Acne is usually a result of elevated testosterone levels increasing sebum production. The excess sebum and the bacteria that feed on it, as well as dead skin cells and assorted debris, collect in the pores. The resulting congestion can lead to inflammation, which culminates in a case of acne. Conventional treatments battle breakouts with topical cleansers, exfoliants, antimicrobials, antibiotics and, in serious cases of cystic acne, drugs like Accutane. Now new research suggests that certain vitamins, taken internally as well as applied topically, offer an effective alternative approach to treating acne—without the side effects. This story will explore your options. Let’s start with a close-up on the biggest bully on the block first: Accutane.
Accutane is a vitamin A derivative (13-cis-retinoic acid) that is administered orally in pill form, normally for 15-20 weeks. It was originally recommended for people with severe acne that was unresponsive to other treatments, but lately, it’s gained in popularity and is often prescribed for less severe acne. Accutane works by shrinking sebaceous glands, which reduces oil secretion and P. acnes colonization—and thus inflammation. The side effects are numerous and widespread and affect upwards of 80% of patients—most often they’re mild to moderate and reversible, but in some cases, they can be severe or long-term. Clinical research shows extremely high risk for birth defects in pregnant women who use Accutane. In fact, the effects and risks of Accutane on unborn children are so severe that female patients of childbearing age are required to use two forms of birth control while using the medication.
Vitamin B5 (aka pantethine or pantothenic acid) is as effective as the drug Accutane in treating acne because it also works at the first stage of acne formation. But whereas Accutane shrinks sebaceous glands, vitamin B5 reduces oil production of the sebaceous glands by increasing coenzyme A, which increases the metabolic breakdown of oils—including sebum—by optimizing the normal activity of cell physiology.
The program originally suggested by Dr. Lit-Hung Leung (1997) relied on patients ingesting 5-10 grams of pantothenic acid a day. Dr. Jeffrey Dach suggests a “modified Leung B5 protocol with Pantethine 750 mg with 250 mg of L Carnitine three times a day.”
Vitamin B3 (aka niacinamide or nicotinamide) is an anti-inflammatory with “verifiable beneficial effects—[it is used to improve] epidermal barrier function, aging skin, pigmentary disorders and for use on skin prone to acne.” Niacinamide also reduces facial sebum production.
Vitamin B5 optimizes the breakdown of fats released by the sebaceous gland, thus reducing congestion and heading acne formation off at the pass. Meanwhile vitamin B3 or niacinamide’s many beneficial anti-inflammatory effects maintain skin health. The combination is formidable enough to help with most cases of acne, even severe or of long duration, but it is not an overnight solution. Patience is required.