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Vitamin Deficiency and Acne

Given the many biochemical processes catalyzed by different vitamins, vitamin deficiencies can cause acne. Find out which vitamin deficiencies can cause this.
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Vitamins may be needed by the body in small amounts but they must be available at or above a threshold value.

Most vitamins are catalysts for essential biochemical reactions and processes; they are absolutely important to the normal functioning of the body and if they are not provided in adequate amounts, symptoms of their deficiencies can lead to serious medical complications.

Generally, vitamin deficiency can result either because not enough of the vitamin is obtained from dietary sources (primary deficiency) or because there is a problem with the absorption, transportation or utilization of the vitamin (secondary deficiency).

Since the biological roles of vitamins are extensive, their deficiencies can cause far-reaching consequences.

Some symptoms of vitamin deficiencies are the direct result of falling levels of the corresponding vitamins while others are indirectly linked to the serum levels of the vitamin.

In all cases, the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency can be eliminated by increasing the intake and absorption of that vitamin through diet and/or supplements. Supplements can provide a more immediate reversal of symptoms because they deliver the needed vitamins in high doses.

Vitamins are important to skin health; they are needed for the production of collagen, for the maintenance of the protective barrier, for the nourishing of the skin cells, and for reducing oxidative stress on the skin.

Keys Antioxidants for Acne
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium

Vitamins also have other contributions that do affect the skin.

These include their functions as enzyme cofactors, their regulation of hormone production and activity as well as their contribution to the immune system especially to the inflammatory process.

Because of these varied roles, a form of skin reaction resembling acne-like eruptions is usually one of the symptoms of most vitamin deficiencies. 

Below is a discussion of vitamin deficiencies that can cause acne-related symptoms.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Chronic vitamin A deficiency is rare in adults but common in children. Besides diets low in the vitamin, this deficiency can also be caused by iron deficiency and excessive alcohol intake.

Vitamin A is required for the synthesis of retinal, the light-absorbing molecule in the retina. Therefore, one of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness. It can also cause the dryness of soft tissues and mucosal surfaces such as the conjunctiva.

Vitamin A deficiency also leads to an increased chance of infections and impaired immune function.

From the symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, it is easy to see how it might cause acne.

The combination of dry and scaly skin, ulceration of the soft tissues, increased bacterial infection and improperly regulated immune system can promote the weakening of the skin surface and its colonization by acne-causing bacteria. Then when the immune system responds to the injury, it triggers inflammatory reactions on the skin.

Vitamin B Deficiencies

Vitamin B2 deficiency is called Ariboflavinosis. It has a similar presentation to vitamin B3 deficiency and is sometimes called pellagra without pellagra.

Besides an insufficient supply in the diet, vitamin B12 deficiency is also caused by impaired liver failure mostly due to chronic alcoholism.

The symptoms of vitamin B2 deficiency include sore throat, reddening and swelling of the soft tissues of the throat and mouth, cracking lips, inflammation of the tongue, anemia and seborrheic dermatitis (which has a similar appearance to acne). This deficiency also predisposes pregnant women to eclampsia.

Vitamin B2 deficiency can contribute to acne because it causes the softening, reddening, and swelling of the soft tissue as well as increase the oiliness of the skin.

Vitamin B3 or niacin deficiency is caused by decreased intake of niacin. It can also be caused by low levels of the amino acids, tryptophan or lysine and high levels of leucine.

Pellagra is the classic manifestation of vitamin B3 deficiency. It is a disease complex described as diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death. Niacin deficiency can definitely cause acne. It causes dermatitis, increased sensitivity to sunlight and red lesions on the skin.

Niacin deficiency is treated with nicotinamide, a compound which is structurally related to niacin.

Vitamin B6 deficiency is very rare and it may cause acne-like symptoms. Other symptoms of this deficiency include anemia, seizures and conjunctivitis.

More often, vitamin B6 deficiency is caused by isoniazid, a drug used in the treatment of tuberculosis. Symptoms of this deficiency which are related to acne include the inflammation of soft tissues such as the lips and dryness of mucosal surfaces.

Biotin deficiency is rare but deadly if left untreated. It can be caused by a number of factors including pregnancy, regular consumption of raw egg whites, long-term oral antibiotic therapy, anticonvulsant drugs and malnutrition.

Symptoms of biotin deficiency include anemia, hair loss, fungal infections, rashes, and seborrheic dermatitis. Therefore, biotin deficiency can cause acne.

To treat biotin deficiency, the drugs and foods suppressing its absorption and utilization should be stopped and then biotin supplementation started.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Scurvy is the chief symptom of vitamin C deficiency. The dermatological presentations of scurvy are caused by improperly formed collagen since vitamin C is required for collagen synthesis.

The skin is softened, weakened and pigmented when it is affected by scurvy. Open, festering wounds can also be formed.

Other symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are jaundice, fever and loss of sensation in the extremities.

The link between vitamin C deficiency and acne involves collagen which is the protein that makes up the skin. During this deficiency, defective collagen fibrils are produced. These are not only weakened, they also impair wound healing.

Therefore, vitamin C deficiency opens up the skin to damage from toxins and acne-causing bacteria.

The loss of structural integrity is one aspect of the deficiency in the development of acne. Once damaged, the skin cannot heal properly because of defective collagen produced in the absence of vitamin C.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is also called hypovitaminosis D.

It can be caused by inadequate exposure to sunlight, diet poor in vitamin D-rich foods and medical conditions that reduce the efficiency of the converting vitamin D in food to active metabolites in the body.

Vitamin D deficiency reduces bone mineralization. Therefore, it causes rickets in children and osteoporosis and osteomalacia in adults. However, vitamin D deficiency also has some dermatological symptoms.

Since vitamin D has some specific benefits in the treatment of acne, its deficiency can directly cause acne.

Some of the benefits of vitamin D include its ability to reduce the formation of acne comedones as well as its antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Vitamin D deficiency should be treated with supplements instead of increased exposure to sunlight because the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sunlight can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin E deficiency is rare and almost never caused by poor diet.

Rather, the most common cause of vitamin E deficiency is impaired absorption of dietary fat either due to partial or full gastrectomy or a hereditary disorder.

Vitamin E is very potent antioxidant which can help prevent damage to the skin by toxin or harmful free radicals. This protection is removed when there is vitamin E deficiency.

Other Nutritional Deficiencies

Besides vitamin deficiencies, there are other nutritional deficiencies that may cause acne. Mineral deficiencies can also contribute to the development of acne.

The most important mineral deficiencies that can trigger acne are discussed below.

Zinc Deficiency: Zinc deficiency or hypozincemia can be caused by malabsorption, diarrhea, liver disease, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and bariatric surgery. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include dermatitis and acne.

Plasma levels of zinc depends on vitamins A and D. Therefore, both vitamins should be included with zinc supplements when treating zinc deficiency. In addition, acne due to zinc deficiency can be caused by symptoms of vitamin A and D deficiencies.

Selenium Deficiency: Selenium is an antioxidant which is useful in acne treatment. Therefore, selenium deficiency can cause acne. Major symptoms of selenium deficiency include hypothyroidism, muscle atrophy and tissue degeneration.

Next Article: Herbal Medicine for Acne
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