Herbal and Nutritional Supplements

Herbal and Nutritional Supplements for Acne

Herbal and Nutritional Supplements commonly used in the Naturopathic treatment of all types of acne. It is well known that deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals can cause or worsen numerous health problems, including skin diseases like acne. A wide range of vitamins, minerals, animal products, herbal extracts and other plant-based products are purported to help control acne symptoms.

This section includes many of the Herbal and Nutritional supplements that are most frequently used as acne treatments. 

Herbal Supplements (A-Z)

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Nutritional Supplements (A-Z)

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Once Daily Multivitamin

Multi-vitamins are nutritional supplements that combine many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients into a single formulation. Regular intake of a balanced multi-vitamin at the recommended dosage is an excellent way to maintain healthy levels of essential nutrients in your body. Multi-vitamins are rarely used as a direct treatment for acne, but they are often incorporated into comprehensive acne treatment plans as part of the dietary regimen.

Organic Multi-Vitamin Supplement Label
Organic Multi-Vitamin Supplement Label

There is no robust evidence that taking Multi-vitamins is an effective treatment for any disease, at least in otherwise healthy people. However, deficiences in essential Vitamins and Minerals can cause a wide range of health problems, suppress the immune system and trigger acne symptoms. For example, B Vitamin (B2, B5 and B6) deficiencies can cause skin problems and acne-like symptoms. Deficiencies in Vitamins A and D, as well as important minerals like Zinc, may also trigger acne symptoms.

Overall, taking a once-daily, balanced multi-vitamin is unlikely to significantly reduce the frequency or severity of acne symptoms in most people. That’s because most people who eat a reasonably well-balanced diet do not have acute Vitamin or Mineral deficiencies. But regular use of multi-vitamins at recommended dosages is generally safe and is an excellent way to ensure your body has all the nutrients that it needs.

Multi-Vitamin Images


Multivitamins @ Wikipedia


Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)

Echinacea supplements are prepared from several species of Coneflower (Echinacea spp). The most common Echinacea supplements are extracts from the roots of the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Echinacea is native to the Eastern North America, and this plant was an important part of the traditional medicines of many Native American groups who lived in the region. Echinacea extracts are purported to have many health benefits and are widely used in Naturopathic Medicine to boost the immune system and to treat respiratory infections, such as the common cold. Echinacea extracts are occasionally used in the Naturopathic treatment of acne.

Echinacea Capsules
Echinacea Capsules

Despite numerous claims that Echinacea helps support the immune system, there is little scientific evidence that commercially-available Echinacea extracts have any health benefits. One reason for this might be because the composition of Echinacea extracts varies significantly between providers. It is also unclear whether the active ingredients that are present in Echinacea formulations prepared from fresh Echinacea roots are also present in the commercial extracts. Overall, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that commercial Echinacea extracts are helpful for the treatment of infections, including acne.

Antimocrobial Activity of Echinacea Oregon Grape and Other Plant Extracts (Wendakoon)
Antimocrobial Activity of Echinacea Oregon Grape and Other Plant Extracts (Wendakoon)

Echinacea extracts have been claimed to have robust antibacterial properties which may help reduce the growth of acne-causing bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnesHowever, laboratory testing indicates that commercial Echinacea extracts tend to be weakly toxic to gram-positive bacteria, a group which includes P. acnes. Overall, it seems unlikely that commercial Echinacea extracts will be helpful acne treatments. While topical or oral treatments that use fresh Echinacea extract may be helpful for the treatment of acne, more research is needed on that subject.

Echinacea Images


Echinacea @ Wikipedia
The potential use of Echinacea in acne: control of Propionibacterium acnes growth and inflammation. Sharma, et al. 2011.
Applications of the phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in infectious diseases. Hudson. 2011.
A review of phytotherapy of acne vulgaris: perspective of new pharmacological treatments. Azimi, et al. 2012.
Immunotropic activity of Echinacea. Part II. Experimental and clinical data. Balan, et al. 2012.
Medicinal plants for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a review of recent evidences. Nasri, et al. 2015.
Echinacea: an effective alternative to antibiotics. Tierra. 2008.
An Evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in Experimental Rhinovirus Infections. Turner, et al. 2005.
Evaluation of Selected Medicinal Plants Extracted in Different Ethanol Concentrations for Antibacterial Activity against Human Pathogens. Wendakoon, et al. 2012.

