If you suffer from acne, you know that it can feel like the most isolating condition in the world. It may surprise you to find that it’s actually the most common.
Acne affects up to 50 million Americans every year. While it normally begins in puberty, it can occur at any stage in life and last into your 30’s and 40’s. If you find yourself picking, pushing and stressing in front of the mirror trying to keep your bumps at bay, it’s time to find some answers.
Today, we’re diving deep into what causes acne breakouts, how you can soothe them, and why vitamins play a bigger role in the equation than you might think. Ready to learn more about how to effectively treat acne? Let’s get started!
What is Acne?
Before we explore how to treat acne, let’s establish what acne actually is and why it appears.
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when our hair follicles plug up with excessive amounts of oil and dead skin cells. What is that oil and how does it factor in? It all starts in your sebaceous glands.
The Role of Sebaceous Glands
We all have sebaceous glands, or oil glands, in our skin. They’re found almost everywhere on our bodies, except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. These glands tend to cluster in higher concentrations in three primary places, including our:
- Face (forehead and chin)
- Back (middle)
- Genital area
These glands produce a greasy substance called sebum to keep our skin and hair moisturized. Light yellow in color, sebum consists of the following components:
- Wax esters
- Free fatty acids
- Cholesterol esters
While sebum is responsible for most of the oil on our skin, it isn’t the only oil there. Your face and body are also covered in lipids from your skin cells, as well as perspiration and environmental matter.
Most sebaceous glands connect to a hair follicle. However, some, like the glands on our eyelids, open up directly onto the surface of our skin.
The Sebum Production Process
Before it makes its way to the surface of our skin, sebum mixes with the dead skin cells in our hair follicles that are preparing to slough off. When those follicles become full, the sebum moves to the surface of our skin, where it spreads out to make those areas soft and healthy.
In addition to acting as a natural moisturizer, sebum (oil production) also helps keep our skin flexible and acts as a protective barrier against bacterial and fungal infections.
What happens when your skin produces too much or too little sebum? Let’s explore.
What Affects Sebum Levels?
All of us have a unique level of sebum and naturally occurring oil production. This is because of our hormones, specifically androgens like testosterone, control oil production levels. Testosterone, in particular, triggers our sebaceous glands to increase sebum production.
When we’re teenagers, our sebaceous glands enlarge and our hormones become more active, ramping up sebum production. That’s why acne and adolescence tend to go hand-in-hand, especially for teenage males. Research shows that they produce up to five times more sebum during puberty than females do, likely because they also produce 10 times the amount of testosterone.
Around the age of 20, sebum production starts to slow down and continues to decrease as you age.
Apart from hormones, other factors can affect how much or how little sebum your body creates. If you have a disease or disorder that affects your pituitary or adrenal glands, ovaries, or testicles, you might notice fluctuations in your levels. In addition, the following substances are known to reduce oil production:
- Oral contraceptives
- Vitamin A derivatives (isotretinoin)
Conversely, if you’re taking testosterone or progesterone, you may notice an uptick in sebum.
On the other side of the equation, if your skin doesn’t produce enough sebum, you could experience dry, red, flaky skin as it’s lacking adequate amounts of natural moisturizer.
Different Types of Acne
You might associate acne with those pesky pimples that tend to pop up at the most inopportune time. However, it’s important to understand that not all acne causes pimples.
Acne forms when dead skin cells collect in our pores and mix with sebum, which causes the cells to lump together. This mixture becomes trapped inside the pore, along with a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes) that lives on the skin. If these bacteria enter into your pores and infect them, you’ll notice a blemish.
The four main kinds of acne include:
- Pustules (pimples)
Let’s explore each in detail
Non-Inflammatory Acne: Whiteheads and Blackheads
If your skin creates too much sebum, it lingers in your pores. While there, it also mixes with dead skin cells and dirt. If those hair follicles become clogged, bumps called comedones appear. These are noninflammatory acne lesions.
