Acne and Vitamin A: Does Vitamin A Help Acne?

Carrots

Vitamin A is crucial for clearing up your skin, but you may need a different kind than you get from carrots.

Are you ever confused by claims like these?

“Vitamin A is a miracle vitamin for your skin!”

“Eating Vitamin A-rich foods is dangerous!”

“Vitamin A cures acne!”

“You should never take vitamin A supplements because they can be toxic!”

“You can get all the vitamin A you need from carrots and other yellow-orange vegetables!”

If you’ve read up on vitamin A, you’re probably aware that it’s both important for health – including skin health – and that it can be dangerous if you get too much of it. This has resulted in many mainstream health experts warning people to avoid all vitamin A supplements, and instead shoot for the USDA’s absurdly low RDA recommended amounts, meeting these daily requirements with fruits and vegetables.

I think this is probably well-meaning, but fundamentally wrong – and your acne may be suffering for it.

First, let’s talk about why vitamin A is so critical for your skin.

How Does Vitamin A Help Acne?

Have you heard of Accutane (isotretinoin, aka 13-cis-retinoic acid)? How about Retin-A (tretinoin, aka all-trans-retinoic acid)? Both of these drugs have a form of vitamin A as the active ingredient. (Not that we recommend them – see below.) Retinoids (forms of retinol, also called preformed vitamin A) combat acne in the following ways. Retinoids:

  • Help prevent dead skin cells from sloughing off and clogging pores
  • Reduce the amount of oil your skin produces, which also reduces pore-clogging
  • Suppress androgen formation (androgens in the skin are a major cause of acne)
  • Protect fats from oxidation (which keeps cell damage and inflammation at bay) [1] [2]

Clearly, vitamin A is a power vitamin for skin! But know this: not all vitamin A is created equal. Some forms of vitamin A are ineffective, so you’ve really got to make sure you’re getting the right kind.

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Retinoids vs. Carotenoids: When Vitamin A Isn’t Vitamin A

There are two main classes of vitamin A – retinoids and carotenoids.

Retinoids – which include retinol and its various metabolites – are the forms of vitamin A that are biologically active in the body. They do vitamin A work. Retinol is found in animal foods, especially liver, but also eggs and dairy products.

Carotenoids are actually yellow-orange pigments, which are found in things like carrots and brightly-colored fall leaves (cool, huh?).  Of the 600 or more carotenoids that have been identified, only a few can be turned into bioavailable vitamin A by the body. The main one is beta-carotene (although alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are also forms of provitamin A).[3]  Dietary sources of provitamin A carotenoids include carrots, sweet potatoes, some dark green veggies, and basically any yellow-orange fruit or vegetable.

Now, provitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene have their own good work they do in the body as antioxidants and other beneficial roles I won’t get into here. But this work is not vitamin A work. In order to do vitamin A work, beta-carotene must be absorbed and converted to retinol in the small intestine.

The problem here is that the body doesn’t absorb and convert carotenes nearly as efficiently as retinol. On average, your body only gets 1/12 (that’s one-twelfth) of the vitamin A activity from carotenes as from the same quantity of retinol!

But don’t think you can address that by diving back into your bag of baby carrots – the more beta-carotene you consume, the less efficiently your body absorbs it![4]  Sad face.

The takeaway here is that it’s great for your health to eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, but it is difficult to meet your total vitamin A needs from plant sources alone. That’s why it’s important to include plentiful preformed vitamin A – retinol – in your diet.

Are You Vitamin A Deficient?

It’s not easy to identify a vitamin A deficiency with a blood test unless your levels are really low. That’s because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver, and the liver releases it as it’s needed to keep your blood levels relatively constant. However, when these liver stores start running out, blood levels of vitamin A start dropping, and you may develop symptoms.
Early symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include:

  • Night blindness (reduced ability to see in low light)
  • Impaired immunity, susceptibility to infections[5]
  • Rough, dry skin, including hyperkeratosis pilaris (rough bumps on the backs of the arms)[6]

Even if you don’t have these symptoms, you may have too-low vitamin A levels if you have less-than-ideal beta-carotene absorption and don’t regularly eat high-retinol foods like liver. Many factors inhibit the body’s ability to use beta-carotene from food, including:

  • Gut damage (which many acne suffers have!)
  • Strenuous exercise and other stressors
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Zinc deficiency
  • Consumption of polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils such as canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil. Olive oil is fine!)
  • Low dietary fat[7]

Furthermore, you may go through vitamin A faster, and therefore need to replenish your supplies more often, if you have inflammation, since the liver releases vitamin A to help deal with inflammatory conditions in the body.[7]  The vast majority of acne sufferers have chronic inflammation – that’s why those zits are swollen, red, and painful!

