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Popular Supplements that Cause acne

certain supplements like zinc, vitamin D, B12 biotin, and whey protein can trigger acne

Have you ever bought a skin, hair and nails supplement thinking it would help with your acne? Do doctors or naturopaths prescribe you zinc to heal your skin? Or maybe that vitamin D supplement has suddenly broken you out and you don’t know why?  

Before you go popping a multitude of supplements, sprinkle some vitamins in your water or stick a vitamin IV drip through your arm, those supplements may cause acne.

Supplements like B12, vitamin D, zinc and biotin can all trigger acne when taken in EXCESS. Excess being the keyword here. The body and skin need these vitamins and nutrients, but a lot of supplements and powders you buy from the store can have 1000s times the recommended daily intake.

So let’s break down the supplements that can actually cause acne. If you want to find out the supplements that will help kick your acne to the curb, you can read that here .

The Acne-Causing Supplements (and their dosages)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and has been suggested to help with acne. There’s no doubt, we definitely need this vitamin. It’s even been shown that people who are acne prone tend to be more Vitamin D deficient [1]. BUT supplementing with excess vitamin D can actually make your acne worse.

High levels of vitamin D can trigger testosterone – literally men take vitamin d supplements to increase their testosterone levels and sperm count [2].

What’s so bad about increased testosterone? Testosterone causes your skin to produce more sebum (the skin’s natural oil) which causes acne. It’s the number one hormone that triggers acne. So you don’t want to voluntarily increase this hormone if you’re acne prone.

Dosage: The recommended daily intake (RDI) for Vitamin D is 10-20mcg [3]. But I’ve known some supplements and multivitamin powders can have anywhere between 200-500% of your RDI.

The thing about vitamin D is it’s fat soluble – this means that it stores up in our system. So, when you take a supplement because your deficient, it can rapidly increase your body’s vitamin D levels to way more than you need. This excess storage then affects your testosterone and ta-da: bring on the acne.

Vitamin D sources: cod liver oil, fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), beef liver, egg yolk. And my favourite, unprotected sun exposure for  10-30 minutes in the morning (we’re not burning your skin obviously) [4].

Zinc

Ah the controversial one. Zinc is amazing for the skin – it’s been suggested to assist at treating inflammatory acne and increase wound healing [5]. But the key is: in the right dosage. Studies have shown that high levels of zinc can cause an increase in testosterone leading to acne. It’s why men supplement with zinc to increase testosterone later in life. And it’s why oysters boost your sex drive – testosterone baby.

Dosages: Many people, especially those who are acne prone, can be deficient in zinc. It is an essential trace element meaning we need it, but only in small amounts (most of which we can obtain through food). A lot of supplements on the market have dosages that are 3 x the recommended daily intake. Taking 100-200% of your RDI is fine, but when we get into more than triple our daily requirement, that acneic effect of testosterone starts to show up on your skin.

Wholefood sources: oysters, beef, pork, turkey, oats, pumpkin seeds, lentils, sardines [6]

Vitamin B12

This is an essential vitamin – your body can’t make this one on its own. So, it’s important to include B12 in your diet (especially if you’re vegan), however having TOO much of it via supplements, can cause acne. Just like zinc and vitamin D, B12 stimulates an increase in testosterone. Not only this, but if too much B12 is in the system, it alters the action of acne-causing bacteria (P.Acnes) causing more inflammation and acne [7].

Be wary: vitamin B12 is snuck into energy drinks, bars and protein powders because it gives you that increased energy.Literally one greens powder I came across had 4000% the RDI – more is not better in the case of acne.

Dosage: the daily recommended intake for B12 is 2.4 micrograms for adults [8]. For supplements, anything up to 300%of the RDI is usually not problematic for acne.

Wholefood sources: Beef liver, nutritional yeast (fortified), salmon, tuna, beef [8]

Biotin

Think those “skin, hair and nails” supplements will fix your acne? It’ll do the exact opposite. These supplements are packed full of biotin (aka Vitamin B7) which can cause acne. Here’s why: Biotin essentially increases keratin – the protein in the skin which is why your hair and nails get stronger. This might sound great on paper (it’ll give us stronger skin, right?), but not if you’re acne-prone. We typically have a genetic predisposition that overproduces this protein – known as hyperkeratosis.

In a non sciency way, the keratin causes the skin cells to stick together, which means that people with acne have difficulty shedding the excess dead skin cells from the pores. So, you get this build-up of skin cells which stay stuck on the skin’s surface creating a sticky plug – trapping dirt, sebum (oil) and bacteria inside. The result: acne [9].

So, taking a biotin supplement for acne is like adding fuel to the fire. It means there will be MORE skin cells clogging the pores, which means MORE acne or turning them into deeper cystic pimples.

Another theory on how biotic can impact acne, is by competing and causing a deficiency in vitamin B5 [10] – which is an amazing skin vitamin that helps reduce sebum production and acne. Basically, more biotin = less vitamin B5 = higher chance of acne forming.

Dosage: Bacteria in our body naturally produces B7 and we get sufficient levels through food. But if you wanted to take a supplement, anything under 300% of the RDI is going to be okay for your skin, but there are supplements out there with 10 000mcg (the RDI is only 30mcg!!!) A great alternative to biotin would be silica which supports and strengthens the skin proteins, but won’t have the same acne causing affect.

Wholefood Sources: beef liver, salmon, pork, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, almonds spinach.

Whey Protein

It is probably one of the most common protein powders on the market, but if you’re wanting a great protein powder after your HIIT session or a pilates class, then don’t choose whey protein. Whey is a form of dairy which increases your insulin-link growth factor (IGF-1), causing your skin to produce more androgens (male hormones), oil and yes acne [11]. So, whey may give you those post-workout muscles you want, but it’ll also give you the breakouts you don’t want. Swap to a vegan protein powder instead.

Okay I’ve thrown a lot at you. So let’s summarise.

tl:dr THE TAKEAWAY TIPS  

  • It’s all about the dosages. We need all these vitamins, but when they are taken in EXCESS, that’s when acne starts to appear
  • Be aware of multi-vitamins and powders – look out for high levels of zinc, vitamin D, B12, biotin and whey in the formulas
  • Check the dosage on the labels –cross reference the supplement to your recommended daily intake. And if taking multiple supplements at once, make sure your still not going WAY over your recommended levels when they’re added altogether.
  • Get your levels tested – you want to know your baseline levels of essential nutrients before you go adding in supplements (you might not actually need them). So work alongside a practitioner you trust, like a functional medicine doctor, naturopath, nutritionist, to work out exactly what is needed for your unique body via the labs.
  • Use food as your multivitamin – make your meals your medicine and then fill in the gaps with supplements for extra support. Your body knows how to process food much more efficiently

Want to know the supplements that are actually GOOD for acne? Find out here.

Let me know in the comments: have you ever had supplements cause acne before? Raising my hand for a certain greens powder.

References (I did the homework so you don’t have to)

  1. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0161162:
  2. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21154195/
  3. Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals:https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  4. Vitamin D: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
  5. Role of Zinc in Acne: 77 Patientshttps://www.ijord.com/index.php/ijord/article/download/447/215
  6. Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
  7. Vitamin B12 modulates the transcriptome of the skin microbiota in acne pathogenesis – PMC (nih.gov)
  8. Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
  9. The role of skin immune system and acne: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/11/6/1579
  10. Cell and Molecular Aspects of Human Intestinal Biotin Absorption: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2646215/
  11. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115795/

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