10 Vitamins for Acne
Vitamin supplements are safe and effective acne remedies. They correct nutritional deficiencies and promote skin health. Here are the 10 most important vitamins used in acne treatment.
by Brad Chase
A vitamin is a compound that is not synthesized in adequate amounts in the body even though it is essential only in small amounts. Vitamins are not only essential for overall health, but are also essential for keeping your skin clear and acne at bay.
Read on to find out how what vitamins for acne are the most effective, what causes acne, what treatment options are available to cure acne, and how to cure acne naturally.
There is no definable "cause" of acne. Most acne is triggered by a rise in androgen levels, which is a hormone. Androgen levels rise and cause the oil glands on your face to grow and produce more oil. This can lead to the breakdown of cellular walls on the face, causing bacteria to grow. Acne is largely genetic and triggered by the high amount of a certain strain of bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) on your face.
A combination of sensitive skin, high-oil production, clogged pores, and bacteria cause acne. However, it is rare for acne to be caused by a dirty face, and cleaning your face will not cure acne.
Everyone has P. acnes bacteria on their face, but for some reason, individuals who get acne have a higher concentration of this bacteria. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found that a high-glycemic diet can also trigger the spread of acne.
The study found that some cases of acne are triggered by high-glycemic foods, such as:
Acne is not just one form of pimple. There are actually six types of acne, and generally, they can all be triggered by different conditions.
For example, deep pimples are often caused by hormonal changes or stress. However, surface whiteheads and blackheads can be caused by using the wrong cosmetics, clogged pores, or sweating. The basic types of acne include:
Whiteheads are unusual because they are usually painless, but cause white, rough bumps to appear on the skin. Whiteheads can look like goosebumps and usually come off during exfoliation without any pain.
Blackheads are difficult to see unless you are looking closely. They usually are not painful or noticeable. Blackheads may look like a smattering of dirt on your face. Blackheads are most common along the nose and forehead.
These pimples are small and generally start out red. They are usually close to the surface, and after a few days, form a small white pocket of pus on the top of the pimple. When squeezed, the white puss comes out of the pimple. Whiteheads can be painful or pain-free.
These pimples are small, reddish or pink bumps near the surface of the skin. They will go away on their own after a few days if you do not mess with them. They will scar over if you try to squeeze them like a pus-filled pimple.
Usually, there is mild pain associated with this type of pimple. Nobules: This type of pimple creates a large, reddish bump on the surface of the skin. They react just like papules, but are deeper in the skin. Occasionally, they will produce pus, but usually, the pimples will just dry and recede on their own within a few days. Nodules pimples usually hurt when pressed.
Cyst acne is the most painful and hardest to get rid of. The cysts are clearly visible, often producing a large bump on the surface of the skin. The pimples reach deep through several layers of skin and can last for a week or more. The pimples sometimes contain pus and if the pimples are squeezed, they can leave a scar.
Acne treatment consists of three types of treatment: topical treatment, oral treatment, and lifestyle changes. Oral medication can consist of natural supplements of prescription medication.
Most prescription medication uses antibacterial agents, except for Accutane, which uses high doses of vitamin A to dry out the skin. All acne medication carries some side effect risk.
If you cannot heal your acne with lifestyle and topical treatments, prescription medication can be used. Most doctors use one or more of the following prescription treatments:
Many doctors use a combination of topical and oral treatments. It can take several months before the full effects of treatment are seen.
The following topical treatments are commonly prescribed to eliminate acne.
Benzoyl Peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is the most common treatment for acne. It works like an antiseptic to remove bacteria from the skin. This will reduce blackheads, whiteheads, and inflammation from other forms of acne. BP is available both in prescription and over-the-counter form, but is easiest to get from a doctor. BP can be applied once or twice a day and causes burning, dry skin, itching, sensitivity to sunlight, and swelling.
Usually, the skin will get use to treatment after a few days. However, the effectiveness of BP is reduced over time. Patients may find they have to switch between BP and another treatment after a few months.