So in short, our guess is that many people with acne are in the deficient to nearly deficient ranges – and it’s definitely worth boosting that intake!

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How Much Vitamin A Do I Need to Get Each Day?

The percent daily value on nutrition labels in the U.S. is based on an intake of 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day.[8]  For optimal acne-busting and overall health, we think you should get about twice this much.

If you are getting at least 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day and sufficient vitamin K2, you can very safely consume 10,000 IU of retinol each day.[9]  (Note that if you are not getting sufficient quantities of vitamins D3 and K2 and you consume 10,000 IU of retinol daily, over time, you are putting yourself at risk for vitamin A toxicity!)

Keep in mind as well that vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so our bodies can store it up for when it’s needed. That means that you can get your vitamin A in spurts – a big dose one day a week in a dinner of liver, for example, can supply you with enough vitamin A to last you until next week!

How Can I Increase My Vitamin A Intake?

So glad you asked. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT take retinol as a pill unless this is under the careful direction of your physician. As you may have heard, vitamin A toxicity is a serious matter – basically, once your liver storage capacity is all used up, those storage cells get packed so full that some of them burst and release various vitamin A metabolites into the blood stream, disrupting your body’s oh-so-careful regulation of vitamin A blood levels. The effects of this are numerous, but among the more serious are severe birth defects and miscarriages, liver abnormalities, and bone mineral loss (think osteoporosis). Oh, and even coma and death, if you go really overboard.[9]  Even supplementing with the more innocuous beta-carotene has been linked with increased incidence of cancer in certain populations.[10]

So don’t do that. Instead, get your vitamin A from whole food sources, which contain a natural variety and balance of retinoids or carotenoids and other nutrients. Liver – from beef, lamb, goat, pork, chicken, or fish – is the absolute best source of preformed, highly absorbable vitamin A (animals store vitamin A in their livers, just like we do). Consider eating 1/4 to 1/2 pound of liver once per week (1/4 pound of beef liver contains about 30,000 IU of retinol).[11]

Lamb and goat liver tend to be a little milder than beef liver, in our experience, so they can be a good way to ease into eating liver. When it comes to liver, always go grass-fed! The liver stores toxins and antibiotics that can result from animals raised in feedlots. Also, liver is naturally pretty lean, so eat your liver with some fat to maximize that fat-soluble vitamin absorption.

Pastured eggs and dairy products also contain retinol – though we don’t recommend dairy for other acne-causing reasons, so stick with pastured eggs (about 300 IU per egg).

And finally, you can top it all off with a diet rich in varied yellow-orange (and some dark green) fruits and vegetables for some less-absorbable but still very healthy carotenoids. Sweet potato, pumpkin and winter squashes, carrots and cantaloupe are great choices, as are dark greens like kale, collards, and spinach. These plant sources have about 1,500 – 3,000 IU of provitamin A per half cup (cooked) serving.[12]

If you’re not hot on eating liver (though it’s really yummy fried up with bacon, garlic, onions, and greens!), an alternative source of retinol is fermented cod liver oil (FCLO) (which you can read more about here). We recommend the Green Pastures FCLO / butter oil blend, as the butter oil is a primo source of vitamin K2. One-half teaspoon a day of Green Pastures FCLO gives you about 4,600 IU of retinol, or half of your daily vitamin A needs, in a very natural form.[13]  If you are consuming no other animal products, you might take up to a full teaspoon each day.

Also, you don’t need to worry about whether eating your fruits and veggies will put you over the 10,000 IU mark. Carotenoids do not contribute at all toward vitamin A toxicity, so eat those carrots and sweet potatoes to your heart’s content. The worst thing that can happen if you get too much beta-carotene from food is that your skin might turn orange! (Totally reversible, don’t worry.)[13]

As I mentioned previously, make sure you’re also getting plenty of D3 and K2. You can get your D from daily sun exposure or supplementation (we recommend 5,000 IU per day – read our post on vitamin D for more info). K2 is found in fermented foods and in the butter oil fraction of Green Pastures FCLO / butter oil blend. Supplementation in pill form is also an option.

A Word on Isotretinoin, Tretinoin, and Other Synthetic Vitamin A-Based Acne Treatments

I mentioned these vitamin A-based acne treatments earlier in this post, but before I sign off I want to emphasize that these treatments are in no way “natural” or “healthy.” In food, vitamin A shows up in hundreds of different forms and along with gazillions of other molecules that affect their absorption and metabolism in ways we can’t even begin to understand. Isotretinoin (Accutane and other brands) contains a very large dose of one particular form of vitamin A that naturally occurs in the body only in very small quantities. Some of the effects of isotretinoin are consistent with vitamin A toxicity (e.g. severe birth defects, possible bone mineral loss with prolonged use), and some suggest vitamin A deficiency, as the isotretinoin may block the more appropriate vitamin A metabolites in the eyes, brain, and nerves.[14]

