- Vitamin deficiencies can cause or worsen acne
- Supplements work in different ways to reduce acne symptoms and promote clear skin
- Vitamin C can help fade acne scars
- Natural remedies can soothe inflamed skin and bolster the effects of other treatments
- Excessive amounts of vitamin B12 and iodine can trigger acne symptoms
Acne is a chronic skin disease that occurs when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria to cause the formation of lesions. Acne has many causes, including hormonal fluctuations, stress, diet and genetics. This can result in insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals which can negatively impact skin health; taking supplements for acne can help restore nutritional balance, and prevent or reduce symptoms.
Can Supplements Improve Acne?
Oral supplements work from the inside out to treat and prevent acne.
Diet is one of many factors involved in the maintenance of skin health with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals playing a key role. Vitamin deficiencies can impair the integrity and function of skin, resulting in an abnormal skin barrier.
Studies support the concept that acne is linked to abnormalities in the skin barrier; a weakened barrier will offer less protection against bacteria and irritants which cause inflammation and provoke acne flare-ups; skin is also more vulnerable to dryness and irritation.
Guarding against inflammation also serves to protect skin from damage and unsightly scarring and hyperpigmentation.
Many studies support the use of oral supplementation for skin care, skin health, and as acne treatments. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, D and E have been identified, as well as minerals zinc and selenium. Pairing vitamins is a common practice as doing so produces a synergistic effect.
Importantly, proper nutrition may not only prevent or reduce the risk of acne but can also increase the effectiveness of acne therapy, because nutritional deficiencies can affect drug absorption and metabolism.
Will supplements work for hormonal acne?
When hormone levels fluctuate during puberty, pregnancy and menopause, they cause increased oil production which leads to breakouts. Birth control pills can also worsen acne when first used.
Certain supplements are more effective than others at alleviating hormonal acne, including zinc, probiotics and maca root.
Will supplements work for acne scars?
Vitamin C is a powerhouse when it comes to treating acne scars, primarily as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory to minimize lesion formation and scarring.
Studies show vitamin C promotes wound healing and strengthens and protects the skin barrier by enhancing production of barrier lipids, specifically ceramides. This is an important step in acne therapy as people with acne have been shown to have a deficiency in ceramides.
Ceramides improve acne symptoms by moisturizing skin to reduce irritation and dryness; and restoring the skin barrier to protect against external irritants.
Vitamin C can also promote collagen synthesis and photoprotection. Production of collagen can help fill in depressed acne scars and plump tissue around a raised scar for a more uniform appearance.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C provides photoprotection by scavenging free radicals to protect the skin from cellular damage and inflammation. This can prevent or minimize acne flare-ups which in turn lowers the risk of scarring.
As an anti-inflammatory, vitamin C can prevent postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), dark marks that are left behind once an acne lesion heals. It also boosts hydration to keep skin nourished and healthy.
Antioxidants have also been shown to increase blood flow which helps make scars less rigid and blend into the surrounding area.
Best Supplements for Acne
Products that help decrease inflammation are typically most effective at reducing the severity of acne breakouts to minimize acne severity and associated scarring. Supplements also contribute to maintaining healthy skin.
Green tea extract
Green tea is high in antioxidants and has photoprotective properties to reduce UV-induced oxidative stress and inflammation which can damage skin cells.
This tea has also been studied as a treatment for acne and has demonstrated efficacy in reducing the number of both inflammatory and noninflammatory blemishes.
Maca root is a plant that grows in the Andes Mountains in central Peru, and has long been used as a natural remedy to treat certain health issues.
More studies are needed, but some preliminary evidence suggests it may regulate hormonal imbalances in pre and postmenopausal women and to inhibit cortisol, a stress hormone.
This can have a direct effect in inhibiting acne as fluctuating hormones and high levels of cortisol increase oil production to increase the risk of breakouts.
Magnesium and calcium
Magnesium and calcium are both trace minerals that work in tandem to provide several bodily functions. They are best taken together as magnesium helps with calcium absorption.
Magnesium is a proven anti-inflammatory that can also have a positive impact on stress levels by reducing cortisol. Many studies have strongly correlated an increase in stress severity with an increase in acne severity.
This mineral can also play a role in enhancing skin hydration, improving cellular processes and skin barrier repair.
Science has shown that acne is a rare condition in societies with higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids play a crucial role in inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which induces inflammation.
One study demonstrated this theory; patients with mild-to-moderate acne taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements achieved a significant decrease in inflammatory and noninflammatory acne lesions. You can find omega-3 in dietary supplements such as fish oil.
While selenium is found in very small concentrations in the body, it’s still critical for human health; one of its essential roles is treating dermatologic conditions such as acne. Studies show that selenium has been found to be low in patients with acne.
One study of selenium supplements combined with vitamin E led to an improvement in acne. Both these supplements are antioxidants, and combining both produces greater protection from damaging free radicals.
