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The science behind vitamins for hormonal acne

Dermatology experts explain which vitamins may be able to help hormonal breakouts—and which are all hype.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
pink vitamins and glass of water
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Navigating hormonal acne can feel like stepping into a labyrinth. With countless products on the market touting the ability to fight breakouts, how can you tell which claims hold water and which are all hype? When it comes to assessing vitamins for hormonal acne, you’re likely to find more questions than answers. 

Luckily, we have plenty of answers to share. Here, we’ll take a look at what this condition is, the science behind vitamins for hormonal acne, and other possible acne treatments that may help.

What is hormonal acne? 

Hormonal acne, a common concern among many adolescents and young adults, is a form of acne vulgaris. Statistics show that approximately 80% of individuals aged between 11 and 30 experience acne, influenced by various factors, including hormones.¹

Our bodies produce several types of hormones, some sounding a little like a tongue twister. These include androgens, estrogens, progesterone, insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), melanocortins, glucocorticoids, and growth hormone (GH).² Each of these hormones plays different roles in our bodies, and some significantly impact our skin's health.

The most significant of these hormones, in relation to acne, are androgens. Androgens are a type of hormone that includes testosterone, which directly influences how much sebum our skin produces.³ Sebum is a type of oil secreted by the skin’s sebaceous glands, and when produced in excess, it can clog pores and lead to acne.

Another hormone, progesterone, plays a unique role in what’s often referred to as a menstrual flare.⁴ Many women notice that their acne gets worse in the week leading up to their menstrual cycle, typically when progesterone levels are at their highest.

What vitamins may help hormonal acne?

Before supplementing, it’s important to remember that acne has many causes—hormones, bacteria, genetics, and a host of other factors all play a role. And while some of the vitamins may contribute to your overall skin health and potentially influence acne, they aren’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.  A licensed dermatology provider is the best person to consult for personalized advice regarding your skin’s health. Here are some vitamins you can ask them about!

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may play a role in managing hormonal acne. Hormonal acne is frequently linked to conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Early research suggests vitamin D deficiency might be connected to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in PCOS. Supplementing with vitamin D might also help normalize sebum production, which may help reduce breakouts.⁵

Additionally, a small-scale study found that patients with acne were more likely to have vitamin D deficiency. When patients with a deficiency were given vitamin D supplements, they saw fewer inflammatory acne lesions after eight weeks.⁶

Most people can get their required vitamin D through moderate exposure to sunlight. However, certain foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, or mushrooms, also contain small amounts of this nutrient. Vitamin D is also widely available as an over-the-counter supplement.⁷ So, making sure you get enough vitamin D could help you to better manage hormonal acne.

Zinc

Zinc is technically a mineral, not a vitamin, but it’s found in so many supplements that claim to help with acne that we thought it deserved mention. Both oral and topical zinc preparations have been studied extensively for their potential benefits in acne treatment.⁸

One such study found that lower serum zinc levels could be related to the severity and type of acne lesions in patients with acne vulgaris. However, the exact reason for this link has yet to be entirely understood, and more research is needed to determine whether oral zinc supplementation can help treat acne.⁹ It’s also worth noting that taking large amounts of oral zinc can carry health risks, so it should be used in moderation.¹⁰

What is known, though, is that zinc can inhibit the growth of P. acnes, a bacterium linked to acne development, and it also has anti-inflammatory properties.¹¹ This could potentially explain its beneficial role in managing acne.¹⁴

The richest sources of zinc include foods like meat, fish, and seafood; it is also available as a dietary supplement.¹² While zinc can potentially contribute to acne management, if used, it should be used as part of a comprehensive skin health strategy and not as a standalone solution.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, a naturally occurring antioxidant, may benefit those dealing with hormonal acne. Humans can’t produce their own vitamin C, so it’s essential to include it in our diet through foods like citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, papaya, and broccoli.¹³

In dermatology, topical vitamin C is often used for its antioxidant properties. It’s also known to boost collagen production, which can help to maintain skin elasticity and health. Additionally, vitamin C can help treat hyperpigmentation and dark spots, common concerns for those suffering from acne.¹⁴

Further, vitamin C possesses significant anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial for conditions like acne vulgaris and rosacea. It not only can help soothe inflamed and irritated skin but can also promote wound healing. This is relevant for acne, as breakouts can cause skin damage and lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or dark spots that remain after acne heals.¹⁵

So, while vitamin C isn’t a cure-all for acne, its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and skin-healing properties could make it a valuable addition to your acne treatment plan.

Vitamin A 

Vitamin A, or retinol, is a compound in animal and plant products. A study conducted in the ’90s indicated that an oral supplement of vitamin A was potentially an effective acne treatment.¹⁶

Tretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A, is a common ingredient in topical and oral acne treatments. Even though the mechanism isn't completely understood, it is known that vitamin A and its derivatives have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate the redness and swelling often associated with acne breakouts.¹⁷

Additionally, tretinoin is believed to increase cell turnover, a process by which new skin cells replace older ones. This increased cell turnover can help prevent hair follicles from becoming clogged. Blocked hair follicles often lead to the formation of acne as they trap oil and dead skin cells.¹⁸

Vitamin E

Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, has been used in dermatology for over 50 years and may help manage hormonal acne. It may reduce the risk of free radical damage, often caused by the sun’s harmful UV rays.¹⁹ When applied topically, vitamin E also serves as an effective moisturizer.²⁰ In fact, Curology uses it in our Custom Formulaᴿˣ for just this reason.

