Today we’re going to discuss a powerful supplement for clearing acne, a completely non-secret weapon that is cheap and widely available and has been staring us in the face for decades. We’re going to discuss vitamin C, one of the 32 vitamins and minerals essential for survival in humans.
Vitamin C is possibly the safest and best available nutritional supplement of all time. It’s best known for immune system functioning where it helps to destroy colds and the flu, as well as accelerate wound healing…
…but vitamin C is also a monstrously underestimated nutrient in many areas of health.
Back in 2009 during the swine flu outbreak which supposedly nearly ended civilisation as we know it, one family used megadoses of vitamin C to save their dying father Allan Smith. The doctors unanimously agreed that Mr Smith was a hopeless case, but were still reluctant to turn off life support, so at the request of the family they injected him with a megadose of 25 grams of vitamin C (the daily limit is 0.06 grams) twice per day. The doctors’ real plan was to prove that the vitamin C was useless.
Within a day, however, Mr Smith’s lungs regained the ability to process oxygen. The doctors denied it, claiming that a passing bus was just as likely to have been his saviour, but when treatment stopped the family’s father became close to death again. Several threats of legal action later, the vitamin C treatment was restarted and Mr Smith was discharged from hospital.
The doctors continued to blindly deny the role of vitamin C, but 70 years of data shows that this basic vitamin is massively overlooked. Megadosing vitamin C is a shockingly effective way to prevent many diseases, even possibly cancer…
…and furthermore, megadosing vitamin C is one of my personal favourite strategies for clearing acne.
Vitamin C is a major acne antioxidant
Vitamin C is not and never has been a popular supplement among acne patients. But it certainly should be if this study is any indication:
- Scientists gathered 60 women aged 16-22 years and divided them into 4 groups, 1) obese with acne, 2) obese without acne, 3) normal weight with acne, 4) normal weight with normal skin. Their fasting levels of beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin C were measured. The results were very interesting: acne patients had an average of 40% less vitamin C in their bloodstream compared to clear skinned patients.
That’s a clear indication that acne patients are lacking in vitamin C right there. You’d think that given how obese and overweight citizens of the West have become, the average person would at least be getting tons of nutrients from all that food. However, 31% of US citizens are deficient in vitamin C. Acne patients are even more at risk according to the study above.
Clearly vitamin C is important for acne but why? Firstly, because vitamin C is the number one water-soluble antioxidant in the human diet.
Antioxidants are critical for stopping acne. Eating more is one of the top strategies for all acne patients. Antioxidants build themselves into the oil (sebum) on your face, and prevent a component of that sebum called squalene from oxidising and turning into squalene peroxide, a substance that blocks pores very effectively.
That’s why vitamin C cures acne so well. It’s so potent in humans that it’s been dubbed the grandfather of traditional antioxidants.
Vitamin C is a major donor of electrons to free radicals, the main method through which antioxidants deactivate free radicals. It can also increase the general flow of restoring electrons to free radicals, and protect a variety of different oxidised tissues like proteins and also some lipids despite not even being fat soluble.
Vitamin C does not directly protect your sebum from oxidation because that’s the job of fat soluble antioxidants like vitamin E. However, it prevents acne in an equally important way.
The more vitamin C you have in your bloodstream, the less free radicals there are to deplete the acne antioxidants which do protect against blocked pores, namely vitamin E and vitamin A. Higher levels of vitamin A has additional benefits as well, since vitamin A is the greatest nutrient in existence for blocked pores.
Furthermore, vitamin C can indirectly prevent blocked pores and acne since it does get built into the tissues of the epidermis, the outer layer of your skin. Having more vitamin C can cut off chains of free radicals before they spread through tissues and reach your sebum. There’s evidence that higher amounts of vitamin C in the skin can directly control the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals behind acne as well, such as interleukin-6 and interkin-1beta (study).
More vitamin C in the epidermis can also protect against the inflammation of acne by UV rays in sun. Vitamin is not a true “sunscreen” because unlike vitamin A it doesn’t directly protect cells against UV light…
…but its real power is just as potent against acne: vitamin C scavenges the large amounts of free radicals which sunlight can form. Free radicals from UV rays are a notorious cause of acne.
- This study found that applying vitamin C topically resulted in substantial protection against the harm from UV rays.
- Two studies on rats found that the addition of ascorbic acid (the major component of vitamin C and most commonly used supplementary form) to the diet significantly reduced the formation of tumours and dermal neoplasms triggered by UV light (study, study).