Prolific health blogger and holistic health practitioner Chris Kresser asserts that it is definitely possible to get the acne-defeating benefits of retinoids by eating foods naturally high in them – and with none of the terrible side-effects![15]

Key Takeaways

Okay, that was a lot of information! I hope knowing the “whole story” will help you feel confident in your food and supplement choices when it comes to meeting your vitamin A needs – for your skin, and for your overall health, too! To summarize the main points:

  • Vitamin A has a number vital acne-fighting functions.
  • Aim to get 10,000 IU of vitamin A, mostly in the form of retinol, each day. Get this by eating 1/4-1/2 pound of liver weekly, or by taking 1/2 teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil (blended with butter oil for K2) per day. Also eat plenty of pastured eggs, yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, and dark leafy greens.
  • Make sure you balance your vitamin A intake with at least 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 each day, either from sun or supplements, plus sources of vitamin K2 (fermented foods).
  • Check any multivitamin supplements you may be taking. If they contain vitamin A (as retinol, beta-carotene, or something else), discontinue them.
  • While having robust vitamin A levels is important if you’re trying to cure acne, it is only one piece of the overall acne-and-health puzzle! Check out our book to learn how to heal your acne with an all-natural diet and lifestyle.
Sources (click to expand)

  1. Ross, A. C. (2006). Vitamin A and Carotenoids. In M. E. Shils, M. Shike, A. C. Ross, B. Caballero, & R. Cousins (Eds.), Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease (10th ed., pp. 351–375). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ^
  2. Jaminet, P., & Jaminet, S.-C. (2012). Vitamins A, D, and K2. In Perfect Health Diet (pp. 265–280). New York: Scribner. ^
  3. Chapman, M. S. (2012). Vitamin A: history, current uses, and controversies. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 31(1), 11–6. ^
  4. Ross, A. C. (2006). Vitamin A and Carotenoids. In M. E. Shils, M. Shike, A. C. Ross, B. Caballero, & R. Cousins (Eds.), Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease (10th ed., pp. 351–375). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ^
  5. Chapman, M. S. (2012). Vitamin A: history, current uses, and controversies. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 31(1), 11–6. ^
  6. Kresser, C. (n.d.). Nutrition for Skin Health. ^
  7. Fallon, S., & Enig, M. G. (2002). Vitamin A Saga | Weston A Price. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/vitamin-a-saga/ ^
  8. National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Daily Value. Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD). Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/dailyvalue.jsp ^
  9. Jaminet, P., & Jaminet, S.-C. (2012). Vitamins A, D, and K2. In Perfect Health Diet (pp. 265–280). New York: Scribner. ^
  10. Druesne-Pecollo, N., Latino-Martel, P., Norat, T., Barrandon, E., Bertrais, S., Galan, P., & Hercberg, S. (2010). Beta-carotene supplementation and cancer risk: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Cancer. Journal International Du Cancer, 127(1), 172–84. doi:10.1002/ijc.25008 ^
  11. National Institutes of Health. (2013). Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/#h4 ^
  12. Higdon, J. (2007). Vitamin A. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminA/ ^
  13. Fallon, S., & Enig, M. G. (2009). Cod Liver Oil Basics and Recommendations | Weston A Price. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/cod-liver-oil-basics-and-recommendations/#clarify ^
  14. Logan, A. C., & Treloar, V. (2007). The Clear Skin Diet (pp. 14–16). Naperville, IL: Cumberland House. ^
  15. Kresser, C. (n.d.). Nutrition for Skin Health. ^

{ 36 Comments }

  1. Idara says

    Awesome post! I love adding coconut oil to my steamed vegetables and my smoothies. I tried it on my face and found out the hard way that it breaks me out. But I haven’t had that issue with hemp and grapeseed oil.

  2. Idara Hampton says

    Thank you for explaining epigenetics so clearly. It’s very easy to follow. Congrats on clearing your skin. Your story is inspiring.

  3. Idara says

    This is such a well researched and well written article. B5 is great for the skin. I also love B6 and B12 for boosting energy, promoting a healthy luteal phase, and stopping PMS.

  4. Idara says

    Great post! Understanding hormonal imbalances isn’t always easy, so thank you for writing an informative and easy to follow article with helpful tips.

  5. wendy says

    There is no official link between iron and acne in science research but antidotally I believe there is. My daughter used prescription acne creams for a couple of years with only modest improvements to her skin. She recently was prescribed an iron supplement, her iron levels were on the low side of normal, because of her low energy state and, voila, Not only does she feel more energetic, her face is very noticeably improved and much smoother in, just days. She is a big meat eater. Who knew iron can be hard to absorb?

  6. Srey says

    I love this post! I recommend this book “inheritance” by Sharon D Moalem. It talks a lot about genetics, and could be helpful to understand more about epi genetics, and our human genome.

