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December 2020

Acne: Supplements that Hurt & Help

Now that wearing a mask is part of daily life, breakouts and skin irritations are a common concern, so you might be getting more questions about battling this issue. Patients might not realize that some supplements can actually help reduce acne, while others can make it worse.

When it comes to worsening or causing acne, milk and whey protein are common culprits. There are a number of case reports in teenagers and young adults that link whey protein consumption to acne. Some observational research suggests that milk, which contains whey protein, might have a similar effect. For some patients battling outbreaks, eliminating milk and whey protein might help clear their skin. Beyond milk and whey, products with hormonal effects such as testosterone enhancers have been linked to acne, although evidence is limited. There are also some reports of other supplements worsening acne, particularly vitamin B12 – but these events seem to be rare and likely aren’t a concern for most people.

As for treating acne, there’s some promising evidence for several natural medicines, including tea tree oilniacinamide, and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Applying a 5% tea tree oil gel seems to work as well as 5% benzoyl peroxide in some cases. It might not work as fast as benzoyl peroxide, but it may be less irritating. Applying a 4% niacinamide gel twice daily for 8 weeks might reduce acne lesions by up to 60% in some people. There’s also some early evidence that taking a niacinamide combination product by mouth might help. And research suggests that applying a 14% AHA product reduces acne similarly to applying a 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion. But make sure patients know that using AHAs can increase sun sensitivity, so they may need to wear protective clothing and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Remind patients that staying hydrated and properly cleansing the skin each morning and night are important steps to healthy skin. To learn more about managing PPE-related skin problems specifically, check out our chart on PPE-Related Skin Irritation: Prevention and Treatment.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2021 Natural Medicines Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. Natural Medicines is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.