Naturopathic Skincare: rē•thinking Popular Skin Supplements

They Could be Making Acne Worse...

By: Jessica Ourisman
Naturopathic Skincare: rē•thinking Popular Skin Supplements

Dr. Stacy Shillington, ND, is a Naturopathic doctor that specializes in the treatment of acne using naturopathy’s anti-inflammatory approach with a central focus on gut health. In addition to rē-framing dermatology’s emphasis on the treatment of skin eruptions from the outside-in, she utilizes gut health, diet, and the interconnected balance of the body’s holistic functioning to help patients achieve clear skin and glowing results. Shillington rē•spins convention by looking at acne as a symptom rather than a diagnosis. “There is always a reason for acne, which means that there is always a solution,” she says.

The supplement industry is booming as a whole, and naturopaths including Shillington are among their most ardent supporters. “Acne is a symptom that there is an imbalance in the body and supplements are able to support imbalances and help the body heal from the inside-out,” Dr. Shillington says. “Even though food is the foundation of healing the body, often even a great diet isn’t enough to completely address imbalances.” She selects supplements by assessing which of the patient’s organs need assistance, providing bespoke therapeutic support regimens within each patient’s individualized treatment plan.

Three Popular Supplements That Can Make Acne Worse

But without an expert’s grasp of the complexity of acne’s roots in the body — whether due to gut inflammation, an overload of toxins, hormonal imbalances, or blood sugar instability — popular nutraceutical-focused marketing can actually lead you astray. Dr. Shillington reveals that some of the most routinely prescribed supplements attributed with acne-resolving effects can do just the opposite. Because acne-sufferers are especially sensitive physiologically, supplements that are marketed for acne can actually cause gut irritation and bodily inflammation that results in breakouts. 

With any new patient, one of Shillington’s first tasks is to review their vitamins and supplement regimens before instructing them to discontinue any suspected culprits. “One example is zinc, which is famous for its skin-healing properties,” Dr. Shillington says of the ingredient, which is commonly found in supplements marketed for breakouts, and which is even supported in research.” [But] many people do not know that zinc can also inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen.” This can result in a build-up of acne-causing testosterone and extra pore-clogging oiliness. (In fact, androgen-sensitivity is another common trait among acne-sufferers, which means that the overabundance of testosterone can cue the inflammation resulting in hormonally-induced breakouts.)

Next up comes Turmeric, but only when taken with Bioperine. Turmeric is lauded for its anti-inflammatory properties — and rightly so — but it requires the addition of black pepper (or Bioperine) to aid with the absorption of its anti-inflammatory component, which is called curcumin. But, as Dr. Shillington points out, it is preferable to take curcumin extract all on its own. “Turmeric is not as effective as its active ingredient, curcumin. Furthermore, Bioperine, which is an extract from black pepper, can actually aggravate the gut,” she says. Due to the intimate connection between the gut and skin (think: the gut-skin axis), inflammation in the gut is disastrous for the complexion.

Fish oil is one last supplement that can occasionally make acne worse. While it does boast anti-inflammatory benefits, taken as a supplement (i.e., outside of food sources), Shillington reveals that it can be counteractive for acne-sufferers. Detoxification largely comes down to the liver, and, because acne-sufferers are also “notoriously poor detoxifiers,” this can lead to bodily trouble breaking down the concentrated fatty acids they contain. This can overwhelm the liver and result in worsened breakouts, counteracting the anti-inflammatory potential of the supplement.

Take (or Eat) These Instead

There are some supplements that Shillington recommends across the board. “I routinely prescribe spirulina and chlorella because they are nutrient-dense, whole foods that are readily absorbable,” she says, adding that she also loves prescribing gut-friendly curcumin (which is described above) and probiotics.

Like all naturopaths, Dr. Shillignton also places major emphasis on the diet. “I am a huge fan of having my patients consume their nutrients via their diets instead of through supplements [because] synthetic nutrients, which are often present in supplements, are not as bioavailable and absorbable and are more likely to create reactions,” she explains. While Shillington shies away from supplemental zinc or fish oil supplements, she does support the incorporation of foods that are high in zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, and other vitamins and minerals. Give Dr. Shillignton’s recipe for a skin-nourishing smoothie to jumpstart your skin-friendly diet.

clear skin smoothie

Dr. Stacy Shillington’s Clear Skin Smoothie

  • 2 cups mixed frozen or fresh berries (at least half should be blueberries, but adding in strawberries and raspberries is fantastic)
  • ¼ cup spinach or kale (optional)
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 2 tbsp ground, raw hemp seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground, raw chia seeds
  • ½ tsp chlorella powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 drops stevia
  • Blend all ingredients together in a high-speed blender and enjoy!

Skincare 101: Nourish The Gut For Better Skin

Let’s face it: as much as we love our supplements, they can do a number on the gut. (If you’ve ever taken a vitamin on an empty stomach, you know what we’re talking about.) And if we’ve learned one thing about treating acne using naturopathy, it’s that gut health is key to managing systemic inflammation, which could make the difference in keeping your skin clear. 


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