Along with benzoyl peroxide and Accutane/Isotretinoin, oral acne antibiotics like erythromycin and doxycycline are pretty much the default treatment handed out by dermatologists.
Antibiotics are far more mainstream than natural strategies such as cutting sugar or getting more zinc. Antibiotics are dished out as though they’re the very pinnacle of safe and effective acne treatments. But the truth is that they’re not. Antibiotics are the opposite of safe and effective.
Previously on this website we’ve demolished the storied reputation of the topical treatment benzoyl peroxide, calling it a side effect producing, useless in the long term, fallout spreading weapon of excessive destruction. But even benzoyl peroxide beats oral antibiotics by a mile.
Here’s why antibiotics are completely pointless and will actually set your acne-clearing efforts back by up to two years.
Antibiotics kill the wrong acne bacteria
You might know already that your friendly dermatologist can give you either topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics. Topical antibiotics include clindamycin forms (such as Cleocin) and erythromycin (such as E-Mycin) and are generally given to patients with milder acne.
The objective of topical antibiotics is to kill p.acnes bacteria that lurks on the surface of the skin. P.acnes bacteria is the generic “acne bacteria” people refer to; it contributes to acne formation by triggering an inflammatory assault by the immune system that swells up the surrounding pore.
Oral antibiotics, meanwhile, are designed to kill p.acnes bacteria that resides inside the pore. Forms of oral acne antibiotics include erythromycin, and tetracycline antibiotics such as doxycycline and minocycline. Oral antibiotics are reserved for more severe acne patients, with cycles lasting for weeks, months and even years. Many patients stay on a low dose of oral antibiotics forever.
This all sounds like a smart proposition; after all p.acnes bacteria is one of the main players in acne. There’s little doubt that antibiotics benefit some people in the short term but here’s the problem: they don’t differentiate between bad bacteria and good bacteria.
Take a look at this 2013 study which analysed the effect of antibiotics on 200 acne-prone women over the age of 25. The scientists revealed that a massive 164 or 82% of the women failed to get clear with multiple courses of antibiotics.
That’s very poor for such a standard treatment. Countless testimonials mirror this; there may be short term improvements but the acne comes roaring back within weeks.
The truth is that before antibiotics make their way to your skin and kill p.acnes, you have to digest them in your stomach. When that happens, they have the perfect opportunity to destroy countless families of good bacteria in your gut lining.
Why’s that a problem? You might have heard recently that the importance of healthy colonies of bacteria in the gut is emerging as the greatest health story of the 21st century. It turns out that we have more bacterial cells in our body than there are stars in the Milky Way. We’re only 9% human; our bodies contain 10 trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacterial cells. These aren’t infectious disease spreading bacteria, we rely on them for our health.
Gut bacteria digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Lactobacillus bacterial strains churn out tons of important neurotransmitters, including 95% of the happiness hormone serotonin and 50% of the motivation neurotransmitter dopamine. Gut bacteria even manufactures dietary nutrients, like vitamin K2 and b-vitamins. The diversity and levels of good bacteria have increasingly clear relationships with autism, depression and conditions as seemingly unrelated as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s for that reason that the gut has been dubbed the human being’s “second brain”.
As for acne, the pathways through which diversifying your gut bacteria can clear your skin are seemingly endless.
One excellent example is the effect on the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits acne nutrient absorption and prevents old acne from healing. Prebiotic foods like yoghurt have long been known to decrease cortisol extremely well, but a recent study finally clarified the science behind it.
A neuroscientist called John Cryan of University College Cork in Ireland conducted an experiment with mice. The mice were divided into two groups with one group being a control group which ate regular mice feed, and the other being a test group which ate a healthy strain of bacteria called lactobacillus ramnosis which is frequently added to natural yoghurt. The mice all spent several weeks on this diet.
Eventually, Dr Cryan chucked a load of water into the mice’s bowl, to get them to panic and put them under stress. The mice fed the standard mice feed panicked like crazy; they swam in a frenzy for four minutes to escape the water, before unfortunately drowning. The mice were in clear panic mode and extremely stressed out.
The bacteria-fed mice also swam in an effort to escape the water, but their swimming was far calmer. Indeed they lasted far longer than four minutes as they expended less energy. After six minutes, they were still afloat and Dr Cryan pulled the mice out of their bowls.
Clearly the healthy lactobacillus ramnosis bacteria was having some effect, and the truth became clear when Dr Cryan performed a blood hormone test. Compared to the rats fed the lactobacillus ramnosis bacteria, the standard mice-feed rats had approximately 100 times more cortisol in their bloodstream.
