Acne can strike at any age. Although it’s more common among teenagers, and sometimes in women going through menopause, acne affects 17 million people in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Acne surfaces during times of hormonal imbalance. When glands produce more oil than normal, skin pores get clogged, allowing bacteria (and pimples) to grow.
Pimples come in many different forms and depths, including blackheads whiteheads, cysts, and nodules. To banish these troublemakers, research has long pointed to topical medications such as benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics like tetracycline, and oral drugs that contain vitamin A, such as isotretinoin (Accutane) which is for moderate to severe acne. Alternatively, some seek more natural treatments such oral vitamin and mineral supplements. Do natural remedies also work? And if so, which ones?
Vitamin A is a possible remedy for acne, but you need to make sure you’re getting it the right way.
Vitamin A oral supplements don’t work the same as topical vitamin A, according to clinicians at the University of Michigan. In fact, they caution against the supplement, as it can do more harm than good. Because the vitamin is fat-soluble, it builds up in your body, and a high intake of more than 10,000 international units (IU) can be toxic. This is especially true during pregnancy, so women who are planning on becoming pregnant should check with their doctor’s before starting any supplements.
But as a topical medication, vitamin A can help with your acne. Most topical medications chemically alter the vitamin into a retinoid which you can apply to the skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, retinoids are the most effective treatment for acne because of their ability to regenerate and heal the skin rapidly, so that you quickly have fresh skin.
Popular retinoid brands — in the order of least side effects — include Tazorac, Differin, and Accutane. You can get them only with a prescription.
Pregnant women should not take retinoids. The substance also weakens your skin’s natural UV protection, so people should take care to avoid long exposure to the sun and use sunscreen.
Zinc is a mineral that can also help with acne. You can take it as an oral supplement or as a topical treatment.
A recent review of the past studies on the topic found that zinc can decrease oil production in the skin, and can protect against bacterial infection and inflammation.
You only need small amounts of zinc in the body. The Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 8-11 milligrams (mg). There is some evidence that a relatively safe dose of 30 mg can help treat acne. High amounts of zinc may be harmful. Some people have reported becoming ill from taking too much zinc, and excessive zinc intake can lead to a copper deficiency.
Topical lotions that contain zinc can also help with acne. One study found that applying a lotion of 1.2 percent zinc acetate and 4 percent erythromycin twice significantly cleared the skin.
Myths and Truths
We’ve talked about how vitamin A and zinc can help your acne, but you’ve also probably heard of vitamin E as a possible remedy as well. Acne’s relationship with vitamin E isn’t as well studies as with vitamin A or zinc. However, in a recent study, acne sufferers were shown to have vitamin E, A, and zinc deficiencies. So it wouldn’t hurt to make sure you get your daily recommended intake of the vitamin E, 15 mg.
Tea tree oil may also be able to help with your acne. In one study, 30 people used tea tree oil gel for 45 days, and another 30 people used a placebo. Those who used the gel saw greater improvements in their acne
Tea tree oil is a good alternative to benzoyl peroxide, a well-known ingredient in acne creams. It has similar effects, wiping out bacteria and decreasing oil production. Both are available over the counter, but tea tree oil seems to cause less side effects like itching, burning, and peeling.