- Supplements can help reduce acne symptoms if your diet is lacking in specific nutrients.
- Some dietary supplements are better suited to treating hormonal acne; others have higher efficacy for inflammatory acne.
- Vitamins C and K are effective at reducing acne scars
- Alternative and natural remedies can also help soothe inflamed acne and clear skin.
- Excess vitamin B12 and iodine can trigger acne symptoms, so it’s best to avoid them.
Acne is a common skin disease caused by a wide range of underlying causes, including hormonal changes, bacteria, stress, poor hygiene and inflammation. Diet can also play a part. Acne breakouts can be triggered when the body has too little or too much of certain nutrients.
Knowing which supplements improve acne and reduce scarring is vital. This article looks at the latest research findings to determine which skin care supplements make the best acne treatments and how they work.
Can Supplements Improve Acne?
Research suggests some dietary supplements can significantly reduce acne symptoms. As the body’s largest organ, the skin needs a balance of nutrients to remain healthy. Supplements can help ensure it receives these nutrients if your regular diet lacks them.
Supplements for hormonal acne
Fluctuations in hormone levels can trigger an acne breakout, typically during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Researchers also implicate birth control medication in adult acne. Certain supplements are more effective than others at alleviating hormonal acne, including:
A micronutrient essential for healthy skin function, zinc supplements inhibit inflammation and have an antibacterial effect on the bacteria that causes pimples. It also reduces dihydrotestosterone (DHT) production, which can block pores and boost inflammation.
Unhealthy gut flora has been linked to a range of skin conditions, including acne. Probiotic supplements assist in the formation of a healthy gut microbiome. Research suggests that probiotics can reduce the inflammation associated with hormonal acne because it helps process and eliminate excess oestrogen.
A herbaceous plant known to stabilize hormones, maca root acts as an adaptogen to reduce stress and adrenal fatigue. It helps establish endocrine balance and regulate the hormones that trigger acne breakouts.
Supplements for acne scars
Anti-inflammatory vitamin C supplements can promote wound healing and prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or skin discolorations that result from inflammatory acne.
Studies show that vitamin C supplements can also play an active role in reducing Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacteria that causes acne, so they can both target the causes of acne and reduce scarring.
Vitamin E supplements are popularly associated with wound healing, and research shows it does have sun protective and skin barrier stabilizing properties. However, scientific evidence for vitamin E’s efficacy in reducing scarring is still lacking.
Vitamins K1 & K2
Vitamins K1 and K2 are essential for skin health and acne prevention. Vitamin K promotes the protein formation that maintains healthy skin cells. This helps prevent acne breakouts and reduce the incidence of scarring.
Best Supplements for Acne
Mechanisms other than hormonal imbalance can also trigger acne development, including chronic inflammation. Products that help decrease inflammation are often most effective at reducing the severity of an acne breakout and minimise lesions and scarring.
One of the best-known topical treatments for acne, vitamin A is part of the retinoid group of compounds commonly used in over-the-counter acne treatments. However, dermatologists may also prescribe low-dose vitamin A tablets as an effective treatment for moderate acne that supports the immune system and healthy skin.
Vitamin A regulates the body’s ability to shed dead skin cells, helping to keep pores clear of sebum, acne-causing bacteria and dirt and decreases the incidence of blemishes. Vitamin A is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to minimize swelling and redness in inflammatory acne breakouts.
Vitamin D is a potent anti-inflammatory that’s crucial for a healthy immune system. Low vitamin D levels are linked to a range of skin conditions, such as dermatitis, psoriasis and inflammatory acne. Vitamin D deficiency can also make acne symptoms worse.
One research study found that almost 50% of participants with acne had vitamin D deficiency, compared to 23% in the control group without acne. The research also showed that vitamin D deficiency also correlated with more severe acne.
In a follow-up study, taking 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D for 2 months was found to decrease the appearance of acne lesions in those deficient significantly.
Selenium is an antioxidant that works in synergy with other antioxidants to optimise their effectiveness against free radicals. A deficiency in this naturally-occurring mineral contributes to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and makes it more difficult to control breakouts. As selenium regulates glutathione peroxidase enzyme function, its presence in the body increases antioxidant levels, which in turn decreases inflamed acne and boosts overall health.
Green tea extract
High in antioxidants, studies suggest green tea extract has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that may benefit those with acne.
Researchers studied 80 women with moderate to severe acne. They found those who supplemented their diet with 1,500 mg of green tea extract over 4 weeks saw a significant decrease in acne lesions, compared with a control group.
Barberry’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties significantly reduce acne lesions, according to some studies. A herb used in traditional medicine, barbery’s ability to inhibit fatty acid formation in animal sebaceous glands also suggests it might be a useful anti-acne treatment once further studies are complete.
Study participants were given 600mg of barberry for 4 weeks. Results show inflamed acne lesions, and breakout severity declined significantly, compared to a placebo group. Researchers, therefore, concluded barberry was safe, well-tolerated and effective for treating moderate to severe acne vulgaris.
Acne is relatively rare in cultures with high consumption of omega-3-rich fish oils. Research suggests that omega-3 can reduce moderate to severe acne by targeting the cytokines that cause inflammation.
One recent study with 45 participants with mild to moderate acne were given 2,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily for 10 weeks. At the end of the trial, inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions had decreased significantly without any adverse effects.
Magnesium and calcium
Magnesium is an essential nutrient for fighting inflammation in the body, including the skin. When taken alongside calcium supplements, it can reduce inflammatory acne symptoms and facilitate skin cell turnover, decreasing the incidence of clogged pores.
Can Some Supplements Cause Acne?
Some supplements can cause acne-prone skin to flare up and should be avoided. These include:
- Vitamin B12 is essential for overall health and found in animal and dairy products, B-complex and multivitamin supplements. However, an excess of B12 disrupts acne-causing bacteria, triggering breakouts.
- Iodine is commonly added to dairy products and is essential for human health. Research suggests too much iodine may cause more severe inflammatory acne lesions because it strengthens the body’s immune system response to infection and bacteria.
Natural remedies and oral medication that are effective at combating acne formation include:
Milk thistle contains silymarin which has a moderate anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect on acne. It also assists with liver cleansing, which helps the body process fat more efficiently, leading to healthier skin overall.
CBD oil has potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that may help treat acne. One study has found it reduced excessive production of sebum and prevented inflammatory cytokines from activating acne. More investigation is needed, but initial results have proved promising.
Evening primrose oil
A good source of fatty acids omega-6 and GLA, evening primrose helps soothe painful cystic acne. It’s anti-inflammatory properties calms and strengthens skin, heals lesions and reduces redness.
If your diet lacks specific nutrients, taking supplements to treat acne can stabilize hormones, reduce inflammation and help the body fight infection and bacteria.
For hormonal acne, zinc, probiotics and maca root have proven useful in decreasing symptoms. For acne caused by inflammation, research recommends vitamins A and D, green tea extract, barberry, omega-3 oils, and a combined magnesium and calcium supplement. Vitamin C and vitamin K are both effective in reducing acne scarring.
Alternative and natural supplements that may help soothe your acne include milk thistle, CBD oil and evening primrose oil. Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of these alternatives. However, initial studies appear favourable.
Not all nutritional supplements help alleviate acne. Too much vitamin B12 and iodine can also trigger an acne breakout in some people.
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