A comedone that opens to the surface and darkens is called a blackhead, characterized as a small, flat dot with a black center. Note that the black color isn’t dirt. Rather, it’s surface pigment called melanin.
If the follicle wall becomes completely blocked, it will bulge instead of opening up, creating a closed comedone. In this case, you’ll see a whitehead, which looks like a small, flesh-colored bump with a white center and a round circle on the outside. Sometimes, you’ll notice a hair in the middle of the bump or near it.
Non-inflammatory acne might be a little sensitive to touch, but it normally isn’t as painful or tender as inflammatory acne. In addition, most non-inflammatory acne doesn’t cause scarring.
Types of inflammatory acne include pustules, papules, cysts, and nodules. Let’s take a look at each.
Mild to Moderate: Papules
Have you ever tried your hardest to bring a pimple to the surface only to realize it isn’t going anywhere? That’s a papule, otherwise known as an under-the-skin bump. These develop when a whitehead or blackhead creates so much irritation that it damages surrounding skin.
The surface of the papule will appear pink, raised, and solid, while nearby skin will swell a little and turn red. Unlike whiteheads, you’ll notice that papules don’t have a visible center. Nor do they appear to be widened, like blackheads.
Mild to Moderate: Pustule
If the follicles become inflamed or infected with bacteria will you see an actual pimple, which looks like a small red bump with a defined white center. This is a pustule.
If you’ve ever popped one, you know that inside a pimple lies white or yellowish pus, created when immune cells and bacterial cells combine. Though similar to whiteheads, pustules are larger and more inflamed.
Moderate to Severe: Nodules
Nodules are hard, painful bumps located deep beneath your skin’s surface. They are essentially bigger, deeper papules that lack a defined center.
Nodules form when clogged pores become irritated, damaging nearby skin cells and tissue. These are a moderate to severe form of acne that can lead to permanent scarring if you attempt to extract them on your own.
Moderate to Severe: Cysts
Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne blemish (severe acne). These cysts are large, painful bumps located deeper under your skin than nodules. Filled with pus, the bumps themselves can be white or red.
What Triggers Acne?
As discussed, acne is a normal physiologic occurrence that occurs when sebum mixes with dead skin cells, dirt or bacteria. However, some triggers can occur and aggravate the condition. These include:
- Fluctuating hormones
- Picking and prodding at acne lesions
- Clothing and headgear
Fluctuating Hormones (Hormonal Acne)
Are you a woman who breaks out before and during her menstrual cycle every month? If so, fluctuating hormones likely are to blame. Just as hormones trigger acne during puberty, they also do so during this time.
You’ll first notice skin breakouts about 10 days before your period begins. This is the time when your estrogen levels are at their lowest, and this drop puts your testosterone levels at their highest. This imbalance leads to premenstrual acne or hormonal acne, a condition that affects around 50% to 80% of women.
Both testosterone and estrogen are both tied to hormonal acne and having too much of either of these hormones can cause an imbalance in oil production for the skin.
Hormonal acne tends to be classified as severe acne and needs a more comprehensive treatment approach than what simple topical creams can offer. That is why supplementing through the diet is effective in conjunction with topical remedies.
Manipulating Acne Lesions
We get it. When you see a pimple that looks ripe for the picking, you can’t help but spend a few minutes trying to get it out. The same goes for those papules that you swear you can extract with enough squeezing.
The only problem? We have around 1,500 bacteria living on every square centimeter of our hands. As you lean against your palm and press your fingers into the bump, you’re only adding to the bacteria that created the lesion in the first place. Rather than curing your acne, you’ll notice that this makes it worse, leaving you with an inflamed sore in the process.
Clothing and Headgear
Like exercise, tight and unwashed clothing or headgear can create sweat on our bodies, which triggers an uptick in bacteria and oil production. In addition, the items themselves might have bacteria from multiple wears.
