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Are Your Supplements Sabotaging Your Skin?
by Emily Linehan on October 3, 2022
While vitamins and supplements aren’t inherently bad, if you’re acne prone it’s important to pay careful attention to what type and how much you are taking. This is because taking too much of certain supplements (more than 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance, or ‘RDA’) can actually have a negative effect on your skin. Let's dive into some of the most popular supplements that may be sabotaging your skin!
Vitamin D offers a ton of essential benefits for overall health! In its D3 form, it is especially great for sensitive skin or those with chronic inflammatory conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, etc. This is due to its anti-inflammatory properties helping to rapidly repair and rejuvenate the skin.
However, studies  have shown that too much Vitamin D can trigger hormonal acne. This is because excessive amounts of Vitamin D can stimulate testosterone production, which is the primary aggravating hormone for acne. Another issue is that Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so the excess is stored in our fat cells, resulting in our bodies storing much more than needed. This surplus of Vitamin D will continue to affect our hormones, leading to hormonal acne (which usually appears around the chin/mouth).
Generally, there is too much Vitamin D in supplement pills or droppers, therefore I recommend that you have your doctor check your supplements to ensure that you aren’t overdoing it on Vitamin D. You should only take the RDA (600 IU/15mcg for adults 19 years and older or 800IU/20 mcg for adults 70 and older) of Vitamin D unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Additionally, if you are experiencing acne I recommend consulting with your doctor to see if taking your Vitamin D supplement every other day is an appropriate option for you!
#EmmeTip: If you’re looking for a new supplement, I personally take Liquid Vitamin D3 and K2 from Chambers Supplements! Just be careful to ensure you take the appropriate amount based on your needs.
Biotin (Vitamin B7)
If you’re a client of mine, you’re likely already aware that Biotin can be a major trigger for acne-prone skin. Although it’s marketed as a miracle supplement for longer hair, stronger nails, and glowing skin, there are no published studies to prove those claims. Instead, Biotin is known to increase clogged pores, create deficiencies in Pantothenic Acid (which helps our skin clear), and is a key nutrient for acne bacteria. You can take a deeper dive into Biotin and why it may be triggering your acne here.
Because we don’t have a biotin-deficient culture, we get most of what we need each day (approximately 30-100 mcg) from our diet. Therefore, I don’t recommend taking any additional Biotin supplements. Be sure to check all of your multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, and B-complex vitamins as most do contain Biotin.
If you find that your supplements do contain biotin, here are a few acne-safe alternatives:
Biotin Alternative for healthy hair, skin, and nails:
#EmmeTip: While Biotin is easy to recognize in vitamins marketed for hair, skin, and nails, it is also hidden in other vitamins and supplements. In fact, most multivitamins and prenatal vitamins contain Biotin. If you are acne-prone, be sure to check all your vitamins and supplements (even protein powders) for Biotin!
B12 is another nutrient that plays a key role in several processes in your body including metabolism, DNA production, energy, red blood cell formation, and more. Being deficient in B12 can cause a variety of issues, but an excess of B12 can have some negative side effects as well. While the research is ongoing, some recent studies  have revealed that too much B12 can lead to an increase in porphyrin production by Propionibacterium acnes (a type of facial bacteria). Porphyrin is an inflammatory compound, which when overproduced, can lead to acne.
In addition, B12 can lead to a spike in testosterone. This gives you a boost of energy which is why B12 has become increasingly popular in IV drips and injections, however, it can also give your acne-prone skin a boost in the wrong direction.
If you’re noticing breakouts (most commonly near your lower face), excessive B12 may be the culprit. To avoid this, proceed with caution before taking any supplements or injections, and always check with your doctor first!
Zinc has been widely studied as an acne treatment due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It can help calm redness and inflammation, and even reduce the appearance of scarring. Although it may offer some benefits, it is important to consider that excessive amounts of zinc can stimulate testosterone production, which can trigger hormonal acne. This is why it’s important to ensure you are not overdoing it with zinc, as most of us get the amount recommended from our diets alone. For reference, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19+ years is 11 mg a day for men and 8 mg for women. Pregnancy and lactation require slightly more at 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively.
Commonly found in multivitamins and super greens, Iodine is an essential trace mineral for the body that is necessary for healthy hormone production by the thyroid*. Although Iodine plays an important role, an overabundance of it is problematic for those with acne-prone skin. When there is more iodine than the body can use, the excess is excreted through the sweat glands. Since iodine is a follicle/pore irritant, this sets the stage for inflammatory responses on the skin such as inflamed acne, as well as rosacea, and eczema.
Keep in mind that iodine is commonly found in foods (especially processed/salty foods), so you’ll want to be careful to not exceed the recommended daily allowance, which is 150 mcg. You will also want to check your supplements as well, as many multivitamins contain iodine!
*Important Note: If your doctor has prescribed an iodine supplement or medication for your thyroid, do not discontinue use without consulting your doctor first.
Pre-Workouts with Stimulants
Pre-workout supplements can be very stimulating to the skin and follicles which sets the stage for inflammation (remember, acne bacteria love "drama" in the pores). Therefore, it is best to avoid pre-workouts with artificial stimulates or ingredients that make the skin "tingle", such as niacin and beta-alanine.