Red Clover

Red Clover and Acne

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant that was originally native to Europe, Western Asia and Northwest Africa but is now naturalized worldwide. Red Clover is a common agricultural cover crop because it fixes nitrogen in the soil and is a rich source of pollen and nectar for bees. Red Clover is widely used in Naturopathic Medicine to treat a variety of ailments. In Naturopathic Medicine, dried Red Clover is occasionally used as an oral herbal supplement or mixed with topical formulations for the treatment of acne.

Field of Red Clover
Field of Red Clover

Red Clover is purported to have anti-inflammatory, expectorant and sedative properties. Red Clover is commonly used as a Naturopathic treatment for menopausal hot-flashes. Red Clover contains several isoflavone compounds which are similar in structure estrogen (a female sex hormone). These Estrogen-like compounds are called Phyto-Estrogens. Consumption of large amounts of Red Clover extract can trigger estrogen-dependent effects in the body.

There are some people who have reported that both oral and topical Red Clover formulations were helpful treatments for their acne. The effect of Red Clover on acne may be related to the presence of Phyto-Estrogens. Estrogens can inhibit the activity of Androgens (male sex hormones). Elevated levels of Androgens are known to trigger acne symptoms in some individuals. Unfortunately there are no rigorous scientific studies on the effectiveness of Red Clover for the treatment of acne. Nonetheless, Red Clover is one of the few herbal supplements that may actually be useful as an acne treatment, and this application deserves further investigation.


Red Clover Images


Red Clover @ Wikipedia
Phytoestrogens derived from red clover: an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy? Beck, et al. 2005.
Therapeutic agents and herbs in topical application for acne treatment. Kanlayavattanakul, et al. 2011.
Estrogenic activity of two standardized red clover extracts (Menoflavon®) intended for large scale use in hormone replacement therapy. Dornstauder, et al. 2001.
Clinical studies of red clover (Trifolium pratense) dietary supplements in menopause: a literature review. Booth, et al. 2006.
Isoflavones, phytohormones and phytosterols. Dweck. 2006.
Determination of isoflavones in red clover and related species by high-performance liquid chromatography combined with ultraviolet and mass spectrometric detection. Wu, et al. 2003.
Inhibition of angiogenesis and inflammation by an extract of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.). Krenn, et al. 2009.

Oregon Grape

Oregon Grape and Acne

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is an evergreen shrub that is native to western North America. The Oregon Grape is the official plant of the state of Oregon (USA). The bush has spiny leaves and blooms of yellow flowers that develop into dark blue berries. The berries are edible but they are quite tart. Oregon Grape was an important element of the traditional medicine of the Native Americans who inhabited the region. Oregon Grape is occasionally used as a treatment for acne.

Oregon Grape Bush
Oregon Grape Bush

Extracts from the roots of Oregon Grape are available commercially and are commonly used in Naturopathic Medicine.  Oregon Grape root extract has been reported to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Some Naturopaths prescribe Oregon Grape root extract as an oral supplement to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and acne. Some people have reported that oral supplements of Oregon Grape root extract helped improve their acne symptoms. However, no rigorous clinical studies have been conducted to determine if Oregon Grape extracts are actually an effective treatment for acne.

Oregon Grape root extract contains signficant concentrations of a biologically-active molecule called Berberine. Berberine is an alkaloid that has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties, and it may be responsible for many of the other medicinal properties of Oregon Grape root extract. Berberine is found in many other plants (eg. Goldenseal), and many cultures utilize those plants for medicinal purposes.

Oregon Grape Images


Oregon Grape @ Wikipedia
Berberine @ Wikipedia
From medical herbalism to phytotherapy in dermatology: back to the future. Dattner. 2003.
Herbal medicine for acne vulgaris. Yarnell, et al. 2006.
Different approaches of alternative medicines in acne vulgaris treatment. Ghosh, et al. 2011.
A review on herbal drugs acting against Acne Vulgaris. Patel, et al. 2015.
Botanicals in dermatology. Reuter, et al. 2010.
Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne. Kapoor, et al. 2011.
Method validation for determination of alkaloid content in goldenseal root powder. Weber, et al. 2003.


Acacia Catechu Leaves and Flower

Khadir is an herbal supplement made from the Kher plant (Senegalia catechu or Acacia catechu). The Kher plant may go by other names, such as black catechu, black cutch, cachou, catechu, cutchtree and khair. The plant is a thorny, deciduous tree that is native to Asia and parts of India near the Indian Ocean. In Ayurvedic medicine Khadir is used for treatments ranging from sore throats to diarrhea to skin care. Khadir is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as both a topical and oral treatment for acne.

