Should You Be Taking Acne Supplements?
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.
- 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. Excessive vitamin B12 itself can also make your skin break out2.
- 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 blemishes3,4.
- Selenium and zinc help with acne1. But don’t take too much.
- Probiotics can help to create a balanced skin microbiome, with “good bacteria” helping to keep acne bacteria in check5. 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 the one of the most useful nutritional supplements for acne6. The major downside in 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.
You May Need Vitamin B Supplements, But They Won’t Help Acne
If you use Accutane, Retin-A, Tazorac, or Differin, your body may have problems using vitamin B12. The enzymes that these medications interfere with will work properly if you take supplemental vitamin B12—but you don’t want to take large amounts of vitamin B12 you don’t need. Excess vitamin B12 can make your skin breakout.
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 supplement3, although you may have other health concerns that benefit from oral vitamin C. Vitamin C products can prevent lasting skin damage after acne heals3. Be sure to use a product that is squeezed from a tube. Vitamimin C in a product in a jar will go bad soon after you open the container.
Vitamin D Supplements Are Necessary If You Use Sun Screen
In the early 1990’s, the Australian national health service waged a campaign on skin cancer. They urged all Australians to slather themselves with sun block every time they went out the door, and it worked. Australians eagerly complied. And skin cancer rates went up, not down.
It turns out that vitamin D protects against many forms of cancer, including skin cancer. The skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. If you always use sunscreen, take at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D every day for your general health. Taking supplemental vitamin D is also a good idea during winter.
Vitamin E Supplements Are Also Best Directly Applied to the Skin
Vitamin E supplements you take by mouth recharge your body’s vitamin C. They also enter into hundreds of cell-protective processes, especially if you have heart disease or diabetes. But to heal your skin after acne, you need vitamin E applied directly to the skin. Vitamin E on the skin is especially helpful for preventing brown spots on Asian and naturally brown skin as acne heals.
Like vitamin C, 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.
Go Nuts for Selenium
Up to 400 micrograms of selenium per day helps to reduce acne1. This trace mineral helps to prevent oxidative damage through reducing the accumulation of free radicals7 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 nuts8 a day. They will provide your skin with all the selenium it needs to fight acne, along with healthy essential fatty acids that reduce the production of 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.
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 of capsule that your swallow to get zinc into your bloodstream for the health of your skin.
Probiotics Compete with Acne Bacteria
The probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilous plays a unique role in fighting acne. Living in the lining of the colon, this bacterium interacts with the immune system to teach it that bacteria aren’t always bad—and it carries this information to the skin where it releases less inflammation against otherwise-harmless acne bacteria.
The most reliable way to get probiotics in your colon is using encapsulated supplements. You can also eat yogurt or mazan or drink kefir in small amounts several times a day to help the healthy bacteria stay in your digestive tract.
- Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016 Apr;33(2):81-6.
- 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.
- Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013 Apr;4(2):143-6.
- Keen MA, Hassan I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016 Jul-Aug;7(4):311-5.
- 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.
- Kotori MG. Low-dose Vitamin “A” Tablets-treatment of Acne Vulgaris. Med Arch. 2015 Feb;69(1):28-30.
- McKenzie, R. C. (2000). Selenium, ultraviolet radiation and the skin. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, 25(8), 631–636.
- Selenium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
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