- It’s well known that vitamin C transporter protein levels increase in the skin during sunlight exposure (study, study), suggesting that vitamin C is an automatic response against UV light inflammation. If you get insufficient vitamin C through diet, however, this automatic defence cannot kick in.
What’s better is that with more vitamin C in your skin, you can enjoy more time at a sunny beach, by the pool, climbing mountains in summer, etc. Hence, you can also 1) maximise your production of vitamin D, a critical nutrient for acne, and 2) benefit from higher production of anti-inflammatory nitric oxide, which kicks in the very second sunlight touches your skin.
Perhaps the most interesting antioxidant power of vitamin C is to increase the potency of endless other dietary antioxidants which can cure acne.
There’s one powerful group of antioxidants called catechins, found in many foods and most famously green tea. Catechins can destroy a variety of free radicals, but they’re also highly unstable in the human small intestine. Only 20% of catechins in tea remain after digestion…
…but one study found that by mixing green tea with lemon juice, which is very rich in vitamin C, the bioavailability of the catechins increased to 80%.
The blood levels of the two most potent catechins increased by 6 fold and 13 fold respectively. One acne antioxidant which vitamin C could enhance was epicatechin 3-gallate, which is 25 times and 100 times more potent than vitamin C and vitamin E respectively. More vitamin C in your diet enhances your acne antioxidant supply through a variety of different mechanisms.
Vitamin C slashes stress hormones
Vitamin C has a very potent and overlooked power – clearing any excess build-up of stress hormones in your blood. In fact it’s probably the cheapest and most effective way to counter the acne caused by stress alongside magnesium.
The old legends about stress causing acne are completely true. Any mental anxiety signals your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, the main hormone in your body responsible for the physiological effects of stress such as a racing heartbeat, higher pulse and sweaty palms.
Cortisol is safe and necessary in moderation, but in short, a nightmare when constantly elevated. One such problem of elevated cortisol is acne, via digestive difficulties and impaired wound healing. Any nutrient that inhibits cortisol is a useful one for acne patients, and vitamin C is the best such nutrient in existence. Your body knows that cortisol is deadly in excess, so it uses vitamin C to counteract abnormally high levels in the blood.
Many studies show the benefits clearly. In one study some German scientists subjected 120 participants to a classic stressor, a task which combined public speaking and mathematical problems. Half of the participants were given a large dose of vitamin C, 1000mg compared to the RDA of 60mg.
Compared with those who didn’t take any, the participants on vitamin C had far fewer signs of heightened stress responses, including high blood pressure and high cortisol levels. Furthermore, the participants who received vitamin C completed a survey and reported less experience of mental stress as well.
This study gave 1500mg of vitamin C to 45 athletes and analysed the following spike in cortisol (a common result of intense exercise). They took vitamin C for seven days before a race, the day of the race, and for another two days afterwards. Other athletes received either 500 grams of vitamin C or a placebo. According to the scientists, “immediate post-race serum cortisol was significantly lower in the vitamin C 1500 group than in placebo and vitamin C 500 groups”.
This study found that vitamin C attenuated the increase in cortisol in 20 patients who underwent 90 minutes of exercise. This study noted a similarly blunted increase, and scientists in this study fed vitamin C to 16 untrained male volunteers and found that “serum cortisol concentrations significantly declined after supplementation compared with baseline”.
Many similar studies have been conducted on animals, some of which demonstrated that vitamin C can almost totally abolish the stress responses behind acne. You can see the importance of vitamin C clearly – when under heightened stress a goat will synthesise up to 100,000mg of vitamin C daily. Compare that with the recommended daily allowance in humans of 60mg.
So as you can see, vitamin C is the default weapon of your body to counter high stress, but unlike animals we humans cannot synthesise vitamin C ourselves. We lost the ability through an unfortunate genetic mutation. If you’re chronically stressed out then it is thus critical to get enough vitamin C in your diet, to minimise the harm to your acne. Human adrenal glands, which manufacture cortisol, are largely composed of vitamin C as well and hence rely on the nutrient for their efficient function.
Even if you experience only mild day-to-day stressors, then megadosing vitamin C is an excellent preventative measure against cortisol-induced acne.
Not only will you be less stressed mentally but you’ll enjoy many indirect benefits. For instance, high cortisol levels can lead to serious sleep deprivation, and as we discussed in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne, sleeping better is one of the simplest yet greatest strategies for acne ever.
