Last Updated on August 9th, 2019
Have you considered taking vitamins for acne, but hesitate because you aren’t sure if they work? You’re right to be skeptical; after all, vitamins are not regulated by the FDA before they are sold, and the research on how vitamins affect the body is scattered and often inconclusive. Generally speaking, taking vitamins for acne is probably not going to be the most trustworthy, effective solution. However, research shows that your diet can affect more than just your weight; the nutrients you absorb can have an impact on how your body uses the energy it consumes and certain nutrients can promote or inhibit various bodily processes. We know that specific vitamins are essential for human survival, and we know that some diets do not contain very much of some of these important vitamins. Supplements could help resolve a number of deficiencies that cause all sorts of minor issues, from brittle nails to an upset stomach to—maybe—acne.
This article incorporates research from a variety of reputable sources to determine the usefulness of vitamins for acne treatment, outlines some of the signs of different vitamin deficiencies, recommends foods rich in certain vitamins, and answers some of the most frequently asked questions about taking vitamins for acne.
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Before you go out and buy a bunch of supplements to help cure your acne, it’s important to know that there is no definitive evidence that supports the claim that vitamins can help with acne. But that doesn’t mean taking vitamins for acne is completely useless. It takes time and repeated studies to prove a hypothesis, and right now there just hasn’t been enough research done on the correlation between vitamins and acne. This lack of evidence means that it is not a surefire treatment, but it also means that it hasn’t been completely disproven either. If you suspect diet may play a factor in your acne, taking vitamins for acne or making some dietary changes could be helpful for you.
Vitamins typically work from the inside out1, meaning that they are absorbed through your gut, where they are broken down and used to carry out various bodily processes. When you take a vitamin supplement or eat foods rich in different vitamins, this is how they benefit your body.
The upside to this approach is that your whole body is affected. Even though you might just be interested in taking vitamins for acne, if a vitamin deficiency is causing your acne, it may be causing other issues as well. The downside to ingested vitamins is that it could have a less significant impact on your acne. When vitamins are applied directly to the skin, any effect they may have on acne is stronger because it is not being diluted or broken down in the gut.
So which option is right for you? It depends on your skin type and which vitamin you’re trying. Harsh or drying vitamins can worsen acne in dry skin, while moisturizing vitamins can lead to oil build up in oily skin. So before buying supplements or vitamin skincare products, learn what each vitamin can do for your skin.
If you’re thinking that using vitamin A for acne sounds familiar, you’re absolutely right. Retinoids such as Differin, Retin-A, or Tazorac are all treatments that contain high concentrations of vitamin A or varying derivatives. If you go see a dermatologist, they are almost guaranteed to prescribe a retinoid treatment. That’s because vitamin A can help slow down a process called retention hyperkeratosis. This is when a pore sheds far too many dead skin cells and they build up in the pore, eventually clogging it and usually creating acne. People with acne are more likely to experience retention hyperkeratosis, although scientists are not sure if that’s due to genetics, a vitamin deficiency, or a different mystery factor.
Regardless of the cause, vitamin A can help2. It is one of the rare instances where using vitamins for acne is very likely to be effective. It encourages healthy new skin cell growth, which prevents excessive dead skin cell shedding. If you are struggling from vitamin A deficiency, you can get your extra vitamin A through a retinoid acne treatment or through a vitamin A supplement, it should reduce the number of clogged pores, and may even reduce inflammation, a key cause of acne. If you know inflammation is an issue with your acne (if you have fewer blackheads and more whiteheads and pimples) you may want to combine vitamin A with zinc. Zinc can also reduce inflammation, and it has been known to boost the effectiveness of vitamin A.
If you aren’t sure if you have a vitamin A deficiency, here are some potential symptoms:
*Even though infertility could be a sign of a vitamin A deficiency, you should not consume increased amounts of vitamin A while trying to become pregnant without doctor supervision. Too much vitamin A is known to cause birth defects.
