Supplements for Acne: Fact or Fiction?

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

It’s common knowledge that with a consistent, gentle skin care routine, you can significantly reduce the appearance of acne, but there is no cure that can guarantee clear skin forever. That said – experts agree a multi-pronged strategy to combat acne is the best approach, and evidence shows certain minerals and vitamins can help. For convenience, you may consider taking a supplement for acne, but how effective are different supplements for acne? And are they worth a shot?

Natural supplements and vitamins can be effective in a multi-pronged approach for acne treatment.

What Exactly Are Supplements?

Supplements are products containing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to supplement your diet with. They are typically sold in pill form, but powder and liquid forms are also popular.

Because supplements are ingested orally, they are classified as a systemic treatment because they affect multiple body systems, unlike topical treatments which are applied directly to the skin. But can they really treat acne?

Why Supplementing Might Work For Acne

More research is needed to conclusively prove the helpfulness of micronutrients for acne-prone skin, but here are some benefits we can identify.

  • First – taking micronutrients in supplement form can relieve hidden deficiencies, which could potentially affect acne 👍.
  • Second – it’s well known vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and zinc improve immune system functioning. Their action can help fight off infection by acne-causing bacteria, called p. acnes 🦠, and improve overall health.
  • Third – most are well tolerated even in high doses. They can be taken safely without a prescription 📝, with the exception of very high doses of vitamin A and hormone modulators such as DIM.
  • Finally, many micronutrients help reduce oxidative stress and fight free radicals – both important factors in fighting cystic acne and pimples. In fact, research indicates that fish oil 🐟 with known antioxidant properties significantly improved moderate to severe acne.

Basically, taking a well-rounded daily supplement with vitamins and minerals can boost low levels of these micronutrients, which could be acting as a stressor on your skin and contributing to your acne. Look for a supplement that has known anti-acne ingredients such as zinc, vitamins A and E, and Omega-3 like the vegan Probiotic Complex.

Questions Around Supplementing For Acne

While the arguments in favor of taking a supplement or two are compelling, some people may have concerns regarding this treatment option.

Can It Be Dangerous?

The first concern is that vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients may be dangerous in excessive amounts, but this is not a significant worry. Toxicity due to common supplement overdosing is rare and rather difficult to achieve because you literally have to take handfuls at a time. Many are water-soluble and any excess is rinsed out of your body.

That said – this is not true of all supplements. Read on for the potential dangers of, for instance, vitamin A and DIM overdosing. It would be best never to take your medical advice only from the Internet.

Also, some supplements may affect the efficacy and safety of scheduled medicines, but your doctor or pharmacist should warn you of any dangerous supplement-drug interaction. If you are on meds such as blood-thinners, though, never take anything without first consulting with your healthcare provider.

Can Product Quality Play A Role?

The second problem with supplements is their limited regulation. The FDA is the regulating body for these and scheduled medicines but under different criteria, and also only after products are already being sold in stores 🏪. This means you don’t always know the quality of what you’re ingesting, and poor-quality supplements are unlikely to affect healthy skin, so it’s important to purchase supplements from companies that are backed by science.

How Much Research Has Been Done?

Well, quite a lot, actually – there’s a large body of evidence that supports the notion that taking micronutrients is effective, safe, and healthy for many conditions. Think of Dr. Linus Pauling, the brilliant chemist who received a Nobel Prize as early as 1957 for his research 👨‍⚕️ into the wonders of vitamin C for colds. So lack of evidence is not the problem – except when studying acne breakouts and how these products may help in a healthy, natural way.

Also, there’s no single miracle product or cure for acne, which is what some unscrupulous manufacturers would have you believe. A lot more research is needed in this field 🔬, so the best would be to keep your skeptical, investigative cap on when looking at the options.

So, What’s the Consensus?

With all this in mind, we think it’s fair to say that the idea that supplements may improve acne and help against breakouts isn’t total fiction. Let’s take a look at a few options.

The Potential of Probiotics for Acne

Increasingly, research emerges that supports the notion of an extraordinary relationship between the gut and the rest of the body. The intestine host all kinds of bacteria 🦠, both good and bad, and the beneficial ones have different functions in the body. Some of them even help make sure the detrimental ones stay in check, so supporting the gut bacteria with a good probiotic product may have positive effects on the skin too.

So, how are good bacteria related to the regulation of acne, and can they prevent breakouts?