Vitamin C – the godfather of all collagen
Collagen is the main structural protein in your skin; it provides a scaffolding around which all important proteins and tissues can be built. 30% of total protein in the human body is collagen. Increasing collagen can prevent wrinkles from forming, increase skin hydration, and have truly miraculous effects on skin tone and radiance.
These days our collagen is being depleted fast. Cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, air pollution and chemicals in cosmetics (a huge hidden cause of acne) can all warp collagen and make it useless. Sunlight can do the same if you lack natural sunscreen acne nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin E, which vast swathes of us do.
That’s where vitamin C steps in. All collagen begins life in your body with the assembly of the amino acids glycine and proline into the collagen precursor procollagen. Next, collagen itself is created; the procollagen is morphed with lysine and proline by two catalysing enzymes. Vitamin C is utterly critical, because those two catalysing enzymes cannot function without it.
Without vitamin C, collagen cannot be born. If you don’t eat enough vitamin C, insufficient collagen will be born and your skin becomes weaker in the face of acne.
Consider the famous disease scurvy, which plagued sailors of the British Empire for hundreds of years. When a simple vitamin C deficiency was discovered to be the explanation back in 1899, it became mandatory for all captains of long haul sea voyages to bring a crate load of citrus fruits with them.
Scurvy begins with a weak and lacklustre body and mind, then progresses to the bleeding gums and unsightly blotches on the hands. Finally scurvy ends with death due to the weakening and collapse of blood vessels.
What do those symptoms have in common? They’re all caused by the weakening of structural tissues thanks to impaired collagen production, thanks to a lack of vitamin C.
If you don’t have enough vitamin C, then that effect can translate to your acne. Your skin won’t fall to pieces where you stand, but it will be weaker in the face of threats and generally less appealing. The laydown of a collagen matrix in the epidermis is also the first step in wound healing, so collagen is critical for the healing of old acne.
The good news is that the opposite is true – megadosing vitamin C can give you the collagen levels of a superhuman and enhance all areas of skin tone. I megadose with vitamin C on a regular basis by taking camu camu powder and I have noticed 1) extremely smooth skin, and 2) skin that never gets dry and never needs any harsh moisturisers.
This study found that vitamin C increases collagen synthesis for the repair of damaged skin. Vitamin C can also stabilise existing collagen and prevent its depletion.
Dietary sources of vitamin C
For those three key reasons, it’s a smart idea for every acne patient to rearrange and formulate a diet that’s optimal for vitamin C. 30% of US adults and 1 in 7 young Canadian adults are estimated to be deficient, so there’s a good chance that you personally can clear your acne with more.
If you’re chronically stressed out then increasing your vitamin C intake should be a top priority. In Asia, deficiency is especially rampant in India, Pakistan, China and Malaysia.
The first step is to eat a good variety of plant foods. In nature, vitamin C is almost entirely found in fruits and vegetables with the sole exception of some seafoods such as crab (5% of RDA per 100 grams), oysters (6%) and salmon (6%). Some very dense, acne-friendly and convenient sources include…
Berries – most cultivated fruits like apples and bananas are at least decent sources of vitamin C for acne, but berries are the best with ease. Strawberries are king, with 97% of the recommended daily allowance per 100 grams. Raspberries are next, with 43% per 100 grams, followed by blackberries with 35% and blueberries with 16%. Other less common berries are good sources too, including cranberries (22%) and elderberries (60%).
Remember though: organic berries generally contain substantially more vitamin C. This study compared two batches of strawberries, one conventional and one organic, grown on nearby fields that were identical in terms of wildlife, soil composition, local climate, etc. The organic strawberries contain 9.7% more vitamin C, as well as 8.5% higher total antioxidants and 10.5% more phenolic antioxidants.
Furthermore, berries are some of the worst foods for pesticide contamination, many of which have strong inflammatory and hormone disrupting effects that cause acne. If you ever see any wild strawberries or blackberries then you’ll discover why – they’re usually a feeding frenzy of flies and bugs.
Cruciferous vegetables – basic broccoli is an even better source of vitamin C than strawberries, with 148% of the RDA per 100 grams. Kale is stellar, with 200%. Spinach, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage are also excellent.
What you must remember however, is that the vitamin C in cruciferous vegetables is very delicate and can be depleted if you cook them with the wrong method. Most notoriously, boiling destroys the vitamin C; this study found that boiling broccoli reduced the vitamin C levels by 33%. The problem is that the acne nutrients leach into the water, which is then discarded. Steaming is the optimal method for acne, and roasting is inconvenient but nevertheless effective.
