Last Updated on August 7th, 2019
Getting enough vitamin B6 is an important part of preventing and treating acne. Getting too much vitamin B6, however, can actually make acne worse.
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From the standpoint of treating acne, the key importance of getting enough vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) is preventing production of excess sebum. Vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively rare in North America, but when it happens, the skin can be literally coated with yellow, gooey, mucus-like sebum. This can aggravate acne, or the sebum production can be so excessive that acne germs are effectively smothered—although you would not like the cosmetic result.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin. You do not maintain the benefits of vitamin B6 for preventing and treating acne unless you get some vitamin B6 in your diet every day. Because B6 is a water-soluble vitamin2, you body can absorb a lot more B6 than it needs when you take high doses of supplements. The excess, however, is excreted into stool, saliva, and urine just two to four hours after you take it. Within 24 hours, almost nothing is left of the B6 ingested the previous day and it is necessary to take more3.
In the United States and Canada, vitamins and iron are added to flour used to make cereals and bread. In North America, vitamin B6 deficiency severe enough to cause production of excess sebum is rare. In Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea, however, most people get only about 80% of their minimum daily requirements. If oily skin is a problem, vitamin B6 supplementation is a good place to start.
When millers make white flour from whole grains, they take most of the vitamin B6 out of the grain along with the wheat germ. American flour makers put the B6 back in. Eating just two to three servings of store-bought baked goods every day helps North Americans avoid the deficiency that can cause oily skin acne, seborrhea, dandruff, intertrigo (rashes in the folds of the skin), chapped lips, and conjunctivitis (itching and inflammation under the eye lids).
If you have acne and you don’t live in the United States or Canada, you best bet to get your B6 from natural foods4. It’s not necessarily easy to do this. For instance:
Most traditional cuisines contain fruit, vegetables, or organ meats that provide adequate B6. But if you are a picky eater, and you don’t get vitamin B6 from fortified flour, it is not unusual for deficiency to occur. Even in the European Union, however, you can still get the low-dose vitamin B6 needed to help keep your skin clear.
Most of the B vitamins, including vitamin B6, act as co-factors for enzymes5. It’s fair to say that they “plug in” to the physical structure of an enzyme so that it can do its job for the skin or elsewhere in the body.
Most enzymes, however, control one step out of many in a cell, a tissue, or an organ. If you don’t have all the enzymes activated in the right sequence, then the process is not completed. And if you don’t have all your B vitamins, it does not do you any good to have enough of just one.
Certain health concerns require large doses of vitamin B6. You need about 100 mg a day if you are using B6 as part of your program for preventing kidney stones. You need 75 mg a day if you’re trying to boost brain function. You need about 10 mg a day to reduce morning sickness. But just 1.9 mg a day for women and 2.4 mg a day for men is enough to prevent acne.
That small dosage of vitamin B6 is essential as a co-factor for other B vitamins.
This tiny dose helps prevent acne. But treating acne requires a lot more.
Generally speaking, men who have acne don’t see their skin clear up when they take B6. The vitamin doesn’t have an effect on acne in women who have passed menopause, either.
In some women who have premenstrual acne, however, vitamin B6 supplementation can work wonders6. The women who benefit most are those who have a luteal phase defect that causes their periods to come too soon after ovulation. In these women, taking 250 mg of B6 a day along with 200 mg of magnesium a day for up to six months at a time (six months on, three months off) can clear up premenstrual acne along with other signs of PMS, including mood swings, fluid retention, and headache.
Some women, however, should not take vitamin B6 supplements at all, and some men should not either. If you have rosacea, excessive vitamin B6 can interfere with the action of nicotinamide in your skin and make rosacea flares worse7. Don’t take supplemental B6 for acne if you are male, and don’t take B6 for premenstrual acne if you have ever had rosacea.
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