Will omega-3 supplements help clear up acne?
Originally Published: May 14, 2010 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 27, 2014
I am 21 and have had consistent acne (I have tried topical creams (benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, and topical antibiotics; as well as oral antibiotics for a number of months before). But, the acne keeps coming back.
For acne, does taking omega-3 fish oil supplements help? If so, how does it help, for what length of time should it be taken, and how many milligrams should one take?
There are so many causes of and treatments for acne, understanding any one of them in isolation can be tricky. Scientists think that there may be some anti-acne benefits from omega-3 fats, though a direct link is not entirely clear. Interestingly, people with acne, in addition to people with depression, are two populations most likely to dabble with herbal and natural supplements to try to alleviate their symptoms, perhaps reflecting how challenging it can sometimes be to find effective treatments for these conditions.
Omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory benefit and may also have a mood-enhancing benefit. One study (albeit very small) followed 5 acne sufferers ages 18 to 23 who took a supplement containing omega-3s and found, over a two month period, a significant decrease in number of lesions and also a greater enhancement of mood that seemed to be unrelated to the acne decrease. Not one participant experienced an increase in acne. However, the researchers are careful to note that the placebo effect may have played a role in the findings. Acne has been shown to be rather susceptible to suggestion and the placebo effect, which, in addition to the small size of the study, indicates a need for continued research on the subject of omega-3s and acne.
Given how little is still known about the benefits of fish oils as an acne treatment, suggesting a specific dose is difficult. If you're interested in trying omega-3s, you could speak with a health care provider for a recommended dose. It may also be useful to keep a daily journal, making note of your omega-3 consumption and any acne symptoms or improvements. It may be worthwhile to speak with your healthcare provider or with a naturopathic doctor for more information. If you are a Columbia student, you can contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Services (CUMC) to speak with a health care provider on campus. More information on acne treatments can be found in the Related Q&As below.
Good luck fighting off those pesky pimples,