  7. Mike says

    Why do you say that coffee negatively affects muscle since there is like a bunch of evidence that shows the caffeine from the coffee actually helps build muscle and burn fat. Of course this is when you take black coffee without any sweeteners. I have read so many articles that talk about consuming coffee in a fasted state leading to positive muscle gains you can find them easily too

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Mike! Interesting point here. I found this study:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

      …Which says that you habituate to the caffeine in a few days’ time, meaning your morning coffee no longer stimulates over-production of cortisol once you adapt to drinking coffee daily. However, the study still found that a 1:00 PM cup of coffee boosted cortisol levels higher than normal (though the study only ran for 5 days of caffeine habituation). My personal experience is that coffee just makes me more stressed out in response to stressful events, which includes cortisol release. But I haven’t read the articles you have about fasted-state coffee drinking leading to muscle gains – I wonder if this is just due to metabolic rate increase from the caffeine? In any case, if coffee floats your boat and treats you well, go for it!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Julie! I’m not totally sure on this. That still sounds like a good range. I was going based on a Dr. Mercola article, which I can no longer find (the link is broken). I am far from an expert on what ideal ferritin levels should be!

    • Rhonda says

      I will interject with a personal anecdote about Ferritin levels. I have a genetic disorder called Hemachromatosis. It causes iron from the food I eat to get into my organs and my body can only release it through phlebotomy (donating blood). My Dr noticed a high ferritin level and high liver enzymes on a blood panel and on a hunch she ordered a DNA test for this. If you are suspicious that your ferritin levels are out of whack, ask for this test. This condition is very common especially if you are of Irish or Scottish descent. It’s a lifelong condition but the remedy is easy because you just have to have your levels checked regularly and donate a pint of blood to balance your levels. I am so grateful my doc was smart enough to call for this test. Having this disorder and not taking care of it can lead to liver damage and heart attack. It’s hereditary and if you do have it, all of your nearest relatives should test for it too. Hoping it’s not the case for you, and wishing you all the best!

      • Devin Mooers says

        Kudos to your doc for finding this!! I’m so glad you know now. I had a genetic test done a few years ago, and ruled out hemachromatosis (at least current knowledge of it). So I guess it was just from my diet. And I do have a fair amount of Irish + Scottish in me. Go figure! Great thing to check for, though, as you just found out!

  8. Katy says

    I’m 25 and I have very irregular periods (which have never been regular) and acne since puberty. I got literally all my hormones checked and everything came out normal. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Katy! I don’t put much stock in hormonal tests, blood tests, saliva tests, or related “snapshot” health tests. I don’t think they’re a very accurate reflection of long-term reality, and don’t often give very useful information for clearing acne (in my experience). The fact that you have irregular periods right away shows that something’s up with your hormone levels, and/or some basic nutrient levels like vitamin A, utilizable iron (don’t go taking iron pills though!), and/or maybe some toxin overload issues. There are lots of things that feed into having a normal cycle, and a hormone test isn’t going to tell you what needs to be fixed.

      Are you drinking fluoridated water, do you know?

      Also, do you want to give an overview of what your current diet is – the more detail the better! – and any pills/supplements you’re taking? I can see if anything jumps out!

  9. Johnny Cox says

    Hi. Im going to say that Im afraid to eat coconut because of acne. Chocolate of any kind gives me acne too. Even fish oil. All these oils do it to me. I used to suspect leaky gut causing me breakouts. All these oils ruin my skin. Whey concentrate and isolate too! Someone said “keep eating the Extra Virgin Coconut oil, It’s just die-off!! It will stop soon” But it does not stop. I get brutal acne from it. Tempted to try again after reading this, but it scares me. My acne is so painful..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Johnny! Really sorry to hear about your experience with so many oils/fats giving you acne. Huge bummer! Frustrating not to know whether it’s from die-off or detox, or just an adverse reaction. (I will say that whey isolate/concentrate both give me acne as well!)

      Couple questions… are you using organic coconut oil, or non-organic?

      Also, do you want to post a mini diet overview right here? I can see if any major red flags come up.

      Finally, are you drinking fluoridated tap water? (And/or using fluoride toothpaste?) Wondering if these fats/oils might be causing a detoxification of fluoride, causing transient acne.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ashley! I think it’s okay in really small amounts as a garnish or flavoring, but it’s very high in PUFA so I wouldn’t make it a main cooking or salad oil. Toasted sesame seed oil is even a bit more risky because of the toasting process damaging more of the PUFA (and the protective vitamin E found in raw sesame oil).

      What are you wanting to use sesame oil for? Maybe I can suggest a skin-friendly alternative!

  10. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  11. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  12. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  13. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  14. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  15. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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Master your acne, in 4 weeks or less

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