Can Magnesium Improve Your Acne?
While acne is most commonly associated with teenage skin, a surprising number of more mature individuals are also affected. It has been estimated that between 3% and 8% of the adult population suffer from acne, with women experiencing a higher prevalence than men.
Bearing in mind how common acne can be, it is perhaps little wonder that so much time and money is invested in its treatment. Sadly, with so many people looking for acne treatments there is a lot of misinformation online that pertains to natural acne remedies.
A quick search will reveal dozens of articles purporting to cure your acne once and for all - but how many of these tips are really based on rigorous studies?
In this article we'll delve into the actual scientific studies of acne, with a particular focus on magnesium, and answer the question: does magnesium for acne really help?
What Causes Acne?
You might not think so if you're currently suffering from acne, but the causes of the condition are surprisingly interesting. The origins of acne lie in specialized pits in the skin known as “sebaceous follicles”. These follicles naturally produce an oily substance called “sebum” which serves to keep your skin moist and healthy.
In cases of acne, however, these follicles seem to go into overdrive, producing far more sebum than necessary. The most common reason for this is a reaction to “androgens” in the body - better known as sex hormones. Puberty, when the levels of these hormones start to rise, helps to explain why teenagers can be so heavily affected by acne.
It is important to mention that experts also believe there is a genetic element to acne, meaning some of us are naturally prone to spots, even when well past our teenage years. This excessive production of sebum typically leads to oily skin, especially where the follicles are found in the highest densities around the nose, forehead and chin, but also on the back and chest. This same reaction also encourages the cells that line the follicles to start growing rapidly.
This combination of excessive oil and cell proliferation can, in certain circumstances, then result in the follicle becoming blocked. This situation of “blocked pores” can worsen thanks to the presence of Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium which lives naturally and harmoniously in the follicles. When pores become blocked, the toxic waste materials produced by Propionibacterium acnes cannot escape, so they instead start to build up. When this occurs, the body responds with an inflammatory response, leading to the redness and swelling that characterise acne.
As we can see, there are therefore three primary causes of acne - a rise in hormones, excessive sebum production and the resultant growth of bacteria. These therefore represent the core ways to fight acne and keep your skin in the best condition possible.
But does magnesium actually help in the fight against spots?
Effects of Magnesium on Acne
Magnesium is a naturally-occurring element that is classified as a metal. Surprisingly, magnesium has a range of crucial roles in the body. Among other things it can contribute to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue, and contributes both to the function of your muscles and your nervous system.
It is also intricately involved with calcium uptake and use in the body, with studies suggesting that a magnesium deficiency can impact the huge range of processes involving calcium.
What isn't quite so clear is the effect that magnesium has on cases of acne.
Indeed, while there is circumstantial evidence that magnesium may have a broad impact on the skin, there is very little evidence that it specifically targets acne.
What we do know is that a magnesium deficiency can lead to reduced skin condition, with the potential for eczema-like symptoms arising in more serious cases. This is further substantiated by the use of magnesium salts; a traditional treatment for all manner of skin complaints.
One scientific investigation in particular found that skin problems tend to heal much more quickly when treated topically with magnesium salts. Magnesium is also known to have an impact on the immune system. Studies have shown that correcting magnesium deficiencies can affect the inflammatory response of the body, and so it has been theorized (but not proved) that consuming suitable magnesium may help to reduce the inflammation seen in cases of acne.
Lastly, it is well-known that a major contributing factor in the onset of atherosclerosis involves inflammation of the epithelial cells that line the arteries. Studies of these cells have shown “a direct role of low magnesium in promoting endothelial dysfunction by generating a pro-inflammatory... environment”. In other words - a magnesium deficiency can increase inflammation, and so it is feasible that it may worsen cases of acne.
Magnesium for Acne - The Hard Truth
The scientific literature is far from convincing when it comes to magnesium for acne. There is little or no direct evidence that consuming a magnesium supplement actually has any direct impact on acne, though in cases of deficiency you may experience more inflammation and poorer skin quality.
What is important to underline here, however, is that these benefits relate to correcting a pre-existing deficiency, rather than necessarily pointing to any benefit from consuming more magnesium than is necessary.
Broadly speaking, therefore, assuming you're taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure a suitable magnesium intake, the effects of taking additional magnesium are unlikely to have much of a positive impact. That said, taken in moderation, it's unlikely to do your skin any harm either. That's the bad news.
The good news is that other studies by dermatologists have revealed a number of treatments that do seem to help cases of acne. Let's start off with the more traditional remedies, typically recommended by the average doctor, before we move on to some of the more exciting (and “natural”) solutions.
What Treatments Do Seem to Improve Acne?
Standard Treatments for Acne
Acne may be treated in a number of ways on the advice of a dermatologist.
Firstly, topical “spot creams” and facial washes attempt to reduce bacterial populations in the skin. While there is evidence of positive results in the scientific community, some experts have been keen to point out that vigorous rubbing of the face can actually worsen the body's inflammatory response. Therefore, if such cosmetics are used you should aim to be as gentle as possible with your cleansing routine.
A second common treatment for acne involves the use of antibiotics like tetracycline. While such treatments can be effective, particularly in more serious cases, there are risks. Firstly, medical experts have reported increasing antibiotic resistance in Propionibacterium acnes. This means that such treatments are not always effective, and therefore by necessity new antibiotics are being developed. At the same time, antibiotics are frequently linked with side effects of varying severity, and for this reason many acne sufferers opt not to use them.
Lastly, evidence exists for the beneficial impacts of oral contraceptives for female patients. Since it is the androgens that first leads to the excessive production of sebum by the follicles, and contraceptives are specifically designed to impact hormone levels, such treatments can be very effective. Of course, this doesn't really help the male half of the population or any women who would rather not take contraceptives.
