In my previous article I talked about which dietary adaptations can be useful if you suffer from acne. In this article I offer you an overview of vitamins and minerals that are known to play an important role in the prevention and treatment of acne. I limit myself to well-researched vitamins and minerals that have been proven to actually work. There aren’t that many. Only vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc have been proven to have a therapeutic effect on acne.
What is acne?
Acne is one of the most common dermatological diseases and affects the majority of the world’s population. It is likely that up to 85% of people will suffer from acne at some point in their lives. It usually starts during puberty. After that it usually disappears on its own. However, acne can occur in adults too. Acne is characterized by seborrhea (excessive sebum secretion by the sebaceous glands) and formation of comedones and pustules in areas rich in sebaceous glands (face, upper back). Some people only have a few blackheads, but others get a lot of acne including pustules, deep lesions, abscesses. And they are left with scars.
Acne and Antioxidants
It has been suggested by scientists that oxidative stress may play a role in the development of acne. Therefore, drugs with antioxidant effects or antioxidant supplements can provide valuable help in treating acne. In fact, all the vitamins and minerals I’m going to talk about in this article —vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc—are antioxidants. That is why it is not surprising that they are often used in acne therapies. It is not a new insight, by the way. I grew up in the Soviet Union. There, a general practitioner would routinely prescribe a combo supplement of vitamins A and E (high doses) for people with acne.
Zinc supplements have been used to treat acne for decades.
Zinc is the major mineral that can support acne therapy. Zinc inhibits the growth of the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes and reduces inflammation of the skin.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 7 mg for women and 9 mg for men.
The following vegan products are rich in zinc: nuts, and seeds (especially pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds), legumes (lentils and beans), whole grains. For an elaborated list of foods rich in zinc, please read this article.
Note: If you take more than 50 micrograms of zinc per day, the absorption of the mineral copper is disrupted. So, if for any reason you do take zinc supplements, it is wise to take extra copper at the same time (1 mg copper for each 50 mg of zinc).
Vitamin A affects the formation of new cells and accelerates their regenerative processes. Retinoids, vitamin A derivatives, have been used in the treatment of acne for decades. Vitamin A derivatives are found in medicines and nutritional supplements as well as in dermocosmetics for acne treatment. So, both internal and external use helps.
In the Netherlands, the recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult is 800 mcg/day. 100 grams of carrots contain 1500 mcg of vitamin A, so almost twice as much as we need per day. Sweet potatoes are another great source of vitamin A. A medium sweet potato (120 grams) contains about 850 mcg of vitamin A.
Vitamin E, a component of the skin’s lipid membrane responsible for skin hydration, also helps treat acne. This vitamin has a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also inhibits sebum secretion. A deficiency of vitamin E is often found in acne patients.
In the Netherlands there is no recommended daily allowance for vitamin E. The adequate intake is considered to be in the range of 11 mg (adult women) – to 13 mg (adult men) per day.
One tablespoon of wheat germ oil (15 ml) contains 18 mg of vitamin E. Wheat germ oil is really the best source of this vitamin. Other good sources of vitamin E include sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnut oil.
External use (application onto the skin) of vitamin C can reduce inflammation of the skin and can also help scars heal faster. The evidence that internal (ingesting with foods or supplements) vitamin C helps against acne is not strong.
Summary. What should you eat if you suffer from acne?
- Vitamin A: carrots and sweet potatoes;
- Vitamin E: wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnut oil;
- Zinc: nuts and seeds, lentils and beans, whole grains.
I hope reading my two articles about the relationship between acne and diet was interesting and maybe even helpful for you!