…but one which is rarely discussed is vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin found in moderate levels in many household staples such as bananas, meat, fish, and bread. Its official name is pyridoxine, it was discovered in 1938 and it’s a component of over 60 different proteins in the human body.
Vitamin B6 doesn’t have a standout gimmick like iron manufacturing haemoglobin and carrying your oxygen around, but has many minor functions. Vitamin B6 is involved with stomach acid production, lipid and amino acid metabolism, red blood cell formation, it creates neurotransmitters, and it maintains electrolyte balance.
B6 is still important enough that if would be game over if your body had none. For instance, it was even found in one study that vitamin B6 could prevent brain shrinkage by up to 90%.
For those reasons, along with vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, and B12, vitamin B6 is a member of the 32 essential nutrients crew. Any business whose multivitamins don’t contain vitamin B6 is up to something dodgy.
But unlike zinc, selenium, or vitamin E, vitamin B6 is largely ignored by acne patients, and for good reason. It has no power to control inflammation, whether acute or chronic. It isn’t a principle ingredient for antioxidants manufactured in the human body such as glutathione. Your body doesn’t build vitamin B6 directly into skin cells as a defending armour against sunlight and air pollution.
The direct evidence linking vitamin B6 to acne is flimsy at best. So is there any connection at all and is vitamin B6 worth any time and attention?
Vitamin B6 can prevent PMS-induced acne
Well, there are three key factors that any clear-skin maniac should know about, if you aspire to be an expert.
First on the list is a connection to PMS. Premenstrual syndrome is the arch enemy of countless women with acne worldwide. The surge in estrogen and decline in progesterone during the luteal phase of the cycle leads to 1) oilier skin due to increased DHT production, and 2) disrupted insulin and glucose metabolism, again resulting in oily skin. For many the fear is real every month: PMS acne is an “uncontrollable” menace since the menstrual cycle cannot and should not be stopped.
But if you’re a newbie to clearing acne naturally then good news. The acne induced by premenstrual syndrome CAN be controlled…
…and a ton of evidence suggests that taking vitamin B6 is one way to do it. For reference, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for both men and women aged 19-50 is 1.3-2.0mg. According to a 1999 review on nine different studies, vitamin B6 megadoses of up to 100mg are extremely potent at treating premenstrual syndrome.
Symptoms vanquished included premenstrual depression and there was no evidence of side effects whatsoever. The average dose was 50mg but up to 100mg of B6 performed substantially better than a placebo.
Could acne be another PMS symptom to be prevented? It’s extremely possible. Depression and anxiety are already a trigger of acne, so we have evidence right there. In fact, back in the 1990s the British government was worried about side effects from vitamin B6 and so foolishly plotted to ban supplements above 10mg; this study helped to reverse the decision. The review covered nine studies, so this clearly isn’t rogue, unsupported evidence.
The explanation is partially that vitamin B6 is involved with the manufacturing of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin is the happiness hormone responsible for all feelings of pleasure and well-being while dopamine is the king of motivation and addiction (slot jockeys have way too much). Of course, this makes vitamin B6 excellent for acne even if you don’t have PMS, because depression and stress are a huge pimple trigger in countless people.
Elsewhere in the realm of PMS, the lion’s share of the benefits may come from an increase in progesterone that vitamin B6 can apparently encourage. The cycle goes like this: estrogen gets too high, progesterone is pushed to insufficient levels. Progesterone regulates the androgen DHT, meaning that your DHT and sebum production gets completely out of control.
High doses of vitamin B6 increase progesterone during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, preventing this deadly cycle. The surge in estrogen is also mellowed and delayed. Many women are aware of vitamin B6’s potential for PMS generally, but few have made the final connection between B6 and acne yet.
If you’re stuck in the constant cycle of having healthy skin for two weeks and then dreading an inevitable surge in pimples each month, and are ready to snap out of it, fixing your vitamin B6 levels might be the solution.
Does vitamin B6 reduce oily skin in men?
What’s more, women haven’t monopolised the B6 market. There’s weak but promising evidence that vitamin B6 can reduce the skin’s sensitivity to androgenic hormones. This study on mice fed them high doses of vitamin B6; the result was that “elevated vitamin B6 concentrations” caused a 35-40% reduction in androgen receptor sensitivity.
B6 can thus help men and some women to achieve the holy grail of hormones. High testosterone and DHT levels to enjoy strong energy, sex drive and mental performance, combined with reduced stimulation of sebaceous glands and no oily skin as a side effect. This effect would be particularly useful if the reduction in sensitivity applied most strongly to receptors in the skin cells rather than those needed inside the body.
