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Should You Be Taking Acne Supplements?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Scores of nutrition experts recommend taking supplements for fighting acne. But are the recommendations for acne supplements honest and unbiased? Let’s look at the most popular acne supplements one by one.

vitamin c structure
Vitamin C can help prevent damage from free radicals when applied directly to the skin.


  • The right supplements in the right form can be very helpful in fighting acne.
  • Up to 5,000 IU of vitamin A a day helps to fight acne1.
  • Vitamin B12 in an important vitamin, but don’t take too much.
  • Vitamin C and vitamin E applied directly to the skin can help prevent damage from UV light, but only Vitamin C can help to reduce the dark color of post-healing blemishes.
  • Selenium and zinc help with acne, but it’s important to know how much to take.
  • Probiotics can help to create a balanced skin microbiome, with “good bacteria” helping to keep acne bacteria in check2. Probiotic supplements, like those offered by Exposed Skin Care, are a great way to get more of the probiotic bacteria you need.

Vitamin A Is a Useful Supplement for Acne

Vitamin A is one of the most useful nutritional supplements for acne3. The major downside of taking vitamin A is that it is easy to take too much. About 5,000 IU of vitamin A day has optimal benefits for the skin. More than this can be dangerous. Any kind of vitamin A supplement has to be encapsulated to protect it from oxidation. If you choose to use retinol (another form of vitamin A) creams, they only stay fresh if they are in squeeze tubes, because retinol in products in jars will oxidize as soon as you open the container.

Vitamin B Supplements Are Good Additions to Isotretinoin Treatment

Generally speaking, vitamin B is one of the few vitamins you actually want to avoid if you have acne. Studies have shown that vitamin B supplementation can actually cause acne in just one week4. However, if you use isotretinoin (commonly known as Accutane), your body may have problems using vitamin B12. In this case, research has shown that supplementing your diet with extra vitamin B can actually help prevent some of the side effects common with isotretinoin treatment5.

Don’t take a stand-alone vitamin B12 or methylcobalamin (the scientific name for vitamin B12) supplement. Vitamin B12 will not work without enough vitamin B6 and folate. Take a “complete B” supplement and no more than 1000% of the Recommended Daily Intake of any B vitamin. The reason to take a complete B vitamin supplement is that the body uses B vitamins in pairs or triplets, and to use one B vitamin, you always have to have all the others.

Vitamin C Is Great for Preventing Brown Spots on the Skin

Vitamin C is a nutrient you use on your skin. It is not especially helpful for acne care if you take it as an oral supplement6, although you may have other health concerns that benefit from oral vitamin C. Topical vitamin C products can prevent lasting skin damage after acne heals. If you typically experience dark spots that linger after acne heals, then you’ll definitely want to try topical vitamin C. Those dark spots are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and they form due to excess melanin produced during the healing process. Studies show that vitamin C significantly reduces inflammation and can be an effective treatment for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as well.3 Be sure to use a product that is squeezed from a tube. Vitamin C in a product in a jar will go bad soon after you open the container.

Vitamin E Supplements Are Also Best Directly Applied to the Skin

Like vitamin C, vitamin E is most effective in treating acne when applied directly to the skin. Studies show that when combined with vitamin C, vitamin E prevents the formation of clogged pores7. This is great news for preventing acne, especially blackheads and whiteheads, however, it can also be helpful when it comes to pimples. By preventing the pores from clogging, vitamin E and vitamin C also prevent acne-causing bacteria from forming an infection within a clogged pore, thus preventing pimples as well.

Vitamin E for skin protection is only useful if it comes in a squeeze tube. Any kind of vitamin E you dip out of a jar will go bad as soon as the container is opened. Look for tocopheryl acetate in the list of ingredients on any acne treatment you’re considering.

Go Nuts for Selenium

Up to 400 micrograms of selenium per day can help to reduce acne1. This trace mineral helps to prevent oxidative damage through reducing the accumulation of free radicals8 that can lead to inflammation in the skin.

You don’t have to take a selenium supplement. If you are not allergic to tree nuts, you can also eat two or three Brazil nuts9 a day. They will provide your skin with all the selenium it needs to fight acne, along with healthy essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation.

Zinc for Immune Balance

Zinc is another mineral element that is important to the health of the skin. Zinc is not an immune system stimulant. It is actually an immune modulator. The body uses it to make the regulatory hormones that keep inflammation from destroying acne-prone skin. Studies show that many people with acne tend to have lower-than-average zinc levels10, and that raising these zinc levels with zinc supplements can significantly improve acne1.

Zinc is a nutrient you take by mouth. As little as 15 mg a day of any kind of zinc supplement can make a noticeable difference. More, however, is not better. You should never take more than 75 mg of zinc a day for more than 2 days (when you are fighting a cold), and you should not take more than 30 mg of zinc a day on an ongoing basis unless you also take 1 to 3 milligrams of copper per day.

The lozenges you use to fight colds won’t help with acne. Zinc lozenges generate zinc to be spread over the throat with saliva. You need a pill or capsule that you swallow to get zinc into your bloodstream for the health of your skin.

Probiotics Compete with Acne Bacteria

Probiotics are essentially supplements that encourage the growth of “good” bacteria. Our gut is a complicated system containing all kinds of helpful and unhelpful bacteria, and one of the best ways to control the “bad” bacteria is to boost the “good” bacteria. There are several ways to accomplish this but the simplest is through probiotics. Studies show that the balance provided by probiotics can have a positive impact on acne11.

The probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilous is believed to be one of the best probiotics for fighting acne specifically12. Living in the lining of the colon, this bacterium could help reduce inflammation, control oxidative stress, influence glycemic control, and even impact mood.

The most reliable way to get probiotics in your colon is using encapsulated supplements. You can also eat yogurt or drink kefir in small amounts several times a day to help the healthy bacteria stay in your digestive tract.



  1. Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016 Apr;33(2):81-6.
  2. Wang Y, Kuo S, Shu M, Yu J, Huang S, Dai A, Two A, Gallo RL, Huang CM. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014 Jan;98(1):411-24.
  3. Kotori MG. Low-dose Vitamin “A” Tablets-treatment of Acne Vulgaris. Med Arch. 2015 Feb;69(1):28-30.
  4. Kang D, Shi B, Erfe MC, Craft N, Li H. Vitamin B12 modulates the transcriptome of the skin microbiota in acne pathogenesis. Sci Transl Med. 2015 Jun 24;7(293):293ra103.
  5. Ghiasi M, Mortazavi H, Jafari M. Efficacy of folic acid and vitamin B12 replacement therapies in the reduction of adverse effects of isotretinoin: a randomized controlled trial. Skinmed. 2018 Jul;16(4):293-245.
  6. Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013 Apr;4(2):143-6.
  7. Keen MA, Hassan I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016 Jul-Aug;7(4):311-5.
  8. McKenzie, R. C. (2000). Selenium, ultraviolet radiation and the skin. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, 25(8), 631–636.
  9. Selenium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed 2019.
  10. Siniavskiĭ I, Tsoĭ N. Influence of nutritional patterns on the severity of acne in young adults. Vopr Pitan. 2014;83(1):41-7.
  11. Bowe W, Patel N, Logan A. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis: from anecdote to translational medicine. Benef Microbes. 2014 Jun;5(2):185-99.
  12. Bowe W, Logan A. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan;3(1):1.
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Marsha Reply

is there one multi vitamin for problem skin or acne on the market

May 30, 2016 at 12:04 am Reply

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