Retinoids: Topical retinoids remove dead skin cells from the face and act as a mild exfoliator to prevent the buildup of skin that can lead to acne pimples. Commonly, tretinoin and adapalene are prescribed. However, this form of acne treatment will not work for everyone.
Some doctors will prescribe a combination of retinoids and BP treatments to access the power of both treatment methods. Topical retinoids are usually applied once a day and may have side effects like rashes, dry skin, itching, burning, and sensitivity to sunlight.
Topical Antibiotics: Topical antibiotics are antibiotic remedies applied directly to the skin that kill acne bacteria. They act similarly to BP, but specifically target acne bacteria. The lotion is usually applied to the face once or twice a day.
The biggest problem with topical antibiotics is that the bacteria on your skin eventually develop a resistance to the cream, which can actually make your acne worse. This requires patients to switch acne treatments every few months. Side effects include irritation of the skin, dry and flaky skin, peeling, and burning.
Azelaic Acid: Most doctors will prescribe azelaic acid if benzoyl peroxide or other treatments cause too much irritation to the skin. When the skin is irritated, it can produce more oil and cause more acne pimples to form. Azelaic acid is a milder treatment that attacks acne by killing bacteria and eliminating dead skin at once.
The medication does not make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Side effects of azelaic acid include burning, itching, dry skin, and redness.
Some form of acne treatments are taken internally. These treatments include:
Antibiotic Tablets: These tablets are often used in combination with topical treatments. This reduces the amount of topical treatments necessary and can keep some of the side effects at bay. Tetracycline is the most common form of antibiotics used for acne. Erythromycin is an antibiotic that is safe for pregnant and nursing women to take.
Most oral antibiotic treatments last six months, but relapse is high. Side effects generally include sensitivity to skin, and digestive issues due to the constant intake of antibiotics, which also influence the levels of healthy bacteria in the stomach.
Consequently, your immune system may be suppressed during treatment. These antibiotics also make birth control pills less effective, so women are advised to use alternative birth control methods during treatment.
Women with acne are often prescribed hormonal birth control to control acne flare-ups. This treatment can take up to a year to kick in, and can include side effects such as weight gain, fertility problems, nausea, and headaches.
Another hormonal treatment available to women is called co-cyprindiol, which is a hormonal treatment for acne that does not respond to antibiotics (which most acne bacteria will develop a resistance to antibiotics over time). It usually takes about six months to see the full effect of co-cyprindiol acne medication. Women who take co-cyprindiol have an increased risk of developing breast cancer after taking the medication and there is also an increased risk of blood clots, headaches, mood swings, weight gain, or loss of libido.
Isotretinoin is a form of intense vitamin A which is used for men and women to treat acne in extreme cases. The high dose of vitamin A reduces sebum production, prevents hair follicles from getting clogged, reduces how much bacteria is on the skin, and reduces overall swelling.
However, this intense medication also has numerous side effects, like extremely dry skin, redness, sensitivity to light, blood in the urine, kidney and liver damage, and changes in blood sugar levels. Isotretinoin is only prescribed when all other acne medications have not proved to be effective. A person can be on Accutane for up to six months.
Women who are on Accutane have a high risk of miscarrying if they become pregnant and Accutane is known to cause damaging birth defects. Most doctors require women to go on birth control if they are taking Isotretinoin.
Supplements and dietary changes can go a long way toward reducing acne pimples and clearing the skin. Read on to discover how vitamins for Acne and other simple lifestyle changes can improve the skin without dangerous side effects.
Vitamins are essential to every biochemical process in the body. When they are supplied in low amounts in our diets, a state of deficiency occurs. Vitamin deficiencies can produce serious complications, and for some, acne or acne-like dermatitis is one of the symptoms.
Given that vitamins are essential for the normal functioning of enzymes, cells, organs, tissues and systems, they can clearly provide some benefits for acne sufferers. Vitamins can regulate certain aspects of the immune system to help reverse the biochemical processes that culminate in acne eruptions on the skin. Some of the unique properties of vitamins which make them useful in acne treatment are their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti comedogenic, antibacterial and exfoliating properties.