Probiotics Are Anti-inflammatory

This is important because acne is, at its core, an inflammatory condition. Probiotic supplementation might therefore be a great idea as one review by authors MM Kober and colleague discusses. Research demonstrates how several strains of Lactobacillus have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. This is important because excess oil production is often a problem in inflamed skin.

Probiotics Can Boost The Body’s Immune Response

The same review points to the immune-regulating properties of certain Lactobacilli and the authors speculate that this could potentially impact skin health. Another preclinical study shows that certain Staphylococci demonstrate strong action against P.acnes infection P.acnes is a bacteria 🦠 known to cause cysts and pimples.

Probiotics and Insulin

Insulin and blood-sugar regulation are important in overall health. Disrupted sugar balance can start a cascade of potentially harmful effects in the body – one of which is hormone dysregulation, and this, in turn, can cause the skin to unnecessarily increase oil production. Too much oil often results in the overgrowth of P.acnes. One study demonstrates that supplementing with Lactobacillus rhamnosus positively affects the expression of those genes 🧬 in the skin that signal insulin and significantly improves adult acne.

Probiotics Can Protect the Skin Barrier

Some abrasive acne products cause irritation that can be so severe, it causes big problems. MM Kober et al also note that supplementing with probiotics seems to restore skin health and aid hydration 💧.

The Exposed Skin Care Probiotic Complex is designed to decrease inflammation in order to decrease acne.

So evidence shows probiotics can help balance skin from the inside out—but how do you increase your probiotics intake? At Exposed, we’ve created our own Probiotic Complex to help decrease inflammation on a systemic level in order to reduce acne on a skin level. We’ve added several important vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin E along with some essential nutrients like zinc and copper. Synergistically, they create a complex that takes advantage of most of the acne-fighting potential of natural supplements.

With any supplement you choose, look for one that offers a money back guarantee so you can try the supplement risk-free.

Using L Lysine for Acne

Nope, that’s not a typo, this supplement is an amino acid, and the L in front means that it is naturally occurring, rather than man-made. Amino acids unite in chains 🧬 in the body to create proteins. We need 20 amino acids to function properly, of which 10 are produced by the body itself. The other 10 need to be ingested, including L lysine.

The Function of L Lysine

Like all amino acids, L lysine helps build proteins like hormones and antibodies. The reason this amino acid might be a useful treatment is that it can help reduce pro-acne hormones like cortisol.

Why It Might Work To Improve Severe Acne

Cortisol can reduce inflammation, which should be good for acne, but it also stimulates the excretion of oil in the skin, causing clogged pores in the process and creating the ideal biome for P.acnes overgrowth, which can cause cystic acne.

Signs of L lysine deficiency include kidney stones, dizziness, and anemia, but ideally, you should contact your doctor to ascertain severe deficiencies.

Can Vitamins Help With Acne?

It’s easy to assume that if you live in a first-world country and eat a reasonably balanced diet by modern standards, you won’t have any vitamin deficiencies. This is debatable, though. Many nutrient studies focus on poorer, at-risk populations, that’s true. Yet, just as many have been conducted in developed countries with corresponding populations, and these show that supplementing with the right micronutrients can enhance and improve general and skin health.

One of the first is Vitamin A.

The Many Faces of Vitamin A For Acne

Vitamin A for acne is one of the most popular nutrients for skincare. The main reason for this is its anti-inflammatory properties because of its high antioxidant content.

Antioxidants fight free radicals which are oxygen molecules missing an electron. These molecules can cause severe cell destruction in their search for an electron, and antioxidants combat this by “loaning” these free radicals an electron. This, of course, reduces cell destruction.

Vitamin A also boosts the immune system, making it better at fighting off P. acnes bacteria 🦠, and it helps regulate the life cycle of skin cells and the skin’s oil production.

Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin A include liver and fish such as salmon and mackerel. You can also get Vitamin A from the carotenoids in vegetables like sweet potato, squash and kale. For an easier way to get vitamin A, look for a supplement that contains 100% of the recommended daily value, as well as other probiotics and skin-balancing vitamins and minerals. 

Vitamin A for acne is one of the few vitamins that have been well-studied in the skin care realm. Choose foods high in vitamin A like salmon to support your healthy skin routine.

Pantothenic Acid Acne Treatment

Pantothenic acid is used by the body to turn food into energy and to make and break down fats, but it also plays an important role in protecting the skin. In fact, this member of the vitamin B family (it’s vitamin B5) gets a five-star rating for both ingestion and topical application.