Keep all intimate items, such as bras, washed regularly to prevent back and chest acne. In addition, resist swapping hats or other headgear to avoid germ sharing, and keep those clean, too. Tiny bumps around your hairline can pop up when you sweat under your hat.
Though stress does not cause acne, it might worsen existing symptoms. This is because when we feel overwhelmed, our bodies produce a hormone called CRH, or corticotrophin-releasing hormone. This hormone binds to our sebaceous glands and can drive up oil production.
How Can I Treat My Acne?
Those with acne know that there are myriad treatment options available that can help keep symptoms at bay and improve their complexion. Remember that this post is not meant to be taken as medical advice but to act as a guide to those seeking a clearer complexion. Here are the usual suspects:
While some people swear that greasy, high-sugar foods such as pizza or chocolate can lead to acne, there is no definitive research that supports this claim. While these foods might not be the best for your health, they won’t necessarily increase your oil production or cause bacteria to build up inside of your pores.
However, some foods cause acne symptoms to worsen. These include dairy products and those high on the glycemic index (such as white bread). The latter creates an increase in your blood sugar, which can result in inflammation. Eliminating or reducing these foods from your diet can make a difference.
Sweat does not cause acne. However, exercise can lead to an excessive buildup of bacteria on your skin. Commit to washing your face with a mild cleanser every morning and night, as well as after a workout, to keep those germs at bay. Be cautious not to over-wash, though, as this can dry out your skin.
While some oral contraceptives can help treat acne, others make it worse. Your doctor might be able to prescribe a kind that can help mitigate those monthly changes. These will likely be low-dose estrogen and progesterone pills.
If you exhibit signs of excessive androgens (male hormones like testosterone and DHT), such as thinning hair and irregular periods, your doctor can also prescribe anti-androgen treatments, such as spironolactone.
Look for skincare and cosmetic products labeled “non-comedogenic. This means they’re specially formulated not to clog your pores. The best ones are also labeled as “oil-free” or “water-based.”
You can apply these to your skin or take them orally. In either case, they’re designed to help control surface bacteria and reduce skin inflammation. They are most effective when taken in combination with benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. Always follow the medical advice of your physician and do not take these types of medications without a prescription.
Available over the counter or in prescription-strength, benzoyl peroxide targets that surface bacteria that aggravate acne and disband oil production. Though effective in some cases, this treatment can lead to irritation and dryness at the area of application.
Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives. They’re designed to treat blackheads and whiteheads. Though there is one over-the-counter version available, most are reserved for prescription only. Like benzoyl peroxide, these can cause skin irritation and dryness.
The oral retinoid isotretinoin shrinks the size of your oil glands and is reserved only for those who suffer from severe, cystic acne. It can lead to the following adverse conditions:
- Dry skin
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Elevated triglycerides
- Birth defects
As such, those considering it will undergo extensive testing before starting a regimen. A dermatologist will want to examine your:
- Cholesterol levels
- Chance of pregnancy
- Triglyceride levels
- Liver function
- Bone marrow function
After the prescribed period, they’ll report for follow-up exams for five months or longer to analyze results.
Other Topical Treatments
If your case is mild-to-moderate, there is a slew of over-the-counter products aimed at smoothing your skin and drying out your bumps. Yet, these can take four to eight weeks before you’ll notice any real results. Moreover, most are full of harsh chemicals that can exacerbate skin conditions and make it more susceptible to sun damage.
Some of the most common ingredients found in the acne treatments at your local pharmacy include:
- Salicylic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Alpha hydroxy acids
If you’ve used these products to no avail, your doctor can prescribe your stronger, prescription-strength products to reduce inflammation and speed healing. These can have painful side effects, ranging from skin irritation to liver damage, and are only recommended in cases of severe acne.
Book an appointment if you’re suffering from acne scars, painful nodules or deep cysts. Your dermatologist can provide medical advice and remove persistent, large lesions, as well as those that don’t respond to other kinds of treatment.
