Healing Hormonal Acne: Vitamins and Medications

Apr 27, 2019

I’ve been a bit silent on the acne front here for a minute, and that’s mostly because I’ve had lots going on in my life recently. While I talked recently in my post on stress and perfection about how I’m trying to actively let go of the pressure I put on myself to “be perfect” all the time (including — and maybe especially — with my face), that doesn’t mean that I’m not still trying to understand the underlying problems and find things that help make my acne better. I’m just trying to give myself grace and practice patience when things don’t go the way I want which, unfortunately, is often.

While I hope to someday be able to give more solid answers to others who are struggling with hormonal acne, that day is still far in the future. So for now, we’ll be leaving the land of certainty and entering the world of speculation and experimentation. That’s not to say I haven’t learned or don’t know anything, but for all I know something I learn today could be disproved by something bigger that I learn next month. Regardless, I still want to share what I’ve learned and what I’m trying!

Today we’re talking about vitamins, supplements, and medications that I’ve tried for my acne — and what has and hasn’t worked. I do need to make a disclaimer that I am by no means a medical professional, and just because something worked for me DOES NOT mean it will work for you. Please be sure to consult your doctor or a professional before trying any new medications and/or supplements! My goal here is not to give you a list of things you must buy, but to instead share what each medication or vitamin does and when you might consider taking it. Knowledge is power and there is too much misinformation floating about on the internet, especially as it relates to supplements!

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The last thing I’ll say as it relates to vitamins: quality — and therefore price — matters. There’s been loads of studies revealing that many common “vitamins” didn’t actually contain what they claimed, or at least not in the alleged dosages. Personally, I’ve lived the “buy the cheapest version you can find on Amazon” life, but recently I’ve switched to spending a little more on quality stuff. And honestly I can really notice the difference. Reputable brands that I trust are Thorne Research and Pure Encapsulations.

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Medications

In an ideal world, I wouldn’t take any prescription medications. I’d much rather treat symptoms by understanding the root problem and then adjust my lifestyle accordingly. However — as we’ve all learned through this journey — often times finding the root cause is pretty difficult. In those cases, my realist side isn’t above taking something as long as I understand what it’s doing to my body.

Spironolactone

I’ve been on this prescription for a few years now, and I actually talked about it in my first acne post. This medication is an androgen blocker, meaning it lowers the amount of androgens (male hormones) that my body produces. Androgens influence the amount of oil (sebum) that our face produces – higher androgen levels mean more oil. So the line of thinking is that if my body produces less androgens, it will be less likely that my pores get clogged and produce acne. (Again, refer to part 1 of my acne series if you want more details on androgens and how they influence acne!)

I’ve tried really hard to get off this one but… the cold hard truth is that it really does work for me. Last December I tried halving my dosage and upping my Vitamin B5 intake in hopes that this article would hold true. Sadly, the pimple situation just got worse and worse until I decided to cut my losses and go back up to the full dosage. Within a few weeks I noticed major improvements (took a few weeks to flush out the massive pimples that had appeared in the meantime), so we’re going to continue to use this one for the time being.

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I’d still really to love to go off it eventually — my biggest problem is that I know this is just a bandaid that’s covering up the root problem of hormonal imbalance. In fact, it’s actually messing with my hormones even more since it’s blocking my body’s androgen production! However, I’m definitely going to need professional help with this one.

Dosage: 50 mg (note: my dermatologist prescribed this to me)

Verdict: it works

Vitamins

Why take vitamins? Isn’t it just the same as popping prescription pills? Do they even work?

All these questions were ones I’ve been turning over in my head for quite some time, and for years the only vitamins I ever took were Vitamin D in the wintertime. Depending on who you ask, some people believe very strongly that taking additional vitamins is pointless. But others claim that our soil is less nutrient-dense than it used to be, and that modern food processing and transportation technology strips our foods of nutrients even further thus making it necessary that we supplement with vitamins.

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Without testing every bit of food that I consume for nutrients (sounds like a pain to me), I’ll never really know if I’m getting the right amount of vitamins & minerals. My belief is still that I’d rather get my vitamin intake from nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, & whole grains than taking a bunch of pills. However, I started to get curious about certain vitamins & minerals — especially as a few kept popping up as potentially related to acne & inflammation. So, I decided to give a few a try. Below are my inconclusive but hopefully illuminative findings! 😅

Vitamin B5

As I mentioned above, I was really excited by the contents of this article (warning: v scientific), which basically hypothesizes that rather than androgens, acne could be more affected by a process that is dependent on Vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid). While the author saw great success with his patients that took super high B5 dosages, I was not as lucky. For a few months I tried taking 3000 mg of B5, and in the last month I halved my spironolactone dosage like I mentioned above. Sadly, I saw no changes in my acne until I lowered my spironolactone dosage, and then it got much worse. Although I won’t lie that I was a little glad to not have to be taking 6 B5 pills a day — it did feel pretty excessive!

