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Supplements for Acne

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Supplements are an important part of acne therapy. They can help improve symptoms and prevent new acne breakouts.

Supplements are commonly used in acne treatment either to complement regular acne medications or combined to treat acne on their own.

Generally, the supplements used in acne treatment produce far fewer side effects when compared to other acne remedies. This is because these supplements are naturally occurring compounds needed for normal development in the body.

These supplements improve skin health to treat acne. They can also provide additional effects through their antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities.

Some of these supplements are cofactors for enzymes in the body; some are incorporated into proteins, fatty acids or other structural compounds in the body while others simply prevent deficiencies that can result in acne.

Discussed below are 5 of the most effective supplements used in acne treatment plus one other supplement that may actually trigger acne.

Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil is the fish oil obtained from the liver of codfish. It is prepared in two ways: by fermentation and by chemical refining.

Cod liver oil is useful in acne treatment because of its store of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and D.

Fermented cod liver oil is preferable to refined cod liver oil because it naturally obtained and also because it contains the full complement of vitamins, cofactors, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Care should be taken while taking cod liver oil as a supplement. This is because it contains a high amount of vitamin A. Therefore, dietary sources of vitamin A may have to be avoided so as not to cause vitamin A toxicity.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty acids

The Omega-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil are EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid).

These Omega-3 fatty acids have a strong anti-inflammatory property and a mild antibacterial property. They can also provide some cosmetic effects on the skin by lubricating it and improving its appearance.

The antibacterial effect of Omega-3 fatty acids is useful in killing off acne-causing bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermis.

These bacteria cause a cycle of inflammation, increase sebum production and promoting the clogging of the skin pores. When these happen, the result is acne breakout which is observed from the appearance of acne lesions such as whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pimples, nodules, cysts as well as red, scaly marks and acne scars.

On the other hand, the anti-inflammatory effect is sufficient to prevent and reduce inflammatory acne lesions which appear in severe cases of acne.

Other benefits of the Omega-3 content of cod liver oil include their incorporation into structural molecules in the skin and their usefulness in restoring the natural pH of the skin.

Benefits of Vitamins A and D

Vitamin A is an essential growth factor for the epithelial cells of the skin.

It is responsible for the maturation of skin cells and by this mechanism it improves the turnover of the skin by replacing damaged skin. In this way, Vitamin A can help clear acne lesions and acne scars.

Vitamin A also reduces sebum production by reducing the inflammation of the sebaceous glands.

In the formation of acne lesions, acne-causing bacteria and male sex hormones can increase the production of sebum by causing the enlargement of the sebaceous gland.

Reducing the production of excess sebum is important in acne treatment. By doing this, vitamin A reduces the chances of bacterial infection and prevents the clogging of the skin pores by a mixture of bacteria, dead skin cells, and sebum.

Vitamin D, on the other hand, is a potent antioxidant. It mops up harmful free radicals from the skin and prevents damage to the skin that can promote acne formation.

Vitamin D is also characterized as anti-comedogenic. This means that it can break down whiteheads and blackheads which are formed from the clogging of skin pores by sebum, bacteria and dead skin cells.

Besides reducing the breakout of acne comedones, vitamin D can also reduce sebum production.

Lastly, vitamin D can produce antibacterial effects by stimulating the cathelicidins which are peptides found in the cells of the sebaceous follicles.

While these peptides were shown to have sufficient antimicrobial activity to kill off P. acnes, they can also cause skin inflammation. However, the effect of vitamin D is such that it regulates these cathelicidins to provide more antimicrobial benefits and less inflammation.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is the oil obtained from the tissues of fatty fish such as cod, halibut, mackerel, tuna, and catfish. The major constituents of this oil are the Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

The major benefit of the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil for acne patients is the anti-inflammatory activities of EPA and DHA. These fatty acids inhibit a major inflammatory factor called leukotriene B4.

Leukotriene B4 is implicated in the formation of inflammatory acne lesions. It also increases sebum production.

The Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil also reduces the rate of keratinization and the formation of dead skin cells. Therefore, fish oil can prevent the clogging of pores by reducing the secretion of excess sebum and the formation of plugs along with dead skin cells and bacteria.


Magnesium is an essential mineral in the body. It has important roles in several biochemical processes in the body including energy production in the cells, enzyme activities, and gene expression.

In acne treatment, magnesium helps reduce some of the causes of the skin condition. It is useful for relieving stress and for maintaining hormonal balance.

By contributing to the syntheses and regulation of different hormones, magnesium can help reduce the levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone and its metabolites.

A more specific benefit of magnesium supplementation in acne treatment is the anti-inflammatory effects produced by this mineral. Magnesium supplementation has been demonstrated to reduce skin inflammation.

This anti-inflammatory effect is mediated by reducing the plasma concentration of C-reactive protein (for systemic or internal inflammation) and E-selectin (for epithelial or skin inflammation).

E-selectin is an adhesion molecule produced in endothelial cells and activated by cytokines released after an injury to the tissues of the skin such as the injuries caused by acne lesions. It binds to the leukocytes responsible for local inflammation in the skin.