In the wild, cortisol spikes massively when you face any perceived mental threat, so in a mouse’s case, it might be a hungry dog approaching across a field. Cortisol pumps you up into the classic fight or flight mode; you get a massive burst of energy, you lose any subtlety in your movements. Basically, you get the urge to fight like crazy or flee like crazy, and that’s what happened in the case of the mice without the bacteria.
Dr Cryan also discovered the mechanism; that the lactobacillus ramnosis group had far higher levels of a sedative neurotransmitter called GABA, which prevents cortisol from spiking too high. We know that gut bacteria can increase serotonin and dopamine levels, so this is not surprising.
In conclusion, if you too had this calming lactobacillus ramnosis bacteria in your stomach, you would be far more resistant to stress, and hence the acne and pimples caused by it, just like those mice were.
That’s one excellent example of how gut bacteria can help acne in many indirect ways. Any acne patient knows that chronic stress produces pimples and acne like clockwork and science backs it up. Furthermore, cortisol is the tip of the iceberg. Your gut bacteria can affect…
- Your levels of inflammation (the main cause of acne).
- The efficiency of acne nutrient absorption. That means your blood levels of acne minerals like zinc and selenium.
- Your levels of the acne-causing hormone insulin.
- Stress hormones again, due to their effect on serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
- Sleep quality, as serotonin is the precursor to melatonin.
The lactobacillus ramnosis used in the study is merely one strain of healthy bacteria; there are potentially millions more which have unique and uncharted benefits. In short, improving your gut flora is one of the foremost hidden acne strategies. In fact just like with overall health, gut flora is probably the most interesting new area of acne research today.
One study found that clindamycin, an oral antibiotics, caused up to 2 years of damage to gut bacteria just from a 7 day treatment. Another observed damage 4 years after treatment. For most patients the damage could be worse, as antibiotic courses nearly always last longer than 7 days.
Acne antibiotics will set your gut bacteria efforts back months or even years, so the conclusion is clear: antibiotics must be avoided at all costs!
Antibiotics make your acne bacteria stronger
Firstly, you’ve almost certainly heard of the growing threat of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Well the same applies to p.acnes bacteria. Thanks to all the antibiotics being given to millions of acne patients, p.acnes is becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics every single year. Antibiotics such as erythromycin are become increasingly ineffective as p.acnes continually adapts.
In fact, even mainstream dermatologists are reverting back to other treatments due to this resistance. One paper published by The Medical Journal of Australia stated that the resistance of acne to antibiotics increased sharply from 20% in 1978 to 62% in 1996. Nowadays there are many different types of antibiotics, like doxycycline and minocycline, but p.acnes is growing stronger against each of them as well.
The resistance is particularly pronounced in North America and Europe, where most antibiotics are handed out. In fact, four out of five patients may have acne that is resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics such as clindamycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline, according to one study by the British Harrogate and District NHS Foundation. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Therapy back in 2002 discovered that antibiotic-resistant strains of p.acnes bacteria can evolve after a mere eight weeks of antibiotics therapy.
Basically, if you do take antibiotics, you’re still going to cripple the gut bacteria in your stomach, but you’re far less likely to actually improve your acne compared to 40 years ago.
The second big problem with this resistance to p.acnes bacteria is that antibiotics can make p.acnes stronger against almost any other acne treatment. For instance, consider the drug resistant infection MRSA, which plagues hospital bedrooms. MRSA infections start in the skin, spiral out of control, and then cause deadly illnesses such as meningitis, pneumonia, boils, muscles aches and more. MRSA is totally resistant to antibiotics and kills an estimated 11,000 people a year in the USA. In many cases treating drug resistant bacteria like MRSA becomes downright near impossible – hence why it kills so many people.
Theoretically, continually exposing p.acnes bacteria to different antibiotics and giving it unique weapons could make it tougher and tougher and ever more difficult to wipe out with topical acne treatments. Many topical treatments both natural and unnatural will slowly become less effective if you consume antibiotics regularly.
Now, it’s lucky that many natural acne treatments, such as thyme oil and tea tree oil, have been demonstrated to be highly effective against resistant bacterial strains anyway, such as MRSA. But still, you don’t want to be handing your arch enemy the means to grow even stronger and potent at causing acne on a plate.
The final big problem with resistance to antibiotics is a much wider one – the whole end of the world scenario featured in the media every day.
Now, it might be exaggerated when the media constantly paints a picture of a dystopian future where school classrooms are empty and civilians stride through the streets hastily while wearing face masks and talking to no-one. That’s pretty ridiculous because antibiotics aren’t the only weapon for improving health we have, and we’ll almost certainly invent new weapons against illness…
…but nevertheless, many of us are far too reliant on antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria now infect two million Americans every year and cause at least 23,000 deaths. A report published last year estimated that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people. The BBC claims that antibiotic resistance related deaths will be the number 1 worldwide killer in 2050. The Chief Medical Officer of Britain even warned that the ever-growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is becoming a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism.