Additionally, while scouring the internet I found several references to a study where 50-250mg of vitamin B6 (a megadose) reduced skin sebum production significantly and slashed acne by 75% in teenagers. That’s a massive reduction and supports the theory above.
Only a donation-hungry corrupt scientist would call this evidence conclusive, particularly since we have zero knowledge of the methods or supporting studies, but it’s extremely promising nevertheless.
B6 regulates a little-known acne-causing compound
The next power is even more interesting. As might have occurred to you already, a big improvement in PMS symptoms isn’t a power offered by many of the other vitamins discussed here on Supernatural Acne Treatment, whether its vitamin C, vitamin E or selenium…
…and now we have an even more obscure benefit. Vitamin B6 can control one of the most deadly compounds in the human bloodstream, homocysteine.
What is homocysteine? It’s said to be the single most effective blood analog for a variety of health conditions. Homocysteine is an amino acid which the human body manufactures as a metabolite of another amino acid, methionine. Methionine is the common protein found in meat, fish and eggs, needed for many vital functions such as melatonin production.
Homocysteine has a couple of useful roles. Firstly, it can be reconverted to methionine, acting as a reserve supply for when dietary intake runs low. Secondly, it can be converted to cysteine, another vital amino acid from the diet which is used to manufacture glutathione.
Things change when levels become elevated however; in that case homocysteine is nothing more than a waste product. High levels correlate with heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, infertility, strokes, depression and chronic pain.
The problem for acne? Homocysteine is a potent agent of oxidative stress. It destabilises cells to form free radicals and depletes your all-important supplies of acne-clearing antioxidants. “Hyperhomocysteinemia” as elevated levels are termed, seems to crank up the formation of free radicals through a variety of dangerous interactions with proteins, chemicals and the cells in the body.
The link between oxidative stress and homocysteine is well established. The link between acne and oxidative stress is extremely well established…
…and the solution? Methods to control homocysteine include eating different protein types and relaxing, but one of the most effective is vitamin B6 supplementation.
This study on mice examined the effect of vitamin B6 status on several antioxidant parameters including glutathione, homocysteine, and malondialdehyde (a marker of oxidative stress). Apparently: “mice with vitamin B6-deficient diet had the highest homocysteine concentration in plasma and liver among groups”. The B6 deficient mice also had substantially higher malondialdehyde levels, which confirms the oxidative stress.
There was zero effect on glutathione, the main antioxidant manufactured by the human body. Clearly the benefits were coming from somewhere else, quite possibly the reduction in homocysteine. The explanation is pretty interesting: vitamin B6 facilitates the conversion of homocysteine to cysteine. Vitamin B6 essentially makes your homocysteine supply more accessible for healthy purposes.
Homocysteine isn’t directly linked to acne, but since it increases one of the two biggest causes of acne, it’s promising that vitamin B6 can control it.
Vitamin B6 may strengthen the skin
Then there’s an even more interesting problem with homocysteine: several studies and countless skin care gurus state that homocysteine has the power to dissolve collagen. That’s the main connective protein in the human body whether it’s in joints, heart tissue, or human skin cells.
This old 1973 study concluded that elevated homocysteine had a pathogenic effect on connective tissue. The scientists observed that collagen cross links in skin samples from patients with elevated homocysteine were significantly weaker. They even tested the strength of collagen using solvents, and the collagen taken from high homocysteine patients dissolved much more easily.
Recently the mechanism has come to light. It turns out that elevated homocysteine inhibits an enzyme called lysyl oxidase (study). The main job of lysyl oxidase? Cross linking and constructing collagen proteins.
This is another fact that is widely acknowledged; scan a few beauty websites and amateur skincare books and you’ll discover references to homocysteine and collagen frequently. Yet once again, few have taken the next step and connected it to acne due to the weakened and fragile skin that results from the damage. Big mistake! Read this article to become an expert on collagen.
Overall, elevated homocysteine is an interesting avenue of acne research, and alongside vitamin B12, B6 is the first call of doctors for reducing it.
Do vitamin B6 megadoses cause acne?
However, there’s a little snag you might hit if you start swallowing down the 200mg or even 250mg that some clear-skin merchants recommend. Vitamin B6 is similar to vitamin B12 in that it’s most famous for one thing: triggering a huge explosion of fresh acne when taken at levels above the RDA (more on the B12 controversy here).
You might believe that this tale is a legend of acne message boards, but scientific studies have confirmed the risk as far back as 1976. The study in question tested both vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 on 14 acne patients. Deterioration in acne vulgaris or an eruption of fresh acne vulgaris could be detected in all 14 patients.
By far the worst affected were women. The nature of the outbreak was described as well. The acne consisted of numerous small papules and pustules. On the face, the chin and forehead were most severely affected. The infection also spread to the upper chest and back.