While each of these acne treatments is effective in many cases, each has its drawbacks. Furthermore, as we all respond differently to the above therapies, they may vary considerably in their effectiveness from person to person.
Many people therefore opt to use a “combination” of therapies for maximum impact. Moving on, let's look at some complementary therapies with solid scientific evidence behind them. Whether you opt to use these as a sole treatment, or to combine them with more traditional avenues, is a decision that you should make in conjunction with your doctor.
Light therapy is one of the newer and more exciting remedies for acne. The reason is quite simple; it has not only shown itself to be very effective in laboratory experiments but also has demonstrated no negative side effects.
Research has found that ultraviolet (UV) light can actually worsen the symptoms of acne, meaning that many sufferers are advised to stay out of the sun. In contrast, light in the blue-violet part of the spectrum seems to have quite the opposite impact. The reason is simple; experts have found that light in this range - with a wavelength of roughly 407-420 nm - effectively kills the bacterium known to cause acne. No bacteria mean no acne.
A common treatment regime involves twice-weekly exposure to blue light for just 10-15 minutes per session. This therefore makes light therapy a reasonably simple, quick and pain-free way to deal with acne.
Impressively, studies have demonstrated just how effective this treatment really is. One experiment found that 85% of individuals undergoing light therapy showed a reduction of at least 50% after just four weeks of treatment. Another group of researchers found similar results, in which improvements of between 59% and 67% were observed after just eight treatments.
Interestingly, light therapy does not necessarily have to involve a long-term commitment to treatment; researchers have shown that positive results still sit at 70%-80% success rate even three months after treatment has ended.
If there is a downside to light therapy it is that home treatment can be difficult due to the specialist equipment normally used. Unless you're willing to spend the not-inconsiderable sum to purchase your own high-powered blue light unit then you will instead require regular visits to a dermatologist's office for treatment. For some people, however, the effectiveness of this non-invasive therapy may still be worthy of consideration.
Scientists have long known that consuming diets that are deficient in zinc can reduce the condition of skin, leading to increased dryness, wrinkling and - as a result - itchiness. More recently, however, interest has begun to arise as to whether the consumption of zinc may positively impact cases of acne.
Scientists investigating the treatment of acne have noted, for example, that acne sufferers tend to have lower levels of zinc in their bodies. They therefore wondered whether increasing these levels would have a positive impact on the severity of acne.
Such an experiment provided a group of volunteers with 135mg of zinc per day for a period of three months. Just a few weeks into the treatment it was reported that “a significant decrease” in symptoms was observed, which continued to grow over time. By the end of the experiment the average participant reported an 85% improvement in their condition; an impressive result for certain.
Further studies have sought to understand how zinc seems to have this miraculous effect. The answer, it seems, is that zinc effectively down-regulates the enzymatic activity of bacteria in the skin. Zinc therefore reduces the negative impact of skin bacteria and, as a result, the body's inflammatory response to them.
Taking a high-quality zinc supplement may ultimately prove to be a useful and cost-effective way to remove deficiencies and improve acne for some sufferers.
Omega 3 Oils
Fish oils are rich in two major essential fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. These polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are considered to be “essential” because they cannot be made by the body. A third, less well-known omega 3 oil, is known as gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and can be found in starflower oil.
Numerous scientific investigations have shown that omega 3 oils can help to reduce inflammation and they are justly popular among those suffering from inflammation-related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. As acne and inflammation are so intricately linked, it so follows that fish oil may have a place in the ongoing treatment of this condition. But what does the science tell us?
One such study split a group of acne sufferers into three groups. The first group was provided with 2000mg of fish oil per day, while the second group took 400mg of borage oil. The third group acted as the control and received no supplementation at all. The study ran for a period of ten weeks, after which each participant was assessed by a dermatologist, as well as being asked to report their own level of satisfaction with their treatment.
The results showed that both the fish oil and GLA treatments resulted in “significant” decreases in acne. The scientists concluded that “omega-3 fatty acid and γ-linoleic acid could be used as adjuvant treatments for acne patients”.
It is interesting to note that the results of studies on the benefits of omega 3 for acne are far from uniform in terms of their results. One particular study found that supplementing with fish oil had a significant impact on some sufferers but not on others. Interestingly, the data showed that the more severe the case of acne, the more likely it was to respond to fish oil supplementation.
Just like zinc, therefore, taking a regular fish oil or starflower oil supplement may represent another simple and cheap way to reduce inflammation, thus improving the symptoms of acne.
Sometimes better known by the initials “BPO”, Benzoyl Peroxide is an antibacterial substance. In contrast to antibiotics, however, BPO is normally purchased in the form of a topical cream or oil which is applied to the skin.
Whilst some users report mild skin dryness or soreness initially, this normally calms down within a few weeks. Furthermore, as BPO is not an antibiotic it tends to suffer far less from resistance, and so the results can be rather more reliable. It is available over the counter from many pharmacists and tends to be quite reasonably priced.
Sadly, the scientific community is a long way off from proving any direct positive impact of magnesium on acne. Any effects are likely to be small, and may be a response to the elimination of a deficiency. On the other hand, acne sufferers do not need to suffer in silence, as a number of other remedies have proven positive results in rigorous scientific investigations. From blue light therapy to the consumption of omega 3 oils and zinc, to topical BPO creams, there are plenty of options worth considering.
As the evidence suggests that we all respond differently, it may be worth testing out some of the ideas outlined here to see which options really work for you. Just remember that there is rarely a “quick fix” to acne and you may need to continue one course of treatment for some weeks - or even months - to see full effectiveness. Whichever options you choose, rest assured that acne doesn't have to be a way of life - help is at hand.