Studies: Vitamin D Supplements Slash Acne By 35%

By Seppo | Supplements

Getting over acne can feel like an impossible task. The net is full of bottles, pills, and dietary regimens that promise to clear your skin, and yet it seems like none of them works for you.

Fortunately, scientists are slowly uncovering promising solutions to acne, such as vitamin D. Several studies have looked into the relationship between vitamin D and acne. These studies show that people with acne are more likely to be deficient than those without acne and that taking vitamin D supplements can reduce acne.

In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about vitamin D for acne.

Vitamin D supplements reduce acne by 35%

In 2016, Korean researchers compared vitamin D levels of people with acne to those with clear skin. Their results showed that acne patients were much more likely to be vitamin D deficient than those without acne; 48.8% of acne patients were deficient in vitamin D vs. 22.5% of people without acne.

This graph shows average vitamin D levels for people with different severities of acne.

vitamin d acne severity

Source: 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 11, e0161162 (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560161

There was no difference in vitamin D levels between those with mild acne and people with clear skin.

The researchers also tested whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce acne. They divided 79 people with acne into two groups. One group got vitamin D (1000 IU/day), and the other group got placebo supplements.

This graph shows the results for inflammatory, noninflammatory and total pimple counts.

vitamin d supplements acne

Source: 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 11, e0161162 (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560161

It can be a bit hard to see from that graph, but here are the results in a nutshell:

  • The number of inflammatory pimples (red lesions that are often painful) dropped on average by 35% after 2 months of vitamin D supplementation.
  • The supplements had no effect on the number of non-inflammatory pimples (blackheads and whiteheads).

The researchers speculated that 1000 IU/day might not be enough, because, even after supplementation, average vitamin D levels in acne patients were still below the level considered as adequate (20 ng/ml).

Other studies have also looked into the relationship between vitamin D and acne.

A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2014 tested calcium and vitamin D supplementation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS have similar, but more severe, hormonal disturbances that women with acne, and PCOS patients frequently also suffer from acne. The combined supplementation had no effect on acne. On the other hand, the women in this study already had more or less sufficient vitamin D levels (average 19.53 nl/ml). A 2015 systematic review also concluded that vitamin D supplementation has no effect on PCOS.

In 2014, Turkish researchers also compared vitamin D levels in acne patients and people without acne. Their results showed that 95.3% of acne patients were vitamin D deficient – vs. 56.5% of those without acne. The average vitamin D level among acne patients was 11.2 ng/ml and 19.7 ng/ml for those without acne.

On the other hand, an Iranian study published in 2015 showed no difference in vitamin D levels between acne patients and healthy controls. In this study, both groups had very low vitamin D level; 8.4 ng/ml in acne patients and 10.4 ng/ml in controls.

That’s the sum total of all the studies on vitamin D and acne.

In a nutshell, studies show that vitamin D deficiency is more common among acne patients than those with clear skin – research on other inflammatory skin conditions has produced similar results. Vitamin D supplementation may reduce acne, but we need more studies before we can really say whether this is true or not.

I remain cautiously optimistic about vitamin D, given what we know about its cellular effects in the skin.

Vitamin D may reduce skin irritation and sebum production

Several cell culture (test tube) studies have looked at the cellular effects vitamin D has in the skin.

Vitamin D protects the skin cells from bacterial irritation

In most cases, acne forms like this. Spurred by irritation, keratinocytes (specialized skin cells) multiply rapidly and produce too much protein called keratin. Keratin is a tough protein that binds skin cells together (your nails are made of keratin). Excess keratin, combined with sebum, leads to blocked pores. Bacteria (P. Acnes) multiply in blocked pores and causes irritation in skin cells. This causes inflammation and turns the blocked pore into an inflammatory pimple.

I explained this in detail here.

Cell culture studies have shown vitamin D protects skin cells from bacteria-triggered irritation.

This means that vitamin D reduces the number of blocked pores that turn into inflammatory pimples. In fact, this is what the Korean study showed. That study showed vitamin D supplementation has no effect on non-inflammatory comedones, but reduced the number of inflammatory pimples by 35%.

Other effects

Studies have also uncovered other cellular effects relevant to acne:

  • Vitamin D may inhibit mTOR. I call mTOR as the master regulator of acne. It’s a protein that regulates cell growth. One reason dairy products and sugar cause acne is because they boost mTOR, which causes the skin to produce more oil and leads to blocked pores. Vitamin D does the opposite; it reduces mTOR activity in the skin.
  • Possibly related to above, vitamin D may reduce the growth of the cells that produce sebum (sebocytes), which would reduce the amount of oil the skin produces.

I have to say all of this is still highly speculative. It goes without saying that what happens in test tubes is not always the same as what happens in living humans.

What does this mean to you

So what does this mean to you? And should you try vitamin D supplements?

If you have more than a few inflammatory pimples (i.e. you have moderate to severe acne), then I would try adding vitamin D to your treatment regimen. Keep in mind that acne is a complicated problem, and I doubt you’ll get good results, if you try to get over acne with vitamin D alone. But it could work as a part of a well-rounded treatment program that addresses all the aspects of acne, such as my Clear for Life program.

On the other hand, if you have mild acne that mainly consists of non-inflammatory blackheads and whiteheads, then I doubt vitamin D works for you.

Best vitamin D supplements to try

Nobody knows exactly how much you should take vitamin D. As the above study showed, 1000 IU/day can reduce acne, but the study also showed that blood vitamin D levels were still below the recommended levels (20 ng/ml and above). On the other hand, The National Institute of Health recommends taking no more than 4000 IU/day. At that intake, you are highly unlikely to get any side-effects. So aim for something in between.

If you want to try vitamin D supplements for your acne, here are a few options to consider. All of these represent good value for money (at the time of writing).

Disclaimer: I may get a small commission from the merchant if you decide to buy based on my recommendation.

  • Now Foods (2000 IU / 240 capsules) – Buy from Amazon or iHerb (I have these)
  • NatureWise Vitamin D3 (5000 IU / 360 capsules) – Buy from Amazon
  • Nature Made Vitamin D3 (1000 IU / 300 capsules) – Buy from Amazon or iHerb
  • Source Naturals Vitamin D3 (2000 IU / 200 capsules) – Buy from iHerb

Toggle references

  • 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 11, e0161162 (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560161
  • Yildizgören, M. T. & Togral, A. K. Preliminary evidence for vitamin D deficiency in nodulocystic acne. Dermatoendocrinol 6, e983687 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26413187
  • Toossi, P. et al. Serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels in patients with acne vulgaris and its association with disease severity. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab 12, 238–42 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26811702
  • Tehrani, H. G., Mostajeran, F. & Shahsavari, S. The effect of calcium and vitamin D supplementation on menstrual cycle, body mass index and hyperandrogenism state of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. J Res Med Sci 19, 875–80 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25535503
  • He, C., Lin, Z., Robb, S. W. & Ezeamama, A. E. Serum Vitamin D Levels and Polycystic Ovary syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 7, 4555–77 (2015). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26061015
  • Agak, G. et al. Propionibacterium acnes Induces an IL-17 Response in Acne Vulgaris that Is Regulated by Vitamin A and Vitamin D. J Invest Dermatol 134, 366–373 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23924903
  • Krämer, C. et al. Characterization of the vitamin D endocrine system in human sebocytes in vitro. J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 113, 9–16 (2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19027855

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About the Author

Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the page.

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