One of the most important vitamins for acne is vitamin A. Vitamin A is absolutely essential for the health of the skin. Deficiencies in vitamin A can cause problems like dry skin, dry hair, weak nails, and patches on the skin.
Vitamin D, also plays a big role in affecting keratinocyte biology (biology of the skin). Vitamin D is a hormone that not only affects the muscles, but has also been shown to affect the overall appearance and health of the skin.
No less important for skin health is vitamin E. This vitamin is delivered directly to the skin through the sebaceous gland. A reduced amount of vitamin E in the gland can increase the risk for inflammation, redness, acne, and other skin problems.
Other studies have suggested that B vitamins, selenium, and zinc also play a big part in the presence of acne on the skin. Discussed below are some of the vitamins used in acne treatment, and how they affect the development of acne lesions.
There are five major compounds that are referred to as vitamin A. There is retinol and 4 provitamins called carotene.Of all carotenoids in nature, only 4 have vitamin A activities. These are alpha, beta and gamma carotene as well as beta-cryptoxanthin. The carotenes are usually obtained from plant sources while retinol is found in animals.
Retinal is the biologically active form of vitamin A. It is synthesized from retinol. It is also the form of vitamin A that absorbs light in the retina of the eyes and known to be responsible for color vision and low-light accommodation.
One way in which vitamin A is useful for treating acne is in rejuvenating the skin. It does this by exfoliating the top layer of the skin and increasing skin turnover by promoting the maturation of new epithelial cells. Vitamin A is also needed in acne treatment for reducing the inflammatory response of immune cells and for promoting hormonal balance.
By these mechanisms, the vitamin prevents the production of excess sebum and the formation of inflammatory acne lesions. However, the major anti-acne benefit of vitamin A is its antioxidant activity. It protects the skin by removing reactive oxygen species and other harmful free radicals from the skin.
This effect is further improved in the presence of other antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium. While vitamin A is available as oral supplements and in topical acne preparations, the oral form of the vitamin provides the most benefits for acne patients.
If you are low in vitamin A, the symptoms are often difficult to spot. Even a blood test has trouble identifying if you are low in vitamin A.
However, if you have any of the following signs, you might just need to boost the vitamin A content of your diet:
Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid is needed in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. However, its most important biological role is in the production of Coenzyme A, an important cofactor in many biological processes in the body.
The active form of vitamin B5 is D-pantothenic acid. This vitamin can be obtained from meat, whole grains, cereals, legumes, yogurt and eggs. Vitamin B5 deficiency is rare but when it does occur, one of its symptoms is acneiform dermatitis.
The usefulness of vitamin B5 in acne treatment was discovered in 1995 and well-documented by 3 papers published by Dr. Lit-Hung Leung who was looking for the benefits of using the vitamin to treat obesity. There are 2 mechanisms by which vitamin B5 help prevent and relieve acne symptoms.
First, it reduces the sizes of skin pores. This astringent-like constriction of the pores is unlike that produced by regular acne medications since it does not have the side effect of skin dryness. When these pores are constricted, the buildup of sebum is pushed out to the skin surface where it can be sloughed off. Furthermore, the constriction reduces the chances that the pores will be clogged by dead skin cells, bacteria and excess sebum.
The second means by which vitamin B5 improves acne symptoms involve Coenzyme A. Pantothenic acid increases the production of Coenzyme A which then speeds up fat metabolism. This means that there is far less fat pushed to the sebaceous glands. Therefore, sebum production is reduced.
Because excess sebum on the skin provides the ideal environment for the growth of acne-causing bacteria, this effect of vitamin B5 is enough to starve these bacteria and reduce acne breakouts.
It is rare for a person who eats a normal or healthy diet to be deficient in vitamin B5. However, it can happen. Symptoms of a B5 deficiency include:
Vitamin B6 refers to a group of 7 related compounds, six of which can be interconverted. Two of these are pyridoxine (which is the general name given to the vitamin) and pyridoxal phosphate or PLP (which is the active form of the vitamin).
