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Accutane and Aczone are just a couple of treatments that have been clearing complexions for years. And while these products have proven beneficial for some, others have yet to find success with prescription acne formulas. Cue vitamins for acne, the natural treatment options for those looking to banish blemishes sans traditional medicine.
Vitamins A, E, and B3, as well as zinc, have been proven to fight acne, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. These natural alternatives may tend to take longer than prescription drugs to clear blemishes (it can take up to two months to see a difference), but they are less likely to cause an adverse reaction. However, Garshick notes that the side effects of vitamins are very real, especially if the dosage is incorrect. To ensure that you are following the correct natural treatment for acne, she recommends talking to a doctor before adding supplements to your diet. With that said, vitamins for acne can be extremely effective and are worth giving a try.
Ahead, Dr. Garshick explains everything you need to know about your options for acne-fighting vitamins.
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What to Look For in an Acne Vitamin
When it comes to using vitamins to treat acne, Dr. Garshick recommends reaching for vitamin A. “It’s known that vitamin A derivatives, also known as retinoids, help to clear acne as they help to regulate skin cell turnover, which helps prevent pores from clogging,” she says. “Retinoids also work to stimulate collagen production, which can improve the appearance of scarring related to acne as well. At the molecular level, retinoic acid diffuses through the cell membrane and binds to nuclear receptors to promote cell turnover.” While isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) is available via a doctor's prescription, lower-dose formulas are available over the counter.
According to Dr. Garshick, vitamin B3 is another must. “A form of vitamin B3 or niacin, called nicotinamide, may be helpful in the treatment of acne through its anti-inflammatory effects,” she says. “It also may be effective at reducing oil production, which leads to shine and oiliness. Both topical and oral supplements have been studied and have shown improvement in acne.”
Dr. Garshick also recommends looking into zinc, though the overall verdict is mixed. “There is some evidence to show that lower levels of zinc can be associated with more severe acne, suggesting that zinc supplementation should help acne,” she says. adding that it’s been shown that supplementing zinc in those who are lacking it can help to improve acne.
However, there are some side effects. “When taken in high doses, zinc also causes some nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, causing some patients to stop taking it,” she says. “There are different formulations of zinc available, so if you’re interested in taking a zinc supplement to treat your acne, be sure to check with a medical specialist first to ensure you’re taking the proper dose. Given its role in fighting bacteria and increasing concern for antibiotic resistance, further research needs to be done to determine the best dose and type of zinc that’s most effective for the treatment of acne.”
Of course, as mentioned earlier, Dr. Garshick says it will take time to see any improvement when using vitamins to help clear your complexion, so patience is key. “We usually recommend giving most treatments for acne approximately two to three months before determining if it is effective or not,” she says.
Ready to add a supplement to your routine for clearer skin? For the best natural acne remedies, as told to us by dermatologists, keep on reading.
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Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is commonly found in topical acne treatments, so it wasn't too surprising to hear that vitamin A supplements combat acne symptoms. According to Garshick, studies have shown that patients with more severe acne were found to have lower levels of vitamin A—which makes sense considering that the oral form of vitamin A, isotretinoin, decreases oil production. However, Garshick recommends consulting a doctor before taking vitamin A, as high levels can lead to nausea, vomiting, hair loss, dry skin, and birth defects. Furthermore, there are prescription versions of vitamin A that medical professionals can prescribe that might better suit your health.
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Both topical and oral supplements of nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3, have been proven to reduce acne symptoms. In fact, Garshick says that one clinical trial found nicotinamide to be as effective as a topical antibiotic for acne. And while you can get nicotinamide in prescription forms, Garshick says it can also be found in plenty of over-the-counter lotions like EltaMD's PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer (view at Dermstore), as it effectively reduces oil production and shine.
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Zinc is an essential mineral that is needed for numerous healthy bodily functions, including boosting the immune system, healing wounds, and assisting in DNA/protein synthesis and growth. Applied topically, it's shown to aid in wound healing and regeneration, as well as protect the skin by deflecting UV rays.
While it can take several weeks to see an improvement, Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Zeichner Dermatology says that the continuous supplementation of zinc can help to reduce signs of acne. How? According to Zeichner, it reduces the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, decreases inflammation in the follicles, and possibly lowers oil production. And as for how much zinc you should take, Zeichner says to consult your doctor, although 200 mg is sufficient. He also notes that zinc supplements are relatively safe, although they have been known on rare occasions to cause an upset stomach or nausea.
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Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and oil often found in anti-oxidant blend topicals or moisturizers. It also helps soothe the skin and protects the lipid barrier.
Some studies have shown an association between low levels of vitamin E and acne, says Garshick. However, she is quick to point out that there is not enough information to know if supplementing vitamin E actually treats acne. But since the vitamin has been proven to fight free-radical damage, which might contribute to acne, some people believe that vitamin E can help alleviate acne symptoms. So while vitamin E alone won't likely cure acne, it may have some acne-relieving benefits worth trying out.