Being reliant on a treatment that’s in a spiral of doom down to ineffectiveness is not a good idea. The less any of us can use antibiotics, the better. That applies to acne and it also applies to your general health; it’s a smart idea to gain the knowledge on how to prevent diseases through nutrition and lifestyle so that you don’t have to deal with problems of antibiotic resistance in the first place.
Tons of acne strategies beat antibiotics easily
Even if acne antibiotics did have a success rate superior to the laughable 18% shown in the study above, even if p.acnes wasn’t readily becoming immune to acne antibiotics, I still wouldn’t recommend them for acne.
Why? Because there’s so many other ways to treat acne. It’s the exact same situation as with Accutane. Both are the standard over-the-top weapons prescribed by doctors which have big side effects, but both represent a mere 1% of the total treatments available for acne. Neither antibiotics nor Accutane deal with the root cause of acne. Dermatologists act like acne is actually caused by a deficiency in antibiotics or Accutane!
The truth is that as we’ve discussed elsewhere on this website, the modern, faulty, standard Western diet and lifestyle is to blame. Hence there are tons of nutrients, foods, and lifestyle hacks that are more effective and safer than taking antibiotics.
Consider vitamin E. It’s one of the 32 essential nutrients in the human body and is necessary for heart and brain health. Meanwhile, this study found that “patients with severe acne had significantly lower plasma concentrations of vitamins A and E than did those with lower acne grade and the age-matched healthy controls”.
This study concluded that “there was a negative correlation between acne severity and vitamin E and zinc levels”. Note that the studies also mention vitamin A and zinc and they are indeed simple ways to clear your acne naturally (read this article).
If the average dermatologist told their patients to eat more almonds or green vegetables or take a vitamin E supplement, they would have a far better success rate. Sadly that doesn’t happen but YOU don’t have to fall into that trap. Vitamin E is only one example. Getting more magnesium, getting more zinc, and supplementing with vitamin D will all cure acne and improve your health at the same time.
If you want to take a vitamin E supplement, if you’re a beginner who wants to get started on clearing your skin right now, then the best option is this Garden of Life Vitamin Code Vitamin E.
If you’ve only just discovered this website or natural ways of treating acne, if you’ve previously used grocery store chemical face blasters and maybe even antibiotics, I have a message for you – the world of natural skincare for clearing acne is far vaster than you have ever realised before.
Even if you can’t afford supplements, eating less sugar will work wonders, getting more sunlight will clear acne due to increasing vitamin D, and eating cheap anti-oxidant rich foods such as apples, sweet potatoes and oregano will make a difference. We haven’t even got started on the natural topical treatments like royal jelly, raw honey, and aloe vera, which have an outstanding safety profile.
In summary, the truth is that there natural strategies for clearing acne that are not only far more effective than antibiotics, but also very healthy for the rest of your body.
Antibiotics do not treat the root causes of acne such as chronic inflammation and excessive sebum production, antibiotics have far too many side effects, and antibiotics give birth to more acne in the long run by virtually carpet bombing your healthy gut flora.
Hence, I strongly recommend that you avoid these indiscriminate bacteria killers. Whether the antibiotic apocalypse is coming for all of us or not is irrelevant, because the threat is real right now. If you’ve already taken a course of antibiotics for your acne, then you have probably killed plenty of good bacteria already…
…but the good news is that human gut flora is resilient and it’s actually fairly easy to repair the damage if you have the right strategies and knowledge. There’s plenty of instruction in my book Annihilate Your Acne on improving gut flora.
For now, take the traditional steps like eating fermented foods. These include natural yoghurt, natto, sauerkraut, kombucha (a culture of yeasts and bacteria brewed into a tea), fermented cheese, kefir, fermented pickles, and the Indian fermented yoghurt based drink lassi.
Minimise sugary junk foods since sugar feeds unhealthy yeasts like candida, and eat a wide variety of antioxidant plant foods which can provide fuel to healthy bacterial strains. Good prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, apples, pistachios, dark chocolate (hooray), green bananas (high resistant starch content), and sweet potatoes (also the healthiest source of carbs for acne patients).
The best news is that if you stay on the gut flora enriching warpath once the damage has been repaired, your gut bacteria diversity will ascend far above the average acne patient’s. You’ll gain all sorts of advantages such as acne-proof skin, a very happy mind due to tons of serotonin being pumped out, and maximised nutrient absorption.
Thanks for reading!