Vitamin B6 is required for a number of processes in the body including gene expression, histamine and neurotransmitter synthesis, lipid metabolism, conversion of glycogen to glucose and hemoglobin formation. Vitamin B6 can be found in meat, nuts, vegetables and whole grains.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is not common but when it occurs, it affects the skin and the nervous system. Dermatological symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency include seborrhea, dermatitis and skin ulceration.
Vitamin B6 works for acne by regulating hormonal levels and prostaglandin release. Therefore, the vitamin may reduce the production of male sex hormones such as testosterone and its metabolites (for example, dihydrotestosterone or DHT) which are known to cause acne. It can also reduce the inflammatory response mediated by prostaglandin to skin injuries.
On the flip side, vitamin B6 can also trigger acne breakouts especially when taken in high doses. Therefore, those who wish to get more out of vitamin B6 with megadoses of supplementation may experience quite the opposite effect. The exact mechanism by which high doses of vitamin B6 trigger acne is unknown. However, this effect is even amplified when vitamin B12 is combined with vitamin B6.
What is Vitamin B7? Vitamin B7 is also known as biotin, vitamin H or Coenzyme R. It is found in raw egg yolk, livers, Swiss chards, peanuts, vegetables and corn. The biological functions of biotin include its roles in fat metabolism, regulation of blood glucose levels, cellular growth and the syntheses of the amino acids, valine and isoleucine. Large doses of vitamin B7 can be safely ingested.
However, some drugs do interfere with biotin absorption and functioning. For example, broad-spectrum oral antibiotics kill off the biotin-producing bacteria in the gut; isotretinoin, a retinoid acne medication reduces the activity of biotin; and high doses of vitamin B5 compete with biotin.
There are very few scientific evidences to show that biotin is useful in acne treatment. However, since it is involved in important biochemical processes, it may produce some indirect positive effects on the skin. Because biotin deficiency can produce acne-like symptoms, vitamin B7 supplements may improve acne symptoms especially in people with this deficiency. This is important since vitamin B7 deficiency can be caused by isotretinoin, oral antibiotics and vitamin B5, all of which are used in acne treatment.
For the same reasons, high doses of biotin may cause acne breakouts. This happens because biotin gains the upper hand in competing against vitamin B5. Megadoses of biotin may cause acute vitamin B5 deficiency and acne which is one of the symptoms of the deficiency.
Biotin is easily obtained from dietary sources, and it is even produced by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, vitamin B7 deficiency is rare but when it occurs, it causes hair loss, conjunctivitis, depression, hallucination, seborrhea and acne-like dermatitis.
What is Vitamin B12? Vitamin B12 is also called Cobalamin. It is produced by bacteria even in the plant and animal sources where humans get it. Bacteria produce hydroxocobalamin. This form of vitamin B12 is converted to cyanocobalamin during manufacturing although it is also sometimes sold as injectable vitamin B12.
Cyanocobalamin is converted back to hydroxocobalamin and then to the two active forms of vitamin B12, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin in the liver. This is why the richest dietary sources of vitamin B12 are livers.
Other dietary sources of vitamin B12 include eggs, milk, milk products, fish, shellfish, poultry and fortified foods.
Vitamin B12 has no direct effect on acne. However, since it is involved in cellular metabolism, fatty acid synthesis and DNA production, it may have a regulatory role in the immune system and endocrine system. Therefore, it is possible that the vitamin may help promote hormonal balance and reduce inflammatory response of the immune system at the skin.
However, high doses of vitamin B12 are reported to cause acne. Hydroxocobalamin is the form of the vitamin that is implicated the most although all commercial forms of vitamin B12 produce this side effect. There are different theories about why vitamin B12 may cause acne.
Some researchers suggest that high doses of the vitamin overstimulate some of the biochemical processes it oversees to cause hormonal imbalance, increased sebum production and local inflammatory reactions. Increased excretion of the vitamins via the skin pores is another suggested mechanism for this acne-promoting effect.