Interestingly, studies have found that low levels of vitamin E in the blood are associated with several chronic inflammatory skin diseases, including acne.²¹ This suggests that maintaining adequate vitamin E levels could be beneficial for managing these conditions.

Another small study discovered that a combination of vitamin C and vitamin E could help prevent the formation of comedones, which can provide a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria.²² By preventing comedone formation, this vitamin combination might indirectly help control acne.

Other ways to treat hormonal acne 

Hormonal acne can be stubborn, but several effective treatment strategies are available to help manage it. Topical retinoids, like retinoic acid, adapalene, and tretinoin, are often used independently or combined with other topical treatments, such as antibiotics or benzoyl peroxide.²³

Oral therapies can also be an option. Antibiotics help reduce the bacteria that contribute to acne, while isotretinoin works by controlling sebum production and reducing inflammation.²⁴

For those who experience acne flare-ups related to their menstrual cycle, PCOS, or acne that doesn't respond to conventional treatments, hormonal treatments may be helpful. Options include: 

  • Combined oral contraceptives, which regulate hormonal fluctuations that can contribute to acne. 

  • Spironolactone, which reduces the levels of acne-provoking hormones. 

  • Metformin, which can help in managing PCOS-related symptoms.²⁵

It's important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique and responds differently to treatment. That’s why it’s always recommended to consult a licensed dermatology provider who can offer a personalized treatment plan to help manage your hormonal acne. Prior to starting any vitamin supplementation, it’s important to discuss with your healthcare provider. Certain vitamins, such as vitamin A, can be harmful in higher doses during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive, always discuss with your OBGYN.

Curology for acne treatment

While some vitamins may have potential benefits for hormonal acne, they’re not a primary treatment for this condition. So instead of reaching for multiple supplements, we encourage you to harness the power of a nutrient-rich diet, the most reliable and beneficial source of these essential elements.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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You can also consult a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology, who can evaluate your symptoms and medical history to help you understand and manage your acne effectively. 

Getting started with Curology is easy! Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few photos. If appropriate, a licensed dermatology provider will recommend specific products to help manage your acne, such as our Acne Cleanser or Acne Body Wash. They can also prescribe our Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne, a personalized cream made with proven ingredients chosen to help you meet your skincare goals.

FAQs

Which vitamin is best for hormonal acne?

While many vitamins have been associated with skin health, there’s no definitive “best” vitamin for hormonal acne. Studies have indicated deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamin D,²⁶  vitamin E,²⁷ and the mineral zinc,²⁸ are more common in patients with acne. However, the relationship between these nutrients and acne is complex and still needs to be fully understood. 

If you’re considering vitamins to help manage acne, remember that you can also obtain these beneficial nutrients through a balanced and healthy diet! This includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains that naturally provide the essential vitamins and minerals. If you’re considering adding supplements to your routine, be sure to notify your primary care provider prior to starting.

What vitamin deficiencies cause hormonal acne?

There’s currently no definitive evidence to suggest that vitamin deficiencies directly cause hormonal acne. However, research has indicated that certain nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D,²⁹ vitamin E,³⁰ and the mineral zinc,³¹ are more commonly found in individuals with acne.

While these nutrients may contribute to overall skin health and potentially influence acne development, it’s important to remember that acne is a multifactorial condition with contributors like hormones, bacteria, inflammation, and genetics.

How do I know if my acne is bacterial or hormonal?

Without professional advice, determining whether your acne is bacterial or hormonal can be challenging. However, certain clues suggest a hormonal influence. If you experience flare-ups of acne before menstruation, have PCOS, or if your acne doesn’t respond to conventional treatments, it could be a sign that hormones may be playing a role in your acne.³²

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2016, September 2).

  2. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  3. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  4. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  5. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  6. Lim, S.K., et al. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. (2016, August 25).

  7. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2022, August 12).

  8. Gupta, M., et al. Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. Dermatology Research and Practice. (2014, July 10).

  9. Rostami Mogaddam, M., et al. Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. (2014, July 24).

  10. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2022, September 28).

  11. Rostami Mogaddam, M., et al. Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

  12. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Ibid.

  13. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. (April-June 2013).

  14. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. Ibid.

  15. Telang, P.S. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. Ibid.

  16. Kucharska, A., et al. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (April 2016).

  17. Yoham, A.L. and Casadesus, D. Tretinoin. StatPearls. (2023, March 27).

  18. Yoham, A.L. and Casadesus, D. Tretinoin. StatPearls. Ibid.

  19. Keen, M.A. and Hassan, I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. (July-August 2016).

  20. Liu, X., et al. Serum vitamin E levels and chronic inflammatory skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. (2021, December 14).

  21. Keen, M.A. and Hassan, I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. Ibid.

  22. Sutaria, A.H., et al.. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, February 16).

  23. Sutaria, A.H., et al.. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. Ibid.

  24. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  25. Lim, S.K., et al. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. Ibid.

  26. Liu, X., et al. Serum vitamin E levels and chronic inflammatory skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. Ibid.

  27. Rostami Mogaddam, M., et al. Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

  28. Lim, S.K., et al. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. Ibid.

  29. Liu, X., et al. Serum vitamin E levels and chronic inflammatory skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. Ibid.

  30. Rostami Mogaddam, M., et al. Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int. Ibid.

  31. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati. * Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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