The women fact is interesting; with that in mind it’s possible that an attempt to control premenstrual syndrome could backfire spectacularly if the dosage of vitamin B6 is too high.
The saga continued with this 1991 study which simply repeated the experiment above. The results: daily ingestion of a high dose vitamin B6 and B12 supplement caused an acne rosacea outbreak which was untreatable with conventional therapies. The only successful therapy was removing the source in the first place, the B6 supplement.
Does this make vitamin B6 a problem worth considering for the average acne patient? In reality, almost certainly not. You’ll be at risk if you take 250mg in desperation, but remember that the daily allowance is much smaller, at 1.7mg. A very conservative tolerable limit is 100mg per day. The improvements in PMS were produced using an average dosage of just 50mg.
You’ll almost certainly never overdose from food; the average banana contains 0.4mg. Forget about food, and for controlling PMS, stay below 100mg to be safe.
What’s more, this quotation slashes the risk further: “the acneiform rash generally fades within a short time after vitamin B6 or vitamin B12 treatment has been stopped”. Even if you have an unfortunate reaction, or your bodily circumstances all align coincidentally so that vitamin B6 does send you hurtling into pizza-face mode, quitting the supplement instantly will instantly solve the problem.
It’s also possible that the scientists confused the two nutrients, attributing the acne outbreak from vitamin B12 to both of those vitamins. Take a look at the acne message boards and you’ll notice a pattern: many of the complaints against vitamin B6 are sourced from complete B-vitamin pills, not isolated B6 ones.
Is vitamin B6 one of the worst acne villains around? Only if you’re foolish enough to take 200mg.
Myth alert, volume one
Something else to be aware of is the various myths and misunderstandings circulating around the internet.
Like any nutrient, there’s a lot of misinterpreted data and rumours passed in a never-ending cycle, slowly becoming blindly accepted as facts, which are misleading countless people. First on the list is vitamin B6’s relationship to zinc. The claim goes that vitamin B6 is vital for zinc absorption. The benefits for acne would be huge, simply because zinc is the number one nutrient for controlling red and inflamed acne.
This zinc absorption claim is everywhere, but there’s no hard data supporting it. All the hype seems to come down to this study conducted on women. Copper, iron, and zinc absorption, retention and status were all examined young women with relation to their vitamin B6 status.
The results were conflicting as can be: zinc absorption and retention were significantly higher during vitamin B6 depletion. The opposite of what the myth suggests. Meanwhile, serum zinc actually declined during deficiency. The absorbed zinc did not end up in the bloodstream somehow.
This data is highly conflicting and we definitely cannot conclude that vitamin B6 helps with zinc absorption.
Myth alert, volume two
The second big myth floating around is that vitamin B6 is a cofactor in glutathione production. If you’re unaware, then glutathione is the most abundant indigenous antioxidant made in the human body, and I recommend that all acne patients focus on increasing it (instructions here).
At a big stretch there’s a plausible mechanism here. The amino acid cysteine is one of the main co-factors in the synthesis of glutathione in the liver. Vitamin B6 is used to convert methionine stocks to cysteine in case of a serious dietary deficiency. However, this is highly indirect and would only ever work in certain circumstances. Vitamin B6 is not a vital co-factor like selenium, zinc or magnesium, or cysteine and sulphur.
What’s more, the studies are extremely conflicting. First we return to the study on rats and homocysteine, and this very clear quotation: “the glutathione peroxidase activities remained relatively stable in plasma and liver whether vitamin B6 was adequate, deficient, or supplemented”.
Secondly, we have a study specifically on glutathione which compared a bunch of vitamin B6 deficient rats and a bunch of rats which had plenty of B6. At the beginning of the study, both groups had extremely similar concentrations of glutathione in their organs.
Then both groups were injected with a chemical called diethylmaleate. Glutathione fell substantially but pretty much equally in both groups.
Another chemical was then used, but this time, the vitamin B6 deficient rats experienced a far greater fall in glutathione. Our first piece of evidence to support the theory then, but the results remained conflicting. Vitamin B6 deficient rats had higher levels of glutathione peroxidase in their liver, but the other rats had higher levels of glutathione transferase (a form with a stronger detoxification role) in organs except the liver.
The results were a mess in other words. Little could be understood from them, however the scientists did offer this. They commented on the supposed cysteine synthesis mechanism, saying that the enzymes which synthesise cysteine from methionine did indeed decrease during B6 deficiency, as expected.
However this had no relation to actual glutathione levels, meaning that this was only a small percentage of the cysteine supplies actually used to make glutathione.
The conclusion: vitamin B6 has very little relation to glutathione supplies.
