Acne, formally known as acne vulgaris, is a skin condition that can cause pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads. It happens when the pores of your skin get blocked with dead skin, bacteria, or oil. While acne is most prevalent among adolescents – even peaking at 87% of adolescents – it can affect people of all ages. As anyone who’s struggled with acne can tell you, it can be a frustrating condition to manage. In severe cases, it can be painful and even cause scarring. And even in less extreme cases can be distressing, given acne’s effect on one’s outward appearance. If acne is giving you trouble, know that you’re in good company. Fortunately, acne is highly treatable.
Acne typically begins in adolescence and affects teenagers and young adults. About 87% of adolescents – or people aged 12 to 24 – experience at least minor acne. That said, acne is the most common skin condition affecting Americans, with up to 50 million people affected annually.
The hormones naturally created by our bodies – especially in adolescence – play a role in the development of acne. For example, circulating testosterone seems to play a role in the emergence of acne lesions.
Yes, supplements can indeed help hormonal acne – by acting as antioxidants and promoting hormonal balance. Read on to learn more about which supplements are especially helpful.
When considering whether vitamin A could be helpful for acne, it’s important to distinguish between vitamin A oral supplements and topical vitamin A, which is found in cream and lotion form. While vitamin A oral supplements can actually be counterproductive for acne, topical vitamin A has shown some promising signs.
Topical medications change the vitamin into a retinoid that can be rubbed on your skin. Topical retinoids have a demonstrated track record of treating skin conditions, including acne. Retinoids have the ability to regenerate and heal your skin. For severe acne cases resistant to topical treatment, the vitamin A derivative oral isotretinoin can be used as a potential remedy.
If you’re pregnant or planning to conceive you should avoid using retinoids. Moreover, the substance can weaken your skin’s natural UV protection, so too much time in the sun can be especially harmful. Consult a medical professional about your skin and the best plan to target your acne and achieve your skin goals.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the topical use of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) can improve acne however most professionals do not recommend this. Always talk to your dermatologist to address skin concerns and figure out the best treatment plan. In general, magnesium is an important mineral in your body and is widely available in food. While more research is needed to demonstrate a connection between low magnesium levels and acne, early studies suggest that there may be some correlation.
Zinc, a mineral that is available as an oral supplement and as a topical treatment, can help promote healthy skin. Studies have shown that people experiencing certain skin issues tend to have less zinc in their systems than those with clearer skin. One study, in particular, had 48 people with acne take zinc supplements three times per day. After just eight weeks, 38 of the subjects had experienced an 80-100% reduction in pimples. Moreover, an analysis of previous studies found that zinc can decrease your skin’s oil production, a key part in maintaining healthy skin. Another study found that applying a topical lotion of 1.2% zinc resulted in much clearer skin.
Taking too much zinc can be harmful, so you should try to keep your dosage below 40 mg per day. Always check with a medical professional before proceeding to start any new supplements or topicals.
Researchers are increasingly finding a clearer connection between vitamin D levels and acne. A 2014 study, for example, found a correlation with vitamin D levels and skin health. Another study of 39 people found that people with clinical vitamin D deficiencies who also had acne saw improvements in their symptoms upon taking oral vitamin D supplements. The results from this study suggest that those with skin issues consider testing their vitamin D levels among other nutrients.
Fish oil and algae oil are great sources of omega-3 and omega-6, both essential fatty acids. Studies have shown that diets rich in fish containing omega-3 resulted in less oil produced by the skin. Omega-3 and omega-6 have also been shown to have beneficial properties that can be good for skin health. Omega-3 is richly available in a variety of foods, including mackerel and salmon. For those who eat plant-based diets, omega-3 and omega-6 are available in supplement form.
B-vitamins have yielded mixed results in managing skin health. Studies of vitamin B12 supplements actually showed that these supplements can lead to the emergence of acne or exacerbate existing acne. However, another study showed that pantothenic acid – or vitamin B5 – helped reduce facial lesions caused by acne after being applied topically for 12 weeks. Further randomized, placebo-controlled are needed to better understand B-vitamins and skin health.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that your body doesn’t naturally produce, which means you have to get it through your diet. It’s essential to many areas of your health, including your skin health. A study from Oregon State University shows that topical vitamin C may be helpful in promoting healthy skin.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant. This means vitamin C helps neutralize unstable, cell-damaging compounds known as free radicals. Free radicals can affect your skin health.
Furthermore, your top layer of skin – the part that’s visible, known as the epidermis – has a lot of vitamin C; the vitamin helps heal, protect, and create new skin. Vitamin C is needed to help with the production of collagen, which can help with maintaining healthy skin.
Recent studies have shown that the use of probiotics may be effective in promoting healthy skin. The topical application of probiotics in skincare has been shown to increase skin properties that keep the skin moist and target factors that can lead to acne formation. Probiotics can bring out the production of health ceramides that restore health fats and boost healthy skin. There so many potential benefits with skin health and probiotics however additional clinical trials are needed.
A recent study found that diet can play a role in healthy skin. Some foods were found to be potentially helpful while some foods were found to worsen skin health. For example, it was found that achieving a low glycemic index by cutting out processed foods could promote healthy skim. Likewise, cutting back on milk and other dairy products could help with achieving clearer skin. Diets with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, meanwhile, can help maintain healthy skin.
More research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of probiotic-rich diets on acne, but early findings are promising. Vegetarian and vegan diets, despite all their nutritional benefits, haven’t been demonstrated to be effective in addressing acne.
If acne is a problem for you, you should talk to your dermatologist and consider making some slight dietary adjustments.
Odds are, you’ve heard some common myths surrounding acne. One popular myth is that only teens get acne. While it’s true that acne mainly affects adolescents, they’re far from the only people who can experience acne. Another common myth is that acne is caused by dirt. As you’ve now seen, this isn't true, either. Acne is caused by a number of factors that are often no fault of your own. And finally, we’ve all heard the myth that popping pimples somehow makes them go away more quickly. On the contrary, popping them can do more harm than good! Instead of popping pimples, try incorporating some of the supplements listed above.
While there’s no magic solution for acne, there are things you can do to help the situation. A balanced diet, regular hydration, and exercise can lay a firm foundation for skin health – along with applying sunscreen to protect from UV damage. The supplements listed above can be part of a balanced approach to promoting healthy skin. Consult with a medical professional for more information.