It is possible that excess vitamin B12 coming out of the skins irritate the epithelium to trigger an inflammatory response on the skin. Yet another theory suggests that the acne breakouts are caused by impurities such as iodine and sorbitol (which are known to cause acne) found in injectable hydroxocobalamin.
Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. The active form of the vitamin is L-ascorbate. Dietary sources of vitamin C include fruits, vegetables, raw liver, milk and oysters. This water-soluble vitamin is a very powerful antioxidant, it is involved in the synthesis of collagen and it is also a cofactor for many enzymes. Vitamin C can be safely taken in large doses.
It is difficult to achieve vitamin C toxicity and even then it causes mild symptoms such as diarrhea, headache, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.
Vitamin C is useful as an antioxidant in acne treatment. Although, it is a reversible antioxidant, ascorbic acid has a unique antioxidant profile because it does not produce reactive oxygen species when it is regenerated to be reused. As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects the skin from damage from free radicals that can set off a chain reaction that leads to acne breakouts.
Another way in which vitamin C protects the skin is through the production of stable collagen. By doing this, vitamin C prevents the skin’s protective barrier from breaking down as toxins come up to the surface. It also prevents skin pigmentation and can help remove acne scars. The protective effect produced by vitamin C on the skin is especially useful in acne treatment when oral antibiotics are used to clear acne breakouts.
The most commonly prescribed oral antibiotics for acne are the ones in the tetracycline family. However, these antibiotics make the skin photosensitive and cause the staining of the skin, teeth and bones.
Therefore, vitamin C is often prescribed not only to improve the anti-acne effects of these antibiotics but also to help reduce the hyperpigmentation they cause and protect the skin against damage from sunlight.
The chief symptom of vitamin C deficiency is scurvy, which is caused by the production of unstable collagen in the skin.
Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because it is synthesized in the skin from cholesterol on exposure to sunlight. There are five fat-soluble secosteroids in this vitamin family but only Cholecalciferol (or vitamin D3) and Ergocalciferol (or vitamin D2) are used in supplementation. Dietary sources of vitamin D2 are mushrooms and alfalfa. Vitamin D3 can be obtained from the eggs, beef livers and fatty fish.
These forms of vitamin D are converted to calcidiol in the liver. Then the prohormone is converted to calcitriol, the biologically active form of vitamin D, in the kidneys. The main biological role of calcitriol is in the regulation of calcium and phosphate levels in the body in order to promote bone health.
Calcitriol is also produced by the macrophages of the immune system, and the hormone produced at this site is mostly used for fight off infections.
Vitamin D has a number of benefits for acne treatment. First, it suppresses cell proliferation in the sebaceous glands. In this way, it prevents the enlargement of the sebaceous glands and reduces the production of sebum. Therefore, it prevents the appearance of acne comedones such as whiteheads and blackheads.
Secondly, vitamin D can become an anti-inflammatory agent at the right doses. While it may also cause inflammation, studies have shown that some vitamin D analogs can tilt the balance towards an anti-inflammatory effect useful in acne treatment.
Thirdly, vitamin D produces an antimicrobial effect through a group of natural antibacterial agents called cathelicidins. Cathelicidins are antimicrobial peptides produced by the leukocytes in epithelial cells.
Therefore, they can attack acne-causing bacteria. Lastly, vitamin D is also an antioxidant and it can protect the skin from oxidative stress.
If you are low in vitamin D, your immune system will be reduced. In extreme cases, vitamin D deficiency will show in weakened bones and muscles. However, most people do not have such low levels of vitamin D.
Common signs of a vitamin D deficiency include:
Vitamin E refers to a group of eight related compounds, tocopherols and tocotrienols. The most active form of the vitamin is alpha tocopherol. Vitamin E is a highly efficient antioxidant responsible for mopping up reactive oxygen species produced from fat metabolism. It is also involved in tissue regeneration which is needed to repair wounds.
Dietary sources of vitamin E include sunflower oil, safflower oil and wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, almonds, hazelnut and palm oil.
