06 Nov The 4 best acne supplements
Supplements often get a bad rap but, when used appropriately, they are a powerful tool for clearing your acne.
So often, people start taking a pill and change nothing else. When it appears to do nothing, they become frustrated and presume the supplement ‘doesn’t work’. But the clue is in the name: supplements should only ever supplement good dietary and lifestyle habits.
I’ll repeat this because it’s so important: there’s no point buying a supplement if you’re not willing to fine-tune your diet and tweak your habits first. You’ll be wasting your money otherwise.
How to take supplements for acne
Presuming you have worked hard to set the foundations, there’s also a bit of an art to getting the most out of supplements. Here are a few tips:
1) Look for a formulation that contains few fillers and binders
These are the non-active ingredients. They’re often used as part of the manufacturing process, or they’re there to bulk out the pill or help it stick together. Common fillers and binders include magnesium stearate, carrageenan and microcrystalline cellulose powder.
Some fillers and binders are necessary, but high-quality formulations contain as a few as possible because they want to leave room for the active ingredients.
2) Plan to take supplements for at least three months
Supplements aren’t like drugs—they work more subtly and more slowly. You need to take a supplement for at least three months before you can determine if it’s having an effect.
3) Take the right dose
There’s a difference between a ‘maintenance’ dose and a ‘therapeutic’ dose. To begin with, you generally need to take a higher dose to help replenish your stores and get your body to rebalance. After that, you can reduce the dose or (in many cases) stop taking the supplement altogether.
The best supplements are necessarily the most expensive—they’re the ones with the most research behind them. Don’t be afraid to ask the question the brand or manufacturers about their evidence base.
The best natural supplements for acne
As you’ll have learnt if you read my previous blog post, acne is a multi-factorial condition. Each case is different, and the best supplements for you will depend on the type of support your body needs.
But there are common patterns, and—providing you follow the smart supplement guidelines above—your skin will likely benefit from one or more of the below.
One final note: some supplements can interact with medications. If you’re taking prescription medication or oral contraceptives, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, please check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Without further ado, here are some of the most useful supplements for acne:
Where to find it in food: meat, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds
Why it helps: studies show that acne sufferers tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood and skin. A few clinical trials have found that supplementing with zinc reduces acne, likely because it reduces sebum and has an anti-inflammatory effect .
Supplement dose: 15mg zinc, twice a day with food (do not take on an empty stomach, as this can cause nausea). The forms zinc gluconate or zinc sulphate are best, so read labels carefully. If you take zinc for more than three months, you must also supplement with 1–2mg copper daily to avoid imbalances.
Where to find it in food: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring
Why it helps: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two omega-3 fats in fish oil. They are known to have anti-inflammatory effects. One study showed that supplementing with 2g EPA and DHA reduced the number of pimples in acne sufferers after ten weeks .
Supplement dose: 5ml liquid or 2 capsules fish oil, once a day. Look for a formulation that has roughly equal amounts of DHA and EPA.
Where to find it in food: no food sources
Why it helps: one study found that a particular strain of friendly yeast (‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae var boulardii Hansen CBS 5926’) improved acne in 80% of sufferers . Saccharomyces boulardii supplements have slightly different strains, but they all support microbial balance—which has a knock-on effect on acne.
Supplement dose: 5 billion colony forming units (CFUs), twice a day. High-quality formulations will include the CFU value on the label. Do not take Saccharomyces boulardii if you have an allergy to yeast.
Where to find it in food: oily fish, seafood and egg yolks. Your skin also makes vitamin D during sensible exposure to sunlight.
Why it helps: one study found that vitamin D tends to be lower in acne sufferers . This important vitamin modulates your immune system, as well as supporting a healthy gut barrier (which is crucial for clear skin) .
Supplement dose: 10–25mcg vitamin D3, once a day. If you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s good practice to take vitamin D during the winter months. But it is possible to take too much. You can check your blood levels by buying an at-home vitamin D test kit.
How should I take supplements for acne?
You don’t need to take all of these, and you also don’t need to take them forever. Commit to taking supplements for at least three months to begin with, and then gradually decrease the dose. If your skin is fine, stop taking the supplements but continue to eat the foods that contain the relevant nutrient. If you notice your skin reacts, take the full dose for another three months and then try again.
‘Supplement guilt’ is a real thing, and you should never take supplements just because you’re scared of coming off them. Your body is dynamic. Just because it’s benefitting from a supplement now, it doesn’t mean that you’ll derive the same value from it in a year.
Continue to experiment until you find what’s right for you and your skin. That may mean you continue to take one or two supplements, or you may find that you don’t need any at all. Remember: food and lifestyle come first. Supplements are only ever the cherry on top.
To see more supplements for acne—along with key diet and lifestyle tips—pick up your copy of The Happy Skin Solution.