Medically Reviewed

What are the Best Supplements to Help Manage Acne Breakouts?

Acne is a sometimes frustrating skin condition. Fortunately, there are supplements that can improve acne symptoms and promote healthy skin.

What are the best supplements for acne?

What exactly is acne?

Acne, formally known as acne vulgaris, is a skin condition that can cause pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads. It happens when the pores of your skin get blocked with dead skin, bacteria, or oil. While acne is most prevalent among adolescents – even peaking at 87% of adolescents – it can affect people of all ages. As anyone who’s struggled with acne can tell you, it can be a frustrating condition to manage. In severe cases, it can be painful and even cause scarring. And even in less extreme cases can be distressing, given acne’s effect on one’s outward appearance. If acne is giving you trouble, know that you’re in good company. Fortunately, acne is highly treatable.

Who does acne affect?

Acne typically begins in adolescence and affects teenagers and young adults. About 87% of adolescents – or people aged 12 to 24 – experience at least minor acne. That said, acne is the most common skin condition affecting Americans, with up to 50 million people affected annually.

The relationship between hormones and acne

The hormones naturally created by our bodies – especially in adolescence – play a role in the development of acne. For example, circulating testosterone seems to play a role in the emergence of acne lesions.

Can supplements really help hormonal acne?

Yes, supplements can indeed help hormonal acne – by acting as antioxidants and promoting hormonal balance. Read on to learn more about which supplements are especially helpful.

Vitamin A and acne

When considering whether vitamin A could be helpful for acne, it’s important to distinguish between vitamin A oral supplements and topical vitamin A, which is found in cream and lotion form. While vitamin A oral supplements can actually be counterproductive for acne, topical vitamin A has shown some promising signs.

Topical medications change the vitamin into a retinoid that can be rubbed on your skin. Topical retinoids have a demonstrated track record of treating skin conditions, including acne. Retinoids have the ability to regenerate and heal your skin. For severe acne cases resistant to topical treatment, the vitamin A derivative oral isotretinoin can be used as a potential remedy.

If you’re pregnant or planning to conceive you should avoid using retinoids. Moreover, the substance can weaken your skin’s natural UV protection, so too much time in the sun can be especially harmful. Consult a medical professional about your skin and the best plan to target your acne and achieve your skin goals.

Magnesium and acne

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the topical use of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) can improve acne. Magnesium is an important mineral in your body and is widely available in food. While more research is needed to demonstrate a connection between low magnesium levels and acne, early studies suggest that there may be some correlation.

Zinc and acne

Zinc, a mineral that is available as an oral supplement and as a topical treatment, can help treat acne. Studies have shown that people experiencing acne tend to have less zinc in their systems than those with clearer skin. One study, in particular, had 48 people with acne take zinc supplements three times per day. After just eight weeks, 38 of the subjects had experienced an 80-100% reduction in pimples. Moreover, an analysis of previous studies found that zinc can decrease your skin’s oil production, a key part in preventing acne. Another study found that applying a topical lotion of 1.2% zinc resulted in much clearer skin.

Taking too much zinc can be harmful, so you should try to keep your dosage below 40 mg per day. Check with a medical professional before proceeding.

Vitamin D and acne

Researchers are increasingly finding a clearer connection between vitamin D levels and acne. A 2014 study, for example, found that people with acne were at risk of more severe symptoms if they were deficient in vitamin D. Another study of 39 people found that people with acne saw improvements in their symptoms upon taking oral vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is also well known to benefit immune systems, a fact that may account for its helpfulness with acne symptoms.

Fish oil and acne

Fish oil and algae oil are great sources of omega-3 and omega-6, both essential fatty acids. Studies have shown that diets rich in fish containing omega-3 resulted in less oil produced by the skin and fewer acne lesions. Omega-3 and omega-6 have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can be good for skin health. Omega-3 is richly available in a variety of foods, including mackerel and salmon. For those who eat plant-based diets, omega-3 and omega-6 are available in supplement form.

B-vitamins and acne

B-vitamins have yielded mixed results in the treatment of acne. Studies of vitamin B12 supplements actually showed that these supplements can lead to the emergence of acne or exacerbate existing acne. However, another study showed that pantothenic acid – or vitamin B5 – helped reduce facial lesions caused by acne after being applied for 12 weeks. Further randomized, placebo-controlled are needed to better understand B-vitamins and acne.

Vitamin C and acne

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that your body doesn’t naturally produce, which means you have to get it through your diet. It’s essential to many areas of your health, including your skin health. A study from Oregon State University shows that topical vitamin C may be helpful in reducing acne lesions.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant. This means vitamin C helps neutralize unstable, cell-damaging compounds known as free radicals. Free radicals can affect your skin health.

Furthermore, your top layer of skin – the part that’s visible, known as the epidermis – has a lot of vitamin C; the vitamin helps heal, protect, and create new skin. Vitamin C may also help with the production of collagen, which can help with acne scars.

Probiotics and acne

Recent studies have shown that the use of probiotics may be effective in treating acne. The topical application of probiotics has been shown to increase skin properties that keep the skin moist and target factors that lead to acne formation. Probiotics can bring out the production of health ceramides that restore health fats, remedying acne and helping reduce common side effects of other acne treatments.

Diet and acne

A recent study found that diet can play a role in acne and its treatment. Some foods were found to be potentially helpful to treating and preventing acne, while some foods were found to worsen acne symptoms. For example, it was found that achieving a low glycemic index by cutting out processed foods could improve acne. Likewise, cutting back on milk and other dairy products could help with achieving clearer skin. Diets with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, meanwhile, could reduce acne breakouts.

More research is needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of probiotic-rich diets on acne, but early findings are promising. Vegetarian and vegan diets, despite all their nutritional benefits, haven’t been demonstrated to be effective in addressing acne.

If acne is a problem for you, you can maybe consider making some slight dietary adjustments.

Common myths around acne

Odds are, you’ve heard some common myths surrounding acne. One popular myth is that only teens get acne. While it’s true that acne mainly affects adolescents, they’re far from the only people who can experience acne. Another common myth is that acne is caused by dirt. As you’ve now seen, this isn't true, either. Acne is caused by a number of factors that are often no fault of your own. And finally, we’ve all heard the myth that popping pimples somehow makes them go away more quickly. On the contrary, popping them can do more harm than good! Instead of popping pimples, try incorporating some of the supplements listed above.

Key takeaways

While there’s no magic solution for acne, there are things you can do to help the situation. A balanced diet, regular hydration, and exercise can lay a firm foundation for skin health – along with applying sunscreen to protect from UV damage. The supplements listed above can be part of a balanced approach to remedying acne. Consult with a medical professional for more information.

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