Selenium also protects against lipid oxidation; when sebum is exposed to oxidative stressors, such as UVA radiation, sebum can thicken and form comedones, a noninflammatory form of acne.
Deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to an impaired immune response and greater risks of skin infections and inflammatory skin diseases such as acne. In patients with acne, it has been found that vitamin A levels decrease as the disease increases in severity.
Vitamin A is a member of the retinoid group of compounds commonly used as topical treatments for moderate-to-severe acne, however, oral supplementation has also been studied and shown to be effective, and is another way to protect the immune system and achieve healthy clear skin.
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that can protect skin from the damaging effects of free radicals; as an inflammatory, it can help ease the swelling and redness of inflamed lesions.
This vitamin can boost wound healing and skin cell turnover as well as hydrate skin. All these benefits work in harmony to protect skin, rid skin of pore-clogging oils and debris, and reduce the risk of acne breakouts.
Due to its effectiveness, this vitamin has also been suggested as a replacement for isotretinoin, an oral retinoid prescribed for severe acne.
While vitamin D is referred to as a vitamin, it is actually a hormone. The body absorbs vitamin D from the sun and is converted by the liver and kidneys into a hormone. Having a vitamin deficiency (whether due to genetics, lifestyle or diet) can therefore contribute to acne development
Supplementing with vitamin D can produce strong results as it has antioxidant and anticomedogenic properties, and can inhibit Cutibacterium acnes bacteria. This means it is an effective treatment for inflammatory acne as well as noninflamed blackheads and whiteheads.
As with vitamin E, a vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of inflammatory diseases. This theory was supported in one study that found a deficiency was more frequent in patients with acne and related with acne severity, especially with regard to inflammatory acne.
Vitamin D is a potent anti-inflammatory that’s crucial for a healthy immune system; as a supplement, it has been demonstrated to produce improvements in acne inflammation. It also improves hydration and is ideal for all skin types, especially dry skin.
Vitamin E can be used as a sole treatment but is typically combined with other supplements to achieve greater results; for example, vitamins C and E work well together as both are antioxidants and together, provide significant protection by scavenging free radicals.
Science has established that there is a relationship between low levels of vitamin E and the risk of chronic inflammatory skin diseases such as acne so having adequate stores is important to reduce flare-ups.
Vitamin E can boost the immune system to tamp down inflammation and lower the risk of skin damage. In one study of oral supplementation and atopic dermatitis this vitamin improved redness, skin texture and itching.
When combined with zinc supplements, a twice-daily regimen significantly reduced acne pimples in patients with mild-to-moderate acne.
Zinc is a mineral that can provide a number of excellent benefits to acne-prone skin; it has demonstrated antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, can decrease oil production and plays a role in the wound-healing process. It can also protect against photodamage.
Co-treatment with zinc and vitamin C has been shown to exhibit antimicrobial activity to help eliminate bacteria in acne.
Can Some Supplements Cause Acne?
Several supplements have been linked to acne including the following:
- Vitamin B12 can cause inflammation and trigger breakouts.
- Iodine is linked to inflammatory pustules on the face and upper trunk
Natural remedies and herbal medicines have few side effects and can help alleviate uncomfortable acne symptoms such as itching, redness, swelling and pain.
They are best used in a supportive role alongside established treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or for severe cystic acne, accutane.
Milk thistle contains silymarin which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A study on patients with acne combined silymarin and antioxidants N-acetylcysteine and selenium for a significant reduction in inflammatory lesions.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose contains gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) which is an essential fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory effects to target swelling, redness and help heal lesions.
The gut-skin axis refers to the symbiotic relationship between the gut microbiome and skin health. When there is dysregulation in the gut, this imbalance negatively impacts the immune system and causes inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea and acne.
Maintaining a healthy gut flora can be achieved by supplementing with probiotics; these are gut-friendly bacteria that can regulate digestion, directly inhibit C. acnes bacteria, strengthen the immune system, and prevent irritation and inflammation in the gut.
Clinical trials have demonstrated that probiotics, especially oral probiotics, can produce positive results.
A deficiency in vitamins and minerals, whether through lifestyle or genetics, can have a detrimental effect on your overall health which contributes to skin inflammation and can manifest as acne. Studies have shown a direct link between vitamin deficiencies and severity of acne.
Increasing levels of these nutrients through supplementation can protect skin against damaging environmental contaminants by fighting oxidative stress, guarding against damaging UV rays, reducing inflammation and helping the body fight infection and bacteria.
Other benefits include protecting and strengthening the skin barrier by enhancing production of barrier lipids, especially ceramides; these help improve irritation and dryness by moisturizing and hydrating skin.
Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, D and E, and zinc and selenium all have valuable attributes to target acne and help restore skin to a healthy state. Combining several vitamins can also produce greater results.
Alternative and natural supplements such as milk thistle, evening primrose oil and probiotics can play a supporting role by reducing inflammation and alleviating uncomfortable acne symptoms.
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