Dosage: 3000 mg (3 500 mg pills 2x per day)

Verdict: didn’t work

Magnesium

Basically I got sick of reading over and over again how most people are deficient in magnesium and how it helps with hormone health, lowering inflammation, yada yada. So I decided to just take it and see what happened.

Magnesium is a mineral that is involved with HUNDREDS of processes in the body — so it’s just a little important. 😉 It’s associated with lowered stress, lowered blood pressure, and higher insulin sensitivity. Long term use of hormonal birth control pills are also associated with lowered magnesium.

While there doesn’t appear to be any direct link between magnesium and acne, it does appear to be necessary for hormonal health and reducing stress. (less stress = less inflammation = less acne. See below for a bit more in inflammation) I’ve also been feeling stressed lately as I’ve mentioned, and was sleeping pretty poorly for a few weeks. Magnesium also helps with sleep (and of course general stress), so I figured now was as good of a time as any to try and see what happened.

I noticed immediately that it helped with my sleep (I was sleeping more soundly), and it seems to also be helping with my digestion — the type I’m taking, magnesium citrate, is known to help constipation. 😬 See this post for a good overview of a few different types of magnesium to take. While I haven’t noticed any immediate changes to my acne, I have noticed differences for the better, and I think I will continue to take this for my overall health.

Dosage: 135 mg magnesium citrate, taken about an hour before bed.

Verdict: Has definitely helped with sleep & digestion, will continue to take

Zinc

I was feeling a little stuck researching hormones, as that avenue didn’t seem to be helping me get any further, so I started doing some research on inflammation. Which led me to zinc.

In a nutshell (much more could be written on this but I’ll try to keep it brief 😉), inflammation is a result of the body’s response to a threat such as an injury (like a cut) or illness (like pathogens or bacteria). As it relates to acne, the body senses the bacteria and the resulting giant, painful pimple is the body’s inflammatory response to that bacteria. It’s clear that my body has been waaaay over-reacting to my face bacteria, and so I suspect something is up with my immune system.

Back to zinc — Zinc is anti-inflammatory and is known to support the immune system, which means that it helps the body from over-reacting to possible threats. Additionally, it’s also important to the functioning of the hormone system, and has been shown in multiple studies to moderately reduce the symptoms of acne in patients.

Sounds great right? So I decided to give it a try. I’ve been taking it for about 4 ½ months now and while I haven’t noticed any dramatic, immediate changes, I feel like reducing overall inflammation is something that takes time. Plus, it’s not like I’ve made it easy on myself here recently!

Dosage: 30 mg zinc picolinate

Verdict: Inconclusive. Will continue taking it for a few more months to see if I notice any changes.

Vitamin B complex

This is another one that I’m less certain about, but kept coming up in my research — oral contraceptives deplete B vitamins, and they are anecdotally said to help with energy. Honestly, I have the least amount of evidence for this one, but I was feeling like I didn’t have any energy, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I took a vitamin B complex for about 2 months, and while I may have felt more energetic, there’s a pretty good change that was a placebo effect. Additionally, I was taking a formulation with a lot of vitamin B12, which has been shown in some preliminary studies to actually increase acne-causing inflammation. Yikes!

I’m currently taking a break from this one, and will probably try a dosage that’s higher in vitamin B5 (and lower in B12) in about a month or so and see if I notice any differences.

Dosage: One B-complex capsule per day

Verdict: Inconclusive. Will probably try again in a month with this formulation.

Next steps

So, Instagram has finally learned that I’m interested in anything acne-related and has started showing me lots of ads for acne products. I’m sort of ashamed to admit this, but I do click on a lot of them (or at least go do a google search for the company). Most of them are a load of crap, but there are a few that have gotten me curious. Most notably: these TrueClear Acne Clarifying Supplements and these Alani Nu supplements. The TrueClear ones are basically a multivitamin that have a lot of things I’ve read about in my research (zinc, vitamin B5, vitamin A {retinol is vitamin A}, vitamin C, etc.). They sounds appealing because one pill is a lot easier than 5! (But no magnesium which is disappointing.) The Alani Nu ones on the other hand have a bunch of compounds that I’m less familiar with, so I need to do some more research on those. Have you tried either? What was your experience?

And there you have it! Like I said: lots of speculation. But I’m trying to be as cautious and analytical as I can and not just buy whatever Instagram sends my way. 😂 I included lots of links to my research in this one because remember KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Don’t just take any one person’s word for anything (yes, this includes me! I don’t pretend to know everything). If something sounds promising, do a google search and see if you can find other sources backing up the claim (or disagreeing with it). And of course let me know if you learn anything in addition to what I’ve got here! Cheers!

Resources

Here’s a collection of reputable sources I like to go to for information.

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