It’s hard to talk about vitamin B as one thing, because it is actually an umbrella term for several distinct vitamins. Although they have a lot in common, they are different and can have differing effects on the body. Usually, this would mean we would discuss each vitamin individually, but unfortunately, most B vitamins do not have a profound effect on acne, especially in the United States. Because the local diet in the US includes foods rich in all kinds of B vitamins, few people have a vitamin B deficiency. However, if you live outside the US, vitamin B could make a difference for your acne, although its unclear which B vitamin is most helpful.
Although B5 is often marketed as a foolproof acne solution, there is no evidence, empirical or anecdotal, supporting this. Sadly, this is a prime example of the vitamin industry taking advantage of its lack of regulations through misrepresentation and sometimes just straight lies. Remember to be cautious when looking for vitamins for acne treatment.
Another commonly used form of vitamin B is B12. Even though this vitamin is proven to be useful in treating everything from stress to anemia, it can actually make acne worse. According to this study published in Science Translational Medicine, B12 supplements actually increased inflammation in p. acnes cultures (the primary bacteria involved in acne).
Additionally, if you are using a retinoid treatment, it could be blocking your usual absorption of B vitamins, leading to vitamin B deficiency3, but you can counteract this by taking a vitamin supplement or consuming more foods rich in vitamin B (see the list further along in this article).
If you suspect you may have a vitamin B deficiency, look for these symptoms:
This vitamin is most useful when applied directly to the skin to treat acne scars or dark spots caused by acne. Increasing the amount of vitamin C in your diet or taking a vitamin C supplement is unlikely to improve your acne, since it is relatively rare to have a vitamin C deficiency if you consume a reasonable amount of fresh produce. If you already consume enough vitamin C, consuming more could actually have negative effects.
Instead, we recommend using vitamin C topically. It can decrease inflammation, which could prevent acne, but the main reason we recommend vitamin C is for scars or dark marks4 caused by acne. Vitamin C helps repair damaged cells and encourages the growth of new, healthy cells. This cell turnover can heal acne scars more quickly by repairing scar tissue and replacing it with unscarred tissue. It can also reduce dark marks caused by acne. There is technically nothing wrong with these marks, and they will fade over time, but they can make skin tone uneven, so many people look for ways to lighten them.
There are a variety of skin lighteners out there that work for fair skin, but many of the popular options are actually very bad for dark skin. These products can make dark spots even darker on medium to dark skin, sometimes turning them a blue-ish color. Vitamin C is sometimes recommended as a safe alternative for dark skin5, but make sure to consult with your doctor first. Remember, vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, and some products could contain filler that could damage your skin.
If you know you struggle to eat enough fresh produce and suspect you may have a vitamin C deficiency, look out for some of these symptoms:
If you search for the best vitamins for acne, vitamin D might not come up, but we think it could be important to most people with acne. This is because a key part of taking care of your skin and preventing acne is avoiding excessive sun exposure or sunburn. If you’re an inside kind of person you may just stay indoors more often, or if you like to go outside you probably wear a decent amount of sunscreen. If you don’t, you really should; most acne treatments make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and sunburn can dry out the skin and lead to even more acne.
Because of this, many people with acne who are just trying to protect their skin often lose out on a significant amount of vitamin D. Rather than exposing your skin to the harmful UV rays of the sun for a little extra vitamins, you can try taking a supplement or incorporating more vitamin D-rich foods into your diet (see the list further along in this article).
Vitamin D deficiency is actually very common6, and you may be more at risk if you are elderly, live far from the equator where there is little sun, or have dark skin.
You may need more vitamin D if you experience a significant number of these symptoms:
Some vitamins for acne work best if taken as a supplement or when added to your regular diet; other vitamins for acne work best when applied directly to the skin. Vitamin E can go either way, depending on your skin type.
Vitamin E works through your sebum, which is just the natural oil your skin produces. There is relatively little research on what all vitamin E does for your skin, but studies like this one claim that it can reduce inflammation and absorb ultraviolet (UV) light7 from the sun. These are both important for acne prevention because when UV rays damage the skin, it can become irritated and inflamed, and inflammation often leads to acne.