The antioxidant effect of vitamin E is its major contribution to acne treatment. There are different ways in which this antioxidant effect can help reduce acne breakouts.
Different studies have proven that vitamin E works best in acne treatment when used along with other antioxidants such as vitamin A and selenium.
Zinc is a mineral, and not really a vitamin, but it can greatly benefit acne sufferers. Zinc is responsible for correct growth and development, immune function, brain health, reproduction, and the health of the skin. Zinc is commonly found in meat, fish, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and beans.
Zinc helps metabolize omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to benefit many individuals with stubborn acne. Zinc can also act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, which helps prevent the bacteria that causes acne from spreading. Zicn also helps transport vitamin A and reduce sebum production on the skin. Many studies have found that individuals with low zinc levels are more prone to acne.
Selenium is a mineral and antioxidant that is useful in fighting acne. It is found in grains, seafood, nuts, and root vegetables. Selenium is a trace mineral, but it plays an important role in the body and has been linked with improving heart health, reducing anemia, and boosting the immune system.
Selenium works with other antioxidants like vitamin C and zinc to produce peroxidase, which reduces the inflammation that causes and worsens acne. Studies have found that individuals who are low in selenium are often more likely to have acne, and in some cases, supplementing with selenium reduces acne flare-ups in just a few weeks.
In addition to simply adding more vitamins to your diet, there are also several other lifestyle changes that can have a positive effect on acne symptoms and help acne pimples to fade and pop up less often. While you're increasing your nutrient intake, also add the following lifestyle changes to your routine:
Most of us would love a mandate to sleep more, but most Americans sleep far too little. A study published in the journal Sleep found that each hour of sleep a night you lose, your psychological stress increases 14 percent.
The more stressed you are, the more likely your skin is to break out. Dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal has this to say about how stress triggers acne, "Stress increases glucocorticoid production, which can lead to abnormalities in skin structure and function," she said.
Try going to bed one hour earlier each day and getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Your skin and stress levels will thank you.
Although there is not necessarily a direct link between how many potato chips you eat and how many pimples you have, your diet does affect your appearance. If you do not get the nutrients your body needs to make healthy skin cells, your skill will not look healthy.
Research has found that one of the biggest barriers to the healthy skin of a modern adult is the ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats. Our bodies run optimally on a ratio of higher omega-3 fat intake, which is commonly found in nuts and seafood. But the huge amount of vegetable oils in our diet means the average person eats far too many omega-6 fats.
This causes inflammation and may increase the risk of developing acne. One of the easiest ways to reduce acne is to simply eat fewer omega-6 fats, which are found in fried foods, baked goods, and nearly all processed foods.
A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition found that refined carbs could also trigger acne breakouts. Eating a lot of pasta, sugar, rice, and bread led to an increased number and severity of breakouts among study participants.
Exercise can help prevent acne in several ways. First, exercise reduces stress. Stress can trigger acne breakouts in many adults and teens. Second, physical activity and exercise increases blood circulation, making it easier for nutrients to reach the skin and eliminate cell waste.
Always shower right after exercise to prevent sweat from accumulating on your skin and irritating it. Don't exercise while wearing makeup for the same reason.
Many acne products contain harsh ingredients, which, although it seems like scrubbing acne away and keeping pores open and clean at all times will reduce acne, too much attention on your face will only make acne worse.
The use of medication and harsh face washes often makes the skin redder, more irritated, and more prone to breakouts. You don't need to wash your face several times a day. Washing your face once in the morning with water and once at night with a gentle cleanser is usually enough to keep your face clear without irritating your skin. Formulas for sensitive skin are usually ideal for acne sufferers.
If you have tried every topical and prescription treatment under the sun and still suffer from acne breakouts, upping your vitamin intake might just be what your skin needs to get clear from the inside out. Acne is a problem that affects millions well into adulthood, but there is no reason to continue to suffer.
By adding extra acne-fighting vitamins to your diet through food and supplements, combined with other acne-fighting lifestyle changes and gentle skin cleansers, your acne should soon become a thing of the past.
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