Citrus fruits – the common orange is actually the world’s largest berry and hence it shares the vitamin C of the more traditional varieties. 100 grams of whole orange contains 88% of the RDA, 100 grams of clementine contains 81%, and satsumas contain roughly 50%.
Citrus fruits were the favoured weapons of European sailors against scurvy back in the day, precisely because they’re so convenient and well-absorbed. You don’t have to mess about with cooking either, you get the intact vitamin C eaten raw.
Potatoes – basic white potatoes are packed with vitamin C and they actually provide a big proportion of the average Westerner’s daily intake. For example, I usually eat 400 grams of roast potatoes per serving, and that contains 128% of the RDA. Sweet potatoes are also decent.
Beware though: potatoes are also prone to nutrient depletion when cooked. Unlike green vegetables, potatoes retain their vitamin C the best if you boil them. They lose plenty when microwaved, and this study found that the decline in antioxidants when potatoes were baked was “severe”.
Bell peppers – not widely known as a vitamin C source, but red, yellow and green bell peppers contain roughly twice as much vitamin C as an orange. If you’re looking for any tasty and enriching flavouring without resorting to neurotoxins like MSG, bell peppers are thus an excellent choice. Yellow bell peppers have the most, followed by red and then green.
Don’t confuse this with black pepper, which is a healthy seasoning to use for acne but not for vitamin C. Bell peppers are another food where the organic version has more vitamin C; this Polish study found that conventional bell peppers contained 119mg of per 100 grams whereas organic ones contained 136mg. Organic bell peppers also had more flavonoid antioxidants.
The best vitamin C supplement
Firstly, the RDA itself is far too low to get the maximum acne clearing benefits. Goats synthesise 100,000mg a day when under stress; it’s estimated that prehistoric humans ate up to 1000mg a day in a tropical diet rich in fruits.
Secondly, vitamin C levels in fruits and vegetables have plummeted since the mid-20th century. For example: an analysis by the Kushi Institute found that in 12 different vegetables, the average vitamin C content fell by 30% between 1975 and 1997. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found a “reliable decline” in levels of vitamin C across 43 different fruits and vegetables.
Cauliflower has been found to contain 40% less vitamin C compared to in 1975. Onions have lost 36%, collard greens 61.6%, cabbage 31.9%, and watercress 45.6%. Studies have confirmed that vitamin C deficiency is worsening; one found that 15% of modern US adults are deficient, compared with only 3-5% a quarter of a century ago.
How can a normal person get the quantities necessary for a shocking improvement in acne?
The answer is to take a supplement, and my favourite natural option for acne is easily Camu Camu Powder.
This miracle supplement is a dried and highly concentrated form of the camu camu berry, a red/purple cherry-like fruit which grows on the camu camu plant in the jungles of Peru. The camu camu berry (also called myrciaria dubia) grows on the sides of rivers and is harvested by the natives using canoes. Its claim to fame is being an astonishing source of vitamin C, with 2-3% by weight.
Hence, the concentrated powder is the best source of vitamin C in the world; one teaspoon, or about 5 grams, can provide over 600mg, over 1000% of the recommended daily allowance. Furthermore, it is natural vitamin C, so it retains all the enzymes and cofactors necessary for absorption in the digestive system. Camu camu power also contains other acne nutrients such as the amino acids valine, serine and leucine and the antioxidants gallic acid and ellagic acid.
I’ve had some fantastic experiences with camu camu powder healing up persistent wounds, as I discussed in this article. I still take a teaspoon each day because camu camu powder is easily the best natural source of vitamin C. A good brand is this Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Camu Camu Powder.
To take camu camu powder for acne, simply add to food or as I usually do, mix some in with a glass of water. Be warned that the taste is extremely strong, but you get used to it.
If you want to megadose vitamin C but don’t have the money for camu camu powder then basic ascorbic acid will still work reasonably well. Hence, you can try this Pure Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Bulk Powder.
Megadosing vitamin C is a great strategy for preventing acne and improving the overall tone of your skin.
Massive doses of 1000mg plus are extremely safe as any excess vitamin C is excreted through urine. Mr Allan Smith was injected with 50,000mg per day and he recovered from swine flu. The studies that show detrimental effects such as headaches, nausea and vomiting all used the synthetic supplement ascorbic acid, not natural vitamin C.
Don’t commit the common mistake of underestimating vitamin C for acne! It’ll be especially useful for clearing acne if you’re stressed out, if you’re aged over 30 and hence have steadily depleting collagen levels, or if you don’t eat many fruits and vegetables.
Thanks for reading!