about side effects or want a more natural acne treatment, we are pleased to offer a range of options that don’t involve a prescription to treat your acne. Further, we are happy to offer you an initial consultation at no cost. During your consult, our team of experts will work with you to develop a trusting relationship and customized skin care plan that will deliver you the best possible results. Book an appointment with us and learn more about the various ways to treat acne without medication.

Feature photo courtesy of Pixabay under Creative Commons 0 License