- Vitamins for acne can help to fight inflammation and acne-causing bacteria to treat and prevent breakouts.
- Some vitamins such as vitamins A, C, D and E can be beneficial for treating acne and acne scars in some people.
- Vitamins may be used orally and topically to treat the symptoms of acne.
- Alternative supplements such as zinc, selenium and EPA can also help to target inflammation, reduce the symptoms of acne and prevent future breakouts.
Certain vitamins may be used to treat acne, a common skin condition that affects millions of people every year. Available acne treatments include over-the-counter cleansers, topical moisturizers, gels, prescription medications, minerals and vitamin supplements.
Can Vitamin Supplements Improve Acne?
Vitamin supplements can improve acne symptoms and may help to prevent breakouts, in some cases. This is because vitamin deficiencies and hormonal imbalances can cause acne.
Acne is sometimes linked to a vitamin D deficiency, so supplementing with vitamin D–a hormone–may help to reduce breakouts due to vitamin deficiency.
Research shows a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and worsened acne symptoms. One study from 2016 revealed that patients with acne reported major improvement in their breakout symptoms while supplementing with oral vitamin D. Another study found that people with nodulocystic acne experienced worse symptoms when they were vitamin D deficient.
Some research also suggests that taking oral vitamin A supplements may be effective against acne. However, more research is needed to determine how effective vitamin A supplements are.
Vitamins vs. minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that are found naturally in foods. For people who don’t get enough vitamins or minerals from their food, supplements are an excellent source of these nutrients.
Our bodies need vitamins to function properly. Vitamins are organic compounds that we must get from food–they are not made in the body.
In contrast, minerals are compounds that are inorganic. They do not break down in the body. Minerals help muscles work properly, aid in hormone production and help to form healthy bones. Trace minerals such as zinc and selenium can help to alleviate symptoms of acne by fighting inflammation.
Best Vitamins for Acne
There are several vitamins in both topical and oral formulations that can help to encourage healthy skin and alleviate the symptoms of acne breakouts.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is found in liver meats, fish, certain fruits and vegetables and leafy greens. It may be used as a topical treatment or taken internally. Vitamin A-derived products are available over-the-counter and through prescription.
Topical vitamin A formulations, called retinoids or retinols, are highly effective against acne breakouts. Retinol is available in both OTC creams and gels, as well as prescription topicals such as tretinoin. It encourages healthy cell turnover, fights inflammation, regulates oil production, protects the skin from environmental irritants and evens skin tone.
Taking oral, OTC vitamin A supplements may help to reduce acne breakouts, but more research needs to be conducted. So far, the results of studies have been conflicting. It appears that high doses are required in order for vitamin A supplements to relieve symptoms of acne.
Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, though, it builds up in the body over time. Taking more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A supplements can cause toxicity in the body.
Prescription, oral vitamin A, or isotretinoin, is a controversial treatment. The most well-known, brand name isotretinoin is Accutane, which carries a long list of adverse side effects. If you need to take prescription vitamin A, it’s best to take it only for short periods of time. Isotretinoin isn’t appropriate for people who are pregnant or may become pregnant, as it is associated with a high incidence of birth defects.
Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory, collagen-boosting and antioxidant properties. This vitamin is antiseptic and is known to treat redness and kill the bacteria that causes acne. It’s an excellent natural choice for some people with inflammatory acne.
Vitamin C helps to treat hyperpigmentation by lightening the skin. In some people, it may help to reduce the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation caused by acne. The natural citric acid in vitamin C is an ingredient commonly found in skin-lightening products.
Lemon juice is a commonly-recommended natural skin care ingredient that contains vitamin C and can help to lighten skin.
Vitamin C’s healing benefits are thought to be caused by its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It has not been researched to the same extent as vitamin A has.
Vitamin D is a hormone that our bodies receive from dietary supplements and healthy exposure to sunlight. This vitamin helps to regulate the immune system and may help to alleviate the symptoms of acne in some people.
It’s possible that having a vitamin D deficiency could lead to worsened acne symptoms in some individuals. Clinical evidence suggests that supplementing some vitamin D-deficient patients with acne alleviated their acne symptoms.
Using a topical vitamin E formulation appears to help with acne in some people. However, taking vitamin E orally doesn’t appear to be helpful for clearing breakouts, papules and pustules associated with acne.