Why B6 is unimportant
So there you have it, the three main areas of interest for an acne patient are the megadose risk, hormone regulation, and homocysteine control. But the simple fact is that vitamin B6 still isn’t important.
Why? Because not too many people outside of the third world are deficient in it. Magnesium has a monstrous deficiency rating of 80%, selenium is estimated to be about 35%. According to a similarly “official” assessment conducted from 2003-2004 which tested a total of 7822 men and women aged 1 and above, only 11% had blood level of vitamin B6 below the recommended level.
Specific groups were more at risk of deficiency, including:
- Women taking contraceptives.
- Women aged 20-34.
- African Americans.
- Male smokers.
- Men and women aged over 65.
There’s some fear over whether the average citizen eats only synthetic vitamin B6 added to cornflakes. But that’s bypassed here as well, because blood levels of pyridoxal phosphate (PLP, the bioactive form of B6) were directly tested.
What does this mean for you? It means that vitamin B6 probably isn’t a problem. Vitamin B6 definitely has roles to play in acne, some pretty significant ones, but it pales in comparison to the importance of zinc, selenium, or vitamin E. A narrow subset of people, women with PMS-induced acne, could enjoy a huge improvement.
For everyone else, though, it’s a case of getting your bases covered. You need to prevent any homocysteine increase behind the scenes, with its moderate indirect dangers.
Vitamin B6 is worth inspecting and correcting, but deficiency is almost certainly not causing your acne.
Your ultimate vitamin B6 strategy
Encompassing all the information above, here is your fool-proof strategy.
Firstly, check your multivitamin for vitamin B6. The dosage may be irrelevant; if it’s in the form of pyridoxine you’re in trouble, because that’s an inefficiently absorbed synthetic form. The well-absorbed form is pyridoxine hydrochloride – that’s what you want. P5P, also known as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate, is also acceptable.
If you don’t take a multivitamin, inspect your diet. The top vitamin B6-containing acne-friendly foods are…
- Sunflower seeds: 1.35mg per 100 grams. RDA = 2mg per day.
- Pistachio nuts: 1.12mg.
- Cooked tuna: 1.04mg.
- Turkey/chicken: 0.81mg.
- Lean pork: 0.79mg.
- Dried prunes: 0.75mg.
- Beef rib: 0.68mg.
- Banana: 0.37mg.
- Avocado: 0.29mg.
- Spinach: 0.24mg.
…and if you eat plenty of those you are in luck, but remember! The vitamin B6 added to cereals and breads by food corporations gleefully attempting to gain themselves a “healthy” image may well be the synthetic form. If your intake primarily comes from cornflakes you may be in danger once again.
Next, identify whether you fall into any of the danger categories above. If you do, you may need to add extra vitamin B6 in.
Finally, if you’re suffering from PMS, then you are the person who can benefit the most from extra vitamin B6. It may be worth taking a dedicated b-vitamin complex. Be warned that if you are sensitive to other b-vitamins like B12, such a complex could break you out.
If, however, you are struggling with PMS-induced acne, vitamin B6 be glorious solution you’ve been dreaming of.
My recommended b-vitamin formula for a PMS woman with rampaging acne is this Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin B.
Overall, the safest option with vitamin B6 and all b-vitamins is to take a multivitamin. That’s what I personally do because they all tend to contain 100% of the RDA for each one, covering all your baselines.
What product do I recommend? For acne, easily Garden Of Life, because it contains the perfect quantities of all vitamins, and they’re naturally derived. There’s no fuss about creating the perfect form of the vitamin because it’s the nature-made version that we were born to digest.
Here is the men’s version: Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One For Men.
Here’s the women’s edition: Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One For Women.
The dosage of vitamin B6 is 2mg for both, 100% of the RDA. On top of the multivitamin, simply following the recommended acne-friendly diet will give you plenty of natural vitamin B6 from meat, eggs, fish, fruit, nuts and so on. If you need more, chuck in the b-vitamin formula as well.
Also remember: vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, and thus is barely stored in the human body (the liver retains a tiny reserve supply). You need enough vitamin B6 day after day, because after 24 hours your previous intake is almost gone.
We’ve said all that needs to be said. Vitamin B6 has two major benefits: 1) controlling homocysteine and 2) preventing PMS-induced acne.
If you’re a woman with PMS taking a megadose of 50mg might work wonders, or it might not.
If you’re anybody else, make sure you’re getting the RDA for vitamin B6 and your homocysteine will be put in check. This won’t clear your acne but it’s yet another indirect factor which is worth eliminating to bring permanently strong and clear skin that’s resistant to the occasional cheat day closer and closer.
Overall, vitamin B6 is a small-timer in the world of acne.
Thanks for reading!