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Iodine and Acne

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Many people believe that iodine affects acne. Learn more about the complex relationship between iodine and acne.

The relationship between diet and acne is not 100% clear.

For a long time, there was a belief that diet was one of the leading contributors to acne breakouts. Many different types of foods were blamed for acne, including:

There was a widespread belief that many different types of foods caused acne, all of which were based on poorly completed studies with limited samples and no control groups.

It's now known that diet is unlikely to affect acne breakouts. But that doesn't mean it has zero effect on your skin. Dairy appears to have an effect on acne, as do low glycemic carbohydrates. It's not a tremendous relationship, but it does appear to exist.

Because of these links, it's important to examine each food and nutrient individually to see what may contribute to acne and what is likely a myth. One such example is iodine.

The Link Between Iodine and Acne

There are two different beliefs when it comes to acne and iodine. The first is that iodine deficiency causes acne. This is when there is not enough iodine in your body. Other people believe that too much iodine causes acne or makes acne worse, and recommend avoiding products high in iodine.

Rarely is there one mineral with two opposite beliefs, but that's what appears to occur when it comes to acne and iodine. In fact, a quick Google search as of this writing comes up with the following article topics:

  • Using Topical Iodine for Pimples
  • Foods High in Iodine to Avoid Acne
  • Acne and Iodine Supplements
  • How You Made the Mistake of Using Topical Iodine Remedies

Two articles supporting iodine for acne, two articles against using iodine for acne. There is rarely so much disagreement over the effects of iodine and acne. As usual, when there is a disagreement, it is best to go to the research.

Iodine Deficiency and Acne

Iodine is a vital nutrient for the body. Many people are iodine deficient, which is why iodine is often added to salt to improve overall intake.

Some believe that iodine deficiency is responsible for acne, and there is some evidence supporting this theory.

That evidence is not necessarily in the research, however. Almost all acne iodine studies were completed in the 1960s, and the vast majority of those were mismanaged – the types of studies that should in no way be viewed as evidence for or against iodine and acne.

Beyond that, however, there are a few reasons to believe that iodine deficiency may lead to acne.

However, it's not exactly iodine deficiency and acne that appears to be the problem. In reality, the acne is a secondary effect of another issue, known as hypothyroidism.

Iodine is an important element for thyroid health, and several of the hormones released by the thyroid contains iodine. When there isn't enough iodine in the body, that could potentially lead to hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is a separate disease – one that can be caused by factors other than iodine intake. That is why it's not necessarily fair to claim that iodine deficiency and acne are linked, as hypothyroidism may be caused by something else.  But those that suffer from hypothyroidism are more likely to suffer from acne.

This indicates a secondary relationship between acne and iodine, where iodine may cause another disease which may then cause acne.

It also means that it's possible – although how isn't yet clear – that iodine deficiency does lead to acne. Perhaps the same process that creates acne in those with hypothyroidism occurs if there isn't enough iodine in the body.

Nevertheless, it's unclear whether increasing iodine intake will cure acne, and those with an iodine deficiency may be more likely to suffer from other hypothyroid symptoms that are even more problematic than acne.

Iodine and Acne Treatment

Those who believe they may not get enough iodine in their diet or think they may have hypothyroidism (or those that want to see if they want to reduce their acne with iodine) can do so with either iodine supplements or facial washes that include iodine.

It's unclear which (if any) of those two types of treatments are more effective.

Iodine has a strong antibacterial and antiviral effect both inside and outside the body, which means that iodine can be quite effective in killing the bacteria that cause acne from both the inside and the outside. As a result, both topical treatments and oral supplements are likely to have similar effects. Try testing internal treatments for a couple of months and then switching to external treatments if you don't notice any effect from internal supplements. 

Since few scientific studies have specifically looked at iodine as it relates to acne, iodine is mainly a trial-and-error treatment for acne. 

An abundance of Iodine and Acne

Others believe that too much iodine causes acne breakouts.

While they agree that iodine is a crucial mineral for good health, many believe that – since most people do not need "that much" iodine in their diets – some people are getting too much, and the result is more acne breakouts.

This theory was promoted in a controversial article written by a University of Buffalo professor that claimed that:

"It has been well-established since the 1960s that iodine intake can exacerbate acne,"

The problem is that most other researchers disagree. In fact, analyses of the studies from the 1960s have indicated that nearly every study performed back in the 1960s did their research poorly:

  • They used no control sample.
  • They only examined acne for 1 week to 1 month
  • They used a small sample.
  • They didn't replicate their studies.

These types of errors would get research rejected in today's journals. That's because it can take as long as two months or more for acne to show up – acne grows under the skin three weeks before it comes to the surface – and most recommend at least 3 to 6 months to see if an acne treatment works.

Combine that with a small study sample and no subjects to compare it to, and it's impossible to believe any conclusions drawn from most of these studies.

Some researchers use anecdotal evidence as well.

Research has shown that milk may cause acne, and there is iodine in milk. That has led some to theorize that it's the iodine in milk that causes acne.

But according to the National Dairy Council, the amount of iodine in milk is extremely small, especially compared to other foods – foods that have not been linked to acne.

There have been almost no studies since these poor studies in the 1960s that have linked iodine and acne.

Does This Mean There's No Link Between Excess Iodine and Acne?

It is safe to say that there is currently no reason to believe that iodine leads to acne breakouts.

One note of caution, however: just as iodine absolutely has not been proven to cause acne, so too has it not been disproven. There is simply no research into iodine to draw any reasonable conclusions, except a few poor studies in the 1960s that have long been debunked.

There is little reason to believe that excess iodine causes acne, but until some research is completed, it's not fair to say that it cannot. There simply is no way to know either way without well-controlled studies. Certainly, if you take iodine supplements and you believe you see an increase in your acne, it may be a good idea to cut down just in case.

Nevertheless, without a link between acne and iodine intake, it's likely safe to consume the recommended amount of dietary iodine.

Final Thoughts on Iodine and Acne

When it comes to iodine and acne, the conclusions are mixed. Iodine deficiency is unlikely to cause acne itself (although it is possible) but iodine deficiency may cause hypothyroidism, which could cause acne.

As far as excess iodine causing acne, this appears to be far less likely. 



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