Although vitamin E hasn’t been studied extensively on its own as an acne treatment, it has been studied in combination with other treatments. For example, in one study, topical vitamin E combined with lactoferrin and zinc was an effective acne treatment. Vitamins A and E, combined, also appear to be effective in the treatment of acne.
Because there is limited evidence that vitamin E alone can treat acne, more research is needed to determine exactly how effective it is.
Vitamins for Acne Scars
Vitamin A and Vitamin C topicals may help reduce the appearance of acne scars in some people.
Retinol–topical Vitamin A–helps to even the skin tone and encourages healthy cell turnover.
Tretinoin–a topical, prescription vitamin A treatment–has been found to help flatten atrophic acne scars in some people. The success of the treatment appeared to depend on the age of the scar and the severity. Younger scars responded best, in addition to ice pick scars and superficial scars.
Topical vitamin C may help to reduce the appearance of acne scars by lightening hyperpigmented skin.
Alternatives to vitamin supplements, such as zinc and selenium, can also be used to alleviate inflammation and address acne breakouts.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is used topically and orally to treat acne. It regulates cell turnover and sebum production, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
This mineral also helps to block harmful bacteria, protect the body from illness, maintain internal homeostasis and boost the immune system.
Zinc works best for mild to moderate symptoms of acne. Oral zinc supplements are considered to be more effective against acne than topical formulations like lotions.
Selenium is another mineral with antioxidant properties that is found in found in foods such as halibut, salmon, seafood, grains and nuts. This mineral works alongside other minerals and helps to maintain levels of antioxidants in the body. Selenium deficiency can lead to inflammation-related conditions like acne.
In one study, people with low glutathione peroxidase levels were supplemented with a combination of selenium and tocopheryl succinate. The supplements reduced symptoms of acne, particularly pimples.
Selenium shouldn’t be taken on its own, but should instead be combined with zinc and other antioxidants.
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is found in seafood and fish. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory, which can help fight the inflammation associated with acne. Taking EPA Omega-3 supplements by mouth is the best way to use EPA for acne.
Vitamins such as vitamins A, C, D and E can be beneficial in fighting acne breakouts, treating acne scars and preventing future breakouts.
- Vitamin A can be effectively used in both oral and topical forms. It encourages the body to shed dead skin cells and helps to even skin tone.
- Vitamin C contains skin-lightening agent and may help to reduce the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmented spots on the skin.
- Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to worsening of acne symptoms; supplementing with it may help to alleviate breakouts.
- Topical Vitamin E may help to clear breakouts and smooth skin.
Alternative supplements such as zinc, selenium and EPA are powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients that can help treat acne from the inside out by first treating the inflammation that causes breakouts.
If you’re unsure which vitamin for acne is right for your skin health and type, ask your dermatologist. They will be able to help you determine the supplement that is most likely to help nourish and heal your skin.
- Lim, S. K., Ha, J. M., Lee, Y. H., Lee, Y., Seo, Y. J., Kim, C. D., … Im, M. (2016). Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PloS one, 11(8), e0161162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161162
- Yildizgören, M. T., & Togral, A. K. (2015). Preliminary evidence for vitamin D deficiency in nodulocystic acne. Dermato-endocrinology, 6(1), e983687. doi:10.4161/derm.29799
- Brandt, S. (2013). The clinical effects of zinc as a topical or oral agent on the clinical response and pathophysiologic mechanisms of acne: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD, 12(5), 542-545. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23652948
- Chan, H., Chan, G., Santos, J., Dee, K., & Co, J. K. (2017). A randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled trial to determine the efficacy and safety of lactoferrin with vitamin E and zinc as an oral therapy for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. International journal of dermatology, 56(6), 686-690. DOI:10.1111/ijd.13607
- Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32–40. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22808307
- Knor T. Flattening of atrophic acne scars by using tretinoin by iontophoresis. Acta Dermatovenerologica Croatica : ADC. 2004 ;12(2):84-91. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15075042
- Lim, S. K., Ha, J. M., Lee, Y. H., Lee, Y., Seo, Y. J., Kim, C. D., … & Im, M. (2016). Comparison of vitamin D levels in patients with and without acne: a case-control study combined with a randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 11(8), e0161162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161162