Harvested Acacia Kher Tree Bark Fiber for Khadir Production
Harvested Acacia Kher Tree Bark Fiber for Khadir Production

Khadir is thought to act as a an astringent,  anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent. The addition of Khadir to Naturopathic face washes is purported to help minimize the redness and swelling associated with acne lesions. However, these claims have not been tested in clinical studies and acne sufferers should not anticipate oral or topical Khadir treatments to dramatically improve their acne symptoms.

Khadir extracts contain several compounds which are believed to have biological activity. The Acacia catechu is so named because the plant contains significant concentrations of catechins, catechols and catecholamines. The utility of these compounds for the treatment of acne is not well understood and requires additional research.

Khadir Images


Khadir @ Wikipedia
Therapeutic plants of Ayurveda: a review of selected clinical and other studies for 166 species. Khan, et al. 2001.
Determination of the predominant catechins in Acacia catechu by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization− mass spectrometry. Shen, et al. 2006.
In Vitro antimicrobial activity of Acacia catechu and its phytochemical analysis. Negi, et al. 2010.
A medicinal extract of Scutellaria baicalensis and Acacia catechu acts as a dual inhibitor of cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase to reduce inflammation. Burnett, et al. 2007.
Analgesic effects of a standardized bioflavonoid composition from Scutellaria baicalensis and Acacia catechu. Yiman, et al. 2012.


Goldenseal  (Hydrastis canadensis) is an herb in the Ranunculaceae family that is native to Eastern North America. According to historical documents, Native Americans relied on the medicinal qualities of Goldenseal for the treatment of a variety of ailments. These ailments include skin infections, digestion problems and cancer. Goldenseal is now occasionally used by modern Naturopathic practitioners for the treatment of acne.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) Plant
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) Plant

Goldenseal extracts are purported to have  anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and astringent properties.  For the treatment of acne, Goldenseal extracts are both consumed orally or added to topical anti-acne formulations. Many people have claimed that Naturopathic treatments involving Goldenseal helped to improve their acne symptoms. However, there do not appear to have been any rigorous clinical studies to evaluate how effective Goldenseal extract is for the treatment of acne. In fact, there does not appear to be strong evidence that Goldenseal is an effective treatment for many of the medical conditions for which it is commonly prescribed. The lack of scientific evidence does not prove or disprove the medical utility of Goldenseal, but more research is needed to evaluate many of the claimed benefits of Goldenseal.

Goldenseal does contain significant quantities of several alkaloids which are known to be biologically active, such as berberastine, berberine, canadine and hydrastine. Berberine has been shown to have antibacterial properties, possibly by disrupting their efflux pump system. Berberine has also been reported to be an anti-inflammatory agent when consumed orally, but this claim has not been fully proven.

Goldenseal Images


Goldenseal @ Wikipedia
Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne. Kapoor, et al. 2011.
Herbal medicine for acne vulgaris. Yarnell, et al. 2006.
A review on herbal drugs acting against Acne Vulgaris. Patel, et al. 2015.
Human cytochrome p450 inhibition and metabolic-intermediate complex formation by goldenseal extract and its methylenedioxyphenyl components. Chatterjee, et al. 2003.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) extracts synergistically enhance the antibacterial activity of berberine via efflux pump inhibition. Ettefagh, et al. 2011.
Determination of Hydrastine and Berberine in Goldenseal Raw Materials, Extracts, and Dietary Supplements by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography with UV: Collaborative Study. Brown, et al. 2008.

Fish Oil

Fish Oil and Acne

Fish Oil refers to the naturally occurring oils in the flesh of fish. Fish Oil is extracted from many types of fish and is among the most popular nutritional supplements on the market. Fish Oil is purported to have many health benefits, such as decreasing inflammation and improving skin tone. Fish Oil supplements are commonly included in holistic Naturopathic acne treatment plans.

Fresh Caught Sardines
Fresh Caught Sardines

There have been several research studies to investigate whether Fish Oil supplements can help improve acne symptoms. Many of these studies found that regular consumption of Fish Oil led to reduction in the severity and frequency of acne outbreaks. However, these effects tend to be fairly small and Fish Oil is not expected to dramatically improve acne symptoms for most individuals. Fish Oil supplements do not appear to have a significant risk of side effects when consumed at recommended levels and they can be combined with most other acne treatments.