Vitamins for Acne
Always consult your physician prior to starting any supplement regimen. Here are a list of vitamins associated with helping you achieve a clearer complexion:
Vitamin A is one of the best-known supplements for acne and skincare. It’s an antioxidant that is part of a group of compounds called retinoids. You might be familiar with terms like retinol, retinoic acid, and retinyl palmitate which are all from this group and frequently cited as ‘active ingredients’ in anti-aging creams.
Dermatologists often prescribe vitamin A as a topical treatment for acne. In fact, several of the popular prescription acne medications like Accutane contain a form of vitamin A. However the potential side effects of using Accutane can be pretty harsh. These are used to treat the most severe cases of acne, so you can be confident that it’s an effective ingredient!
Vitamin A plays an active role in many different areas of the body, such as supporting the immune system, producing red blood cells, and maintaining clear vision. Perhaps most importantly for acne purposes, it also supports the health of our skin. It regulates the shedding of dead skin cells, which if allowed to build up can be a cause of acne spots. This process ensures that pores don’t clog up or become blocked.
Most good quality supplements for acne will include vitamin A for this reason. Another key benefit is its antioxidant properties, which help to reduce inflammation. This can help to minimize swelling and calm the appearance of red acne breakouts. So, if you suffer from inflammatory acne on the face or other parts of your body, supplementing with vitamin A may help.
Vitamin C can have dramatic effects on your skin health and suppleness of your skin, as well as clear acne. Although it’s primarily known as an immune-boosting vitamin, it can also minimize redness and increase collagen production. This helps to improve the overall appearance of your skin by aiding its firmness and flexibility. If you have acne scars, then vitamin C is crucial in aiding their repair and gradual disappearance.
Acne, along with weight loss or gain, pregnancy, and sun damage, can all play havoc with our natural complexion. Cystic acne, in particular, tests the flexibility and resilience of our skin, since the cysts cause pressure and stretching. If the production of collagen decreases and flexibility disappears, then marks are more likely to occur. It’s harder for the skin to adapt to changes caused by cysts, which sometimes leaves visible scarring where it has been ‘stretched’ too quickly. Vitamin C plays a key role in collagen synthesis so that your skin is resilient and heals quickly.
It’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect your cells against damage from free radicals. This can also reduce the redness associated with acne which is caused by inflammation. So, as well as helping your skin repair itself, it can also noticeably improve the appearance. Supplements for acne like vitamin C can boost collagen levels and have antioxidant efforts, so that your skin is able to adapt quickly, minimizing the likelihood of scars and appearing less red.
There are very few side effects associated with using vitamin c even at considerable doses.
Research shows that people with moderate or severe acne are much more likely to be vitamin D deficient. A study by Korean researchers found that 48.8% of people with acne were deficient in vitamin D, compared with just 22.5% of people without acne. This suggested a clear link between acne and vitamin D deficiency, so they decided to test the effects of supplementation.
The researchers conducted a randomized control trial where half the participants received a daily vitamin D supplement and the other half got a placebo. After two months of taking 1000 IU of vitamin D daily, the supplementation group saw a dramatic 35% decrease in the number of red spots. Although there was no change in blackheads or whiteheads, this shows promising effects for people with severe acne.
Multiple studies have now established a link between vitamin D deficiency and acne. The Vitamin D Council recommends high doses to treat acne in both adults and teenagers. They suggest that it may take around 2-3 months to begin seeing improvements but can take up to 5-6 months for maximum beneficial effects to take place.
Vitamin E is another well-known skincare nutrient that can be found in many anti-aging creams. It’s found in highly concentrated amounts in sebum, which appears to transport it from the bloodstream to the surface of the skin. It also has antioxidant properties that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from causing damage.
Research studies have suggested that vitamin E has an anti-inflammatory effect. This may be how it reduces the severity of acne and improves the appearance of skin. Taking supplements for acne like vitamin E can also enhance the effectiveness of prescribed acne medications. One scientific study found that both the efficacy and tolerability of benzoyl peroxide (a topical acne cream) was enhanced by incorporating vitamin E into the formulation.