Something else to consider is that many pre-workouts are high in caffeine or contain other acne-triggering ingredients such as creatine. Therefore it is important to review the ingredients in your pre-workout carefully. Some acne-safer versions I recommend are Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy, AlaniNu Pre-Workout, or Tone It Up Energy Boost.
Whey protein has become increasingly popular as a restorative supplement, especially for those that strength train. However, since it is derived from dairy it affects the skin the same, making it a common cause of breakouts and inflammation. To learn more about why this is, be sure to check out our blog covering the link between dairy and acne.
In addition to whey, be sure to avoid protein powders that contain casein, soy, or super greens (such as spirulina, chlorella, algae, maca, kelp, seaweed, etc.) as they are acne-triggering as well! You can learn more about acne-safe protein powders and check out my recommendations here.
Creatine naturally occurs in your muscles and allows you to keep going during intense workouts. Though Creatine is natural, taking it as a supplement boosts your testosterone levels, which leads to increased breakouts for those of us who are acne prone.
Studies have also shown that creatine can increase DHT levels, which is a byproduct of testosterone. DHT can stimulate extra oil production, causing the skin cells to not shed properly, leading to acne breakouts and hair loss.
Since some supplements can be acne triggers, especially in high doses, it’s important to carefully check your supplements to ensure you are not consuming more than the recommended daily allowance. You’ll also want to ensure that any vitamins, supplements, or protein powders you are consuming do not have acne-triggering ingredients or amounts of supplements that are too high, especially if you are not already deficient in them.
Here are some additional supplements you can ask your doctor about that may support your skin and overall health:
This is a well-known ingredient in skincare but it also has benefits when taken as a supplement, such as clearing the lymphatic system and helping boost your immune system.
Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3’s (or essential fatty acids) truly are your skin’s best friend! They help hydrate the skin, maintain healthy barriers, regulate the oil glands, protect against sun damage, and even have anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, and even acne! I personally like to take supplements such as enteric-coated fish oil capsules like OmegaVia Fish Oil.
Probiotics are vital for rebuilding gut and skin health. Unfortunately, most probiotics are unable to survive the harsh environment of our stomach, making them ineffective. Therefore, taking a spore-based probiotic* with your first meal of the day can help support gut health. It’s important to note that since our stomach is a harsh environment, your probiotic shouldn’t need to be refrigerated as it’s unlikely to survive long enough in the body to get to where it needs to be.
Supplementing with collagen can be supportive to the skin, hair, and nails. Marine collagen is primarily made of Type I and Type III collagen, which are the building blocks of our skin. My recommendation is Further Food Premium Marine Collagen.
Also known as Ubiquinone, Coenzyme Q10 is an enzyme our bodies naturally produce and is found in every cell of our body. It helps produce cellular energy for healthy cells and neutralizes harmful free radicals that are a major cause of aging. When choosing a Coenzyme Q10 supplement, be sure that it also contains BioPerine which allows for better absorption and bioavailability.
Gut health and proper digestion play a huge role in the skin, therefore adding supplements such as digestive enzymes, HCL and/or Ox Bile, etc., can be a great option. To learn more about these and the gut-skin axis, click here.
Although you want to be careful to not get too much as we discussed above, you also don’t want to be deficient! If you incorporate Vitamin D supplements be sure to keep the dosage under 100% and try taking it every other day to minimize side effects.
Liver capsules and detox supplements, such as milk thistle, bitters, dandelion root, etc., can help support our liver and help it get rid of toxins as well as any extra/unnecessary hormones.
It is extremely common to be deficient in magnesium, and when we don’t have enough it can trigger hormonal acne. When considering a supplement there are two kinds to look for:
- Magnesium Glycinate: This is the most affordable option and can help with acne, period pain, PMS symptoms, and sleep. Some brands that I recommend include Thorne Research Magnesium Bisglycinate Powder, Benevolent Magnesium Complex, and Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate.
- Magnesium Citrate: This option helps with acne, period pain, PMS symptoms, and constipation. Some brands to look for include Life Extension Magnesium Citrate, Thorne Cal-Mag Citrate Powder, and Thorne Magnesium Citrate Capsules.
This is great for acne, testosterone balance, and liver support. It inhibits an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase which converts testosterone to a more potent form called DHT, which produces excessive androgens that can lead to hormonal acne and hair loss. Some brands I recommend are Four Sigmatic Elixir, Terrasoul Red Reishi Powder, and WelOrganics Red Reishi Capsules
I recommend starting by taking a deep dive into your current supplements, then consulting your doctor about any changes that could be made. You’ll also want to keep in mind that some vitamins and supplements may contain additional ingredients such as dairy, gluten, corn, soy, etc. that can be inflammatory, so be sure to choose a brand with high-quality ingredients!
*Note: Always check with your health care professional before starting or stopping any supplements. If you have SIBO, do not take a probiotic until instructed to do so by your doctor as it can grow the bacteria in the small intestine.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any health plan or taking supplements.
 Pilz S, Frisch S, Koertke H, et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res. 2011;43(3):223-225. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1269854
 Abbasi, J. (2015, June 24). Too much vitamin B12 linked to acne. LiveScience. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/51338-vitamin-b12-linked-acne-bacteria.html