Topical vitamin E is applied to the skin, rather than ingested through diet or a supplement. This is usually the best option because very few people have a vitamin E deficiency, and too much vitamin E can have serious consequences. However, topical application has its drawbacks too. Vitamin E works through oil; the vitamin E that’s already in your body spreads throughout your skin through the sebum, and vitamin E that you apply yourself is also an oil. If you already have oily skin, vitamin E could add to the problem, potentially clogging pores and creating more acne.
Because there are some key issues with vitamin E and there are no studies proving its effectiveness, this might not be the best choice of vitamins for acne.
However, if you suspect you have a vitamin E deficiency, be on the lookout for these symptoms:
If you suspect you may have a minor vitamin deficiency, but you don’t trust the vitamin supplement companies, there are plenty of foods that are naturally rich in vitamins. Below is a brief list of foods that could supplement vitamins A through E.
Vitamin B, in all its currently recognized varieties:
If your diet seems to affect your acne, it could be a vitamin deficiency, but it could also be polycystic ovarian syndrome. If you’ve tried different foods and supplements and diets only to find that your acne still flares up if you even think the world “sugar,” something else may be going on. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a health condition with many possible symptoms, including acne and ovarian cysts, although, despite the name, that is not a necessary symptom for diagnosis. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose because it has been inadequately researched throughout the years, but if your acne seems very dependent on your diet, you may want to speak to your doctor about PCOS.
Many forms of PCOS cause non-diabetic insulin resistance8, which means your blood could retain more sugar than it’s supposed to. Other organs have effective ways of breaking down extra sugar, but the ovaries do so by producing extra testosterone. This can disrupt the menstrual cycle, and it could cause acne. Increased testosterone encourages the body to produce more sebum, which could then clogs pores and creates more acne.
Instead of trying to regulate this condition on your own with vitamins that are unlikely to help with acne or other symptoms of PCOS, research good PCOS doctors in your area and make an appointment.
What you eat may affect your acne, but it also might not. Acne is different for everyone, which means it can take a while to find the right treatment regimen. No matter your skin type or what kind of acne you have, nearly all acne can be improved through a gentle acne treatment system that you use every day, like Exposed Skincare. Some systems are too complicated, and you’re likely to skip parts of the routine, or even whole days. Other systems are too harsh, drying out your skin and actually causing more acne. Exposed works with your skin to get rid of acne, using natural and scientific acne-fighting ingredients that create a gentle but effective formula. We promote Exposed because it is the best acne treatment system on the market so far, especially for the price.
Q. Is there any reason I shouldn’t try vitamins for acne?
A. Generally speaking, extra vitamins won’t hurt you, so if you’re up for an experiment, taking vitamins for acne is a pretty safe one. However, it is possible to have too much of a vitamin. For instance, the typical diet in the United States is very rich in B vitamins, so you may go over the recommended limit if you take a significant amount of B vitamin supplements. This could also happen with other vitamins if you take a supplement with a dosage that is too high. Because vitamins are not regulated by the FDA before they’re sold, they could contain irresponsible amounts of a vitamin, so you should be cautious and do your research before buying any supplements. For more information about healthy vitamin doses, check out this helpful website.
Q. If there’s no real proof that taking vitamins for acne actually helps, why should I bother?
A. You definitely don’t have to. Taking vitamins for acne is unlikely to solve all your acne even if it does help. But it’s important to note that although there’s no solid evidence that says vitamin supplements can help specifically with acne, there’s also no solid evidence that says they don’t help. The truth is, it just hasn’t been researched enough. Taking vitamins for acne is just another potential solution to be added to a gentle, daily skincare routine.
Q. I can’t afford to buy all these supplements. Which vitamin is the most likely to help with acne?
A. Because vitamin A is such an effective acne treatment when applied directly to the face, it is the supplement that is most likely to make a difference in your acne. There’s no evidence confirming the benefits of orally ingested vitamin A, but if you’re wanting to try vitamins for acne but can only afford one particular vitamin, we recommend vitamin A. As a note, before you shell out a good chunk of cash, make sure you do your research. Many vitamin sellers are great, but some companies are just scams.
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