Oral vitamin E is used in the treatment of burns in addition to vitamin C and zinc (more on zinc later). It is thought that this combination has a greater antioxidant effect on the skin so it benefits from greater free radical protection. This reduces the amount of time that it takes for wounds to heal and may be beneficial for those who want to reduce the appearance of acne scars too.
Both Vitamins D & E are fat-soluble so they can come along with side effects if taken at too high of a dose.
Vitamin K1 & K2
Did you know that vitamin K comes in two forms? Vitamin K1 and K2 both perform different functions in the body and come from different dietary sources too. However, both types are essential for skin health and to prevent and treat acne.
If you don’t consume enough of both types of vitamin K, then calcium can get deposited within the elastin fibers of your skin. This can harden and lead to wrinkles, so it’s best to ensure that you’re getting enough of the vitamin no matter what your age.
From an acne perspective, vitamin K also plays a key role. It’s involved in the formation of proteins that help to maintain healthy skin cells. This means that it not only helps to prevent acne in the first place but also supports the treatment of cells damaged by scarring from spots.
Selenium is both a mineral and an antioxidant that provides protection for other antioxidants. It works in synergy with them to maximize their effectiveness and plays a role in how the glutathione peroxidase enzyme functions. This influences the inflammation of acne and can prevent it if functioning correctly. The enzyme depends on selenium to function, so if you have a deficiency then your body will have trouble controlling breakouts.
Even a small amount of selenium can help to improve the appearance of acne, especially in combination with vitamin E. Research has also shown that being deficient in selenium can contribute to other inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
When it comes to supplements for acne, zinc should definitely be high on your list. It enables several key processes that contribute to clearer skin. It supports the metabolism of omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in fish oil. As an antioxidant, it also helps to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. It also helps to break down a chemical called substance P that causes sebum to be produced in stress situations. Lastly, it transports vitamin A around the body which (as we’ve already covered) is one of the essential supplements for acne.
Scientific research studies have shown that people who suffer from acne often have low zinc levels. So, it’s important to avoid deficiency by including it in your supplementation routine. Taking zinc regularly will also help your body to make the most of the vitamin A and omega 3 fatty acids that you consume without side effects. Even without its acne-treatment benefits, zinc is a crucial nutrient for everyday life. It plays a role in a huge number of bodily functions, including those of the brain, immune system, reproduction, along with growth and development. So, ensuring you get adequate amounts is important regardless of whether you suffer from acne or not.
Not only do the essential fatty acids in Omega 3 fish oil benefit the skin cells by soothing your body’s inflammatory response to excess sebum and bacteria, they can also tackle the root of the problem by helping to regulate acne-causing hormones, such as testosterone and androgen from hormonal acne.
You want to choose a good fish oil supplement as you can only get EPA and DHA from animal sources such as fatty fish (i.e. Salmon) and not from plant-based sources. Look out for fish oil that has past its expiration date (and be wary of the burps).
Evening Primrose Oil & Chaste Tree Berry
If you suffer from acne that’s related to menstruation, then either Evening Primrose Oil or Chaste tree berries may be the answer. For some people, monthly periods can cause a hormone imbalance that causes frustrating acne breakouts (hormonal acne). Evening Primrose Oil (often shortened to EPO) contains the omega-6 type of fatty acid which can help to regulate hormone levels and return your skin to its normal clear state.
Chaste tree berries are associated with relieving acne, along with other conditions that can be affected by hormonal imbalances. For thousands of years, women have been using this berry to treat menstrual problems and gynecological conditions. Although chaste tree berries do not contain any hormones or hormone-like substances, they do have an influence over the pituitary glands and hypothalamus. This is how they play a role in rebalancing the hormones that cause acne and other physical symptoms.
Acting in the same way that birth-control pills do to help to keep your skin clear, both evening primrose oil and chaste tree berries offer a natural supplement alternative. However, it’s important to note that Chaste tree berry is not recommended for women who are pregnant so avoid taking it if this is the case for you.