Fish Oil contains significant concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EicosaPentaenoic Acid (EPA) and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA). These fatty acids have been reported to provide multiple health benefits and they may be responsible for anti-inflammatory properties of Fish Oil. Fish Oil is approved by the FDA to help lower levels of blood triglycerides (fats). The powerful anti-acne drug Isotretinoin (Accutane) can cause unsafe increases in blood triglycerides in some individuals. There has been at least one research study which found that Fish Oil supplementation can help limit Isotretinoin-caused increases in blood triglyceride levels. Because of this, some dermatologists prescribe Fish Oil supplements to patients who are undergoing oral Isotretinoin therapy.

Although Fish Oil supplements are an easy way to maintain a steady level of dietary Fish Oil, eating fish itself will accomplish the same thing. Some experts believe that part of the reason why people in certain regions of the world (eg. Mediterranean) have lower frequencies of acne is because their diets are high in fish and other foods that are rich in certain types of fatty acids.

Fish Oil Images


Fish Oil @ Wikipedia
Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases. Rubin, et al. 2008.
Omega-3 fatty acids and acne. Logan. 2003.
Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne. Khayef, et al. 2012.
Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Jung, et al. 2014.
Effect of dietary fish oil on hyperlipidaemia due to isotretinoin and etretinate. Marsden, et al. 1987.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose Oil is extracted from the seeds of several flowering plants in the genus Oenothera, which are found in North America. Evening Primrose Oil is a popular Naturopathic treatment for many types of skin disease, including psoriasis, exzema and acne. Evening Primrose Oil is used in both topical and oral formulations.

Evening Primrose Seed Pods
Evening Primrose Seed Pods

Evening Primrose Oil is rich source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is a fatty acid that is purported to have anti-inflammatory and other health benefits when ingested. Prior to European settlement, some Native Americans cultivated the Evening Primrose and it was an important component of their traditional medicine.

Many people have reported that both oral and topical Evening Primrose Oil helped to improve their acne symptoms. There have also been some studies that suggest Evening Primrose Oil may help improve acne symptoms. However, the evidence provided by these studies tends to be weak and their findings should not be considered definitive. Evening Primrose Oil, and GLA in particular, are intriguing Naturopathic acne treatment options and warrant additional research.


Evening Primrose Oil Images


Evening Primrose @ Wikipedia
Evening primrose oil is effective in atopic dermatitis: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Senapati, et al. 2008.
Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema. Horrobin. 2000.
A review of the clinical efficacy of evening primrose. Stonemetz. 2008.
Herbal anti-inflammatory agents for skin disease. Graf. 2000.
Essential‐fatty‐acid metabolites in plasma phospholipids in patients with ichthyosis vulgaris, acne vulgaris and psoriasis. Grattan, et al. 1990.
Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne. Kapoor, et al. 2011.


Black Elderberry Berries

Elderberry Supplements are produced from berries of several species of Elderberry tree (Sambucus spp.), most commonly Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The Elderberry plant has been used for centuries by traditional healers to treat respiratory infections and other diseases. Elderberry is occasionally used in the Naturopathic treatment of acne.

Black Elderberry Flower
Black Elderberry Flower

Elderberry extracts have been reported to have antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties. There have been some research reports that Elderberry extracts can decrease symptoms of respiratory infections, but the overall evidence is weak. Elderberry extracts have also been reported to have moderate antibacterial activity towards gram positive bacteria, a group which includes the acne-causing P. acnes bacterium.

In regards to acne, Elderberry extracts are often used for their perceived immune boost. The immune benefit may then lead to an improvement in acne symptoms. However, there does not appear to be any reliable evidence that indicates Elderberry extracts are an effective acne treatment when used orally or topically.

Elderberry Images


Elderberry @ Wikipedia
European elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) rich in sugars, organic acids, anthocyanins and selected polyphenols. Veberic, et al. 2009.
Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. Krawitz, et al. 2011.
Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food–a review. Sidor, et al. 2015.
The antimicrobial activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra L) extract against gram positive bacteria, gam negative bacteria and yeast. Mohammadsadeghi, et al. 2013.
Antibacterial activity of elder (Sambucus nigra L.) flower or berry against hospital pathogens. Hearst, et al. 2010.