One Chinese study of acne patients between the ages of 10 and 30 showed dramatic improvement of even severe acne on large daily doses of Vitamin B5 and application of a topical B5 cream to affected areas. It was said to dramatically reduce the skin’s oil production and even reduced pore-size. It’s definitely worth your attention, we think. Want to try for yourself? Our Facial Cleanser contains pro-vitamin B5, plus it’s soap-free and hypoallergenic.

Oil-absorbing masks can be fun, but vitamins like pantothenic acid help us retain enough oil to keep our skin protected.

Should You Try Nicotinamide for Acne?

Perhaps make sure to invest in a good vitamin B-complex supplement because nicotinamide is yet another B vitamin (vitamin B3), as well known as its precursor niacinamide for treating a number of health and skin conditions, including acne. It’s important to note that nicotinamide and niacinamide are often thought to be the same thing, but in reality, they have very different functions in the body.

Without getting lost in too many technical details, nicotinamide stabilizes the epidermal barrier of the skin, thereby assisting with moisture-retention, and it also demonstrates antimicrobial action. One study found that a topical nicotinamide gel was as effective as an antibiotic gel in treating acne vulgaris, while a review of the literature noted that oral niacinamide significantly reduced acne.

Cod Liver Oil Acne Solution

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that reduce inflammation and are found in large amounts in a well-known fish oil 🐟 – cod liver oil.

Cod liver oil contains several components that may help reduce acne, but there’s a lack of research to prove that it really works.

This fish oil is an old remedy to treat a disease (rickets) that causes fragile bones in children. It is now believed to work because it contains a large amount of vitamin D, which plays an important role in bone health 🦴. The benefits of this vitamin for skin health are under-investigated, unlike those of vitamin A, as you now know. We love it more for its Omega-3 fatty acid content, which research is increasingly showing to be beneficial for skin health. One interesting case study reported not only a significant reduction of acne vulgaris but also a great improvement in the mental health of subjects taking Omega-3 with antioxidants.

DIM for Healthy Skin is Promising But Needs More Research

Diindolylmethane or DIM for acne is a compound produced through the breakdown of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli 🥦. The supplement is a known hormone modulator that blocks androgen receptors in the body. This is said to decrease estrogen (one brand name for DIM is EstroBlock) levels, and it is popularly prescribed for prostate health in men. In women, it is often prescribed for hirsutism and acne.

One of the biggest influences on acne is hormones. Everyone experiences hormonal fluctuations, and these can have a big impact on your skin health. Testosterone and estrogen are commonly tied to hormonal acne and an excess of either can cause problems. For this DIM might well be a good option.

However, we recommend that DIM is used with caution and probably under the supervision of a doctor. DIM in high doses can cause visual problems, as reported by one case study.

The Pros and Cons of Vitex for Acne

There’s some research that suggests vitex could be helpful in a similar way to DIM for acne, but like DIM, there are several drawbacks you should be aware of before trying it.

Vitex is an herb commonly used to treat premenstrual syndrome and infertility, but it may not be the best option for acne.

Vitex is an herb grown 🌿 largely in the Mediterranean and Central Asia, and it’s been used in folk medicine to treat maladies ranging from acne to infertility. While there have been quite a few studies investigating its use in treating infertility (it can actually help!) there are almost no studies on its usefulness in addressing acne.

Vitex stimulates the release of LH (luteinizing hormone), which causes an increase in progesterone. Unfortunately, dermatologists 👩‍⚕️ don’t yet have a clear understanding of progesterone’s role in acne, so it’s hard to know if increasing it would make hormonal acne better or worse.

Again, we recommend caution. Just like DIM, vitex is a strong hormone modulator that may have surprising and unexpected side-effects in women.

Some studies have shown that vitex promotes dopamine activity, so if you have a history of mental disorders, or have been diagnosed with a dopamine-related condition like Parkinson’s disease – take this herb only under medical supervision. Overall, research evidence that vitex works for acne is very scarce and we think it would be best to explore other supplement options first.

Supplements for Acne: Do They Work?

Now you know supplements for acne aren’t fiction. While more research must be dedicated to examining micronutrients’ effects on acne specifically, it’s clear that ensuring adequate levels of vitamins and minerals in your body can help address deficiencies that can lead to inflammation and other internal issues—which, in turn, can exacerbate acne.

What’s most important to remember is that supplements alone won’t cure acne. A multi-pronged approach is the best strategy to fight acne, and that approach should start with a simple, daily skincare routine. Choose a product line that has formulated each step to work together and contains not only strong acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, but also gentle, anti-inflammatory ingredients like green tea and sage extracts. Use this acne routine-finding quiz to determine which routine is right for you.