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The berries of the saw palmetto tree are thought to influence the levels of androgens in your body. They work by blocking the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), its more potent form.

This might make saw palmetto potentially useful for conditions which can be worsened by androgens, such as hormonal acne.

About saw palmetto

Saw palmetto is a small palm tree that grows primarily in Florida, and other parts of the southeastern United States. Its species name is Serenoa repens.

Saw palmetto has been used, primarily in Europe, to treat urinary dysfunction caused by benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) in men. It’s also used to treat androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness).

Saw palmetto’s anti-androgenic effects may also make it an effective treatment for some people who have hormonal acne.

Reduce oily skin by reducing androgen levels

Medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can spike androgen levels, causing acne and oily skin. Since androgens stimulate the production of sebum, an oily secretion that makes skin prone to acne, saw palmetto may be helpful for breaking this cycle.

One small 2007 study of 20 people with oily and combination facial skin found that a topical extract made from saw palmetto, sesame seeds, and argan oil helped to reduce the sebum levels in the large majority of the study participants.

It may also be helpful for reducing acne caused by hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation and menopause.

Nourish skin with essential fatty acids

Saw palmetto contains several essential fatty acids, including:

  • laurate
  • palmitate
  • oleate
  • linoleate

Essential fatty acids can help keep skin nourished and hydrated. They also help reduce skin irritation. The essential fatty acids in saw palmetto may make it beneficial for several skin types, including oily, acne-prone skin.

Its effectiveness is unknown

There is no scientific data that proves saw palmetto’s ability to reduce or eliminate acne. The anecdotal evidence about it is mixed, too.

Some people report that taking saw palmetto supplements helps their acne, and others indicate that saw palmetto is not helpful or makes their condition worse.

There are several ways to use saw palmetto for acne:

  • Eat saw palmetto berries.
  • Take nutritional supplements, which come in capsule, tincture, or powder form.
  • Mix saw palmetto essential oil with a carrier oil and apply to skin.
  • Purchase lotions, creams, or toners that contain saw palmetto as an ingredient.

There are no specific dosage recommendations for saw palmetto. If you take supplements, follow the directions on the label. If you decide to try it topically, first do a patch test on a small area, such as on your inner arm, to see how your skin reacts.

Purchase saw palmetto products online.

Saw palmetto is typically well tolerated by most people who use it, and it is not associated with any serious side effects. However, you might have some mild side effects from taking it orally. These include:

  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • headache
  • easy bruising
  • fatigue
  • reduction in sex drive
  • rhinitis
  • liver problems that might show up as jaundice or clay-colored stool

Before you take saw palmetto or any nutritional supplement, check in with your doctor or pharmacist. Let them know about all the medications and over-the-counter supplements and drugs you currently use. It’s possible to have an allergic reaction to saw palmetto.

Saw palmetto and drug interactions

Saw palmetto may increase your risk of bleeding if you take other medications, including warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin.

Saw palmetto may make birth control pills or hormonal IUDs less effective. Your doctor may suggest using a back-up birth control method, such as condoms, while you are taking saw palmetto supplements.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use saw palmetto. Children under age 12 should not use saw palmetto. It may not be the best acne treatment for teenagers, so be sure to talk to your doctor about using saw palmetto for your acne if you’re under age 18.

There is no conclusive data linking saw palmetto to an improvement in acne. But many people believe that taking saw palmetto supplements or using it topically can help to reduce breakouts.

Saw palmetto is considered a safe supplement for most adults. However, if you decide you want to try saw palmetto for acne, check in with a doctor or pharmacist first.