To inhibit the action of these leukocytes, magnesium reduces the levels of E-selectin, and therefore, reduces the local inflammation caused at the sites of acne breakouts. By this mechanism, magnesium is effective for preventing and relieving inflammatory acne lesions.

Magnesium supplements can be combined with calcium supplements and vitamin C to improve their absorption. Because magnesium can neutralize stomach acid, it should be taken on an empty stomach or preferably at bedtime so as to prevent indigestion.


Selenium is an essential, trace element required for the optimal functioning of many antioxidant enzymes. It is also important for thyroid functioning as well as for the regulation of thyroid hormones.

In acne treatment, selenium’s major contribution is in protecting the skin by increasing the actions of antioxidants.

However, it also has an anti-inflammatory activity which is useful for relieving inflammatory acne lesions. Selenium also improves the elasticity of the skin and, therefore, can help reduce acne scars.

There are two major ways by which selenium provides antioxidant protection for the skin. First, it improves the antioxidant effects of vitamins A and E which are always prescribed alongside.

These antioxidants mop up the harmful free radicals and toxins which accumulate on the skin. By removing them, the antioxidants preserve the integrity of the skin, prevent damage to the skin itself and inhibit the actions of acne-causing bacteria.

The antioxidant action of selenium also protects the skin against changes caused by hormonal imbalance. It can help prevent the cycle of inflammation and the clogging of skin pores by preventing both the colonization of the skin surface by bacteria and the breakdown of skin cells.

In addition, selenium is an essential cofactor for glutathione peroxidase which is the enzyme responsible for neutralizing hydrogen peroxide and organic peroxides such as lipid hydroperoxide.

When these peroxides are used up, they will form reactive oxygen species which can damage the cells of the sebaceous follicles.

However glutathione peroxidase, with the help of selenium, quickly reduces hydrogen peroxide to water and lipid hydroperoxides to harmless organic alcohols.

The safe and effective dose of selenium in acne treatment is between 200 micrograms and 400 micrograms per day. This is sufficient to help increase the production of glutathione peroxidase to normal levels.

Selenium supplements should also be combined with vitamins A and E in acne medications.


Zinc is another essential trace mineral needed by humans. It is the second most important mineral in human biology and it is found in all classes of enzymes produced in humans.

Zinc is involved in diverse biological roles. It is absolutely essential for gene expression and for neurological health.

Because free zinc ions are toxic, they are bound to proteins such as albumin and transferrin. Zinc competes with other minerals such as copper for absorption in the gastrointestinal tract and for binding sites on these proteins.

Acne is one of the symptoms of zinc deficiency.

In acne treatment, zinc is needed for its antimicrobial activity but, more importantly, for its ability to regulate the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone or DHT.

DHT is one of the androgens responsible for causing acne. It stimulates an increased production of sebum by causing the enlargement of the sebaceous gland. When the skin is suddenly flooded with excess sebum, it becomes an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Therefore, DHT indirectly promotes the colonization of the skin by acne-causing bacteria such as P. acnes. The cumulative effect leads to the clogging of the skin pores which causes seborrhea and the eruption of acne comedones such as whiteheads and blackheads.

The actions of DHT also trigger an abnormal cycle of inflammation of the skin which is seen by the appearance of inflammatory acne lesions such as pimples, papules, nodules, and cysts.

Zinc can help prevent this chain reaction from occurring. By reducing the production of DHT, it helps preserve the sebaceous glands and keep the production of sebum to normal levels.

In addition, the antibacterial effect of zinc can help kill off acne-causing bacteria especially when zinc is provided as a topical preparation.

Lastly, zinc also has an anti-inflammatory activity which is helpful for reducing inflammatory acne lesions. The exact mechanism of this effect is unknown but it involves granulocytes which are inflammatory cells of the immune system.

Zinc supplements should also be combined with vitamin A. The daily dose of zinc should not exceed 40 mg and zinc supplementation should be avoided when tetracycline antibiotics are also being used in acne treatment.


Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid which accumulates in muscle cells. It is an energy-boosting supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to quickly gain muscle mass.

Creatine works in this regard by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate or ATP which is the chief energy molecule in the cells. It also increases water retention in muscle cells, increases the growth of muscle fibers and repairs damaged muscle fibers.

Creatine supplements are encouraged to be taken with high glycemic carbohydrates to get the best benefits of its anabolic effects.

However, many people report acne breakouts with creatine supplementation.

Contrary to popular belief, creatine does cause and/or aggravate acne. Besides the muscle building results of creatine, it also stimulates the production of certain hormones in the endocrine system. Unfortunately, these are the very hormones known to cause acne.

Creatine supplementation increases the production of androgens such as testosterone and DHT as well as insulin-like growth factor-I or IGF-I. This happens regardless of diet, gender or level of physical exertion.

Androgens are known to stimulate increased sebum production in the skin and IGF-I is responsible for most of the acne breakouts caused by foods supplying high glycemic loads.

These three hormones are responsible for the hormonal imbalance which precipitates acne.

Therefore, creatine supplement should be avoided during acne treatments. While it does not cause acne in everyone, it can worsen acne and its use should be discouraged in teenagers who are the ones most likely to develop acne due to hormonal imbalance.

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