So, now you know exactly what to look for when choosing the right supplements for acne. Although the cause can be multifactorial, combining several of these nutrients gives you the best possible chance of addressing the root issue. Paying attention to your diet and ensuring that it’s well-balanced is one way to increase your vitamin and mineral intake. However, most of us have busy lives and don’t always know if we’re consuming the right amount of different nutrients in the correct proportions. This is where supplements for acne really come into their own, as a quick and easy way to nourish your body with everything it needs for overall skin health.
The Keep Klear Prevention Patch
Want to keep acne away and encourage brighter, smoother skin without the use of damaging cleansers that only serve to strip your skin of its natural oils? The Keep Klear Prevention Patch is the ideal solution.
Our patch is filled with 100% natural, skin-loving acne vitamins. In one application, you’ll receive the following daily value (DV) percent of natural supplements for acne, including:
- Vitamin A: 100%
- Vitamin C: 417%
- Vitamin D3: 250%
- Vitamin E: 1333%
- Vitamin K: 125%
- Vitamin K2-MK7: 125%
- Selenium: 286%
- Zinc: 100%
In addition to reducing the swelling and inflammation associated with acne, these vitamins for clear skin help minimize symptoms related to boils, abscesses, and eczema. The patch also includes our PMD Complex, which consists of the following natural ingredients:
- Evening primrose oil
- Type II Collagen
- N-acetyl Glucosamine
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
- Glucosamine sulfate
- Chaste tree berry
How does it work?
You’ll apply the patch every day to an area on your body that has little to no hair, such as your shoulder or hip. Like our other PatchMD patches, you only need to leave it on for eight hours to get the full effect. You can even leave it on overnight while you sleep, waking up to skin that looks better than ever before.
While it’s on, the patch allows these vitamins to penetrate deeply into your system, delivering robust effects that you can’t get with topical treatments alone. Each pack contains 30 patches, and you can wear up to three patches a time for maximum results.
An Innovative Solution to Your Acne Breakouts
When you struggle with acne breakouts, you’ll try anything to keep your skin clear. While there are plenty of treatment options on the market, most are irritating and come with a laundry list of fine-print concerns.
Instead of swiping on drying lotions or swallowing chemicals, why not fill your body with proven, powerful vitamins? Our Keep Klear Prevention Patch delivers a straight shot of all the nutrients your body needs to clear up that stubborn acne for good. With regular use, you’ll find that you can toss that container of pills and potions on your bathroom counter. Treat acne from the inside out.
Want more information on how the patch works? Interested in trying it for yourself? Contact us today and let’s connect.
PatchMD for the long game of acne control
Instead of buying individual supplements for acne, why not choose one that contains all of the skincare nutrients you need? Our Keep Klear Acne Prevention Patch contains all the best vitamins and minerals for nourishing your skin and reversing troubling spots. For a nutrient-based approach to treat acne and other skin issues, they offer a simple and high-quality solution.
The patch provides 500IU of Vitamin A (109%), 250mg of Vitamin C (417%), 1000 IU of Vitamin D3 (500%), 400 IU of Vitamin E (1333%), 100mcg of Vitamin K and K2 MK-7 (125%), 200 mcg of Selenium (200%), and 15mg of Zinc (165%). It also contains our unique PMD Complex which includes Evening Primrose Oil, Type II Collagen, L-Carnitine, N-acetyl Glucosamine, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), Glucosamine Sulfate, and Chaste Tree Berry. This combination of effective ingredients integrates the benefits of multiple supplements for acne into one handy patch.
The Keep Klear Acne Prevention Patch is available in packs of 30 so that you have a supply to last the entire month. Since your body can’t store many of the vitamins, it’s crucial that you replenish your levels daily. If you are someone who suffers from acne, then Keep Klear patches may help prevent breakouts and maintain clear skin for the long term.