Acne patients everywhere are in love with banana peels, apple cider vinegar and sea salt. Teenagers are fixated on questions like whether the natural salicylic acid in strawberry juice clears acne like the pharmaceutical version.
All these home remedies are brilliant in a way, because experimentation is great. But if you’re ignoring the natural nutrients and compounds which have been proven to slash acne, you’re slipping up big time.
Zinc lowers acne by 49.8%; acne patients have 40% lower vitamin C levels than average. Topical sea buckthorn oil improves oily skin by 45% in eight weeks.
Lemon juice and baking soda have the natural, uncharted territory appeal. They’re exciting because they could secretly contain a miracle compound right at your fingertips. They’re everyday items which you eat in meals or which grow in nearby woods or foreign jungles. They’re more exciting than a tiny white vitamin D pill from a pharmaceutical store on the high street.
It’s smart to experiment with home acne remedies, but teenagers everywhere are getting overly obsessed.
You should never blindly take pharmaceutical chemicals like Accutane at your dermatologist’s request. Nevertheless, natural compounds like vitamin E or NAC should never be ignored…
…and one proven cure which is even more forgotten is superoxide dismutase.
The all-important role of superoxide dismutase
Superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant enzyme found in almost every living cell on Earth. In humans, the “enzyme of life” is one of the premier defensive antioxidant compounds.
You’re probably aware of the greatness of antioxidants already. There’s the smaller plant phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables like the famous resveratrol from red wine, and there’s vitamin C and vitamin E, the two main antioxidants from food.
Most health merchants focus on your consumption of antioxidants. However the antioxidants manufactured by the body itself are equally important for acne.
Alongside glutathione, superoxide dismutase is the main one. In fact, it’s a step above glutathione in the antioxidant hierarchy. Superoxide dismutase’s main job is to deactivate superoxides, highly reactive molecules which are the most dangerous free radicals found in the human body.
A superoxide is an oxygen molecule which has gained an extra electron. This can occur during many healthy bodily processes like enzymatic reactions, but the importance for acne is the massive instability.
The addition of an extra electron leaves just one electron unpaired as opposed to two in whole oxygen molecules, which is much more stable. The superoxide grows thirsty for a fresh electron. It bombards healthy cells and is attracted to them like a magnet.
Like any free radical, superoxide radicals AKA superoxide anions assault your skin cells and destroy acne nutrients and proteins. This study discovered elevated levels of superoxide anions in acne-prone skin.
Your immune system actually creates localised bursts of superoxides to kill infectious bacteria in wounds and keep you alive. However, a superoxide anion overload is a nightmare, and not the entertaining kind either.
That’s where superoxide dismutase steps in. Superoxide dismutase breaks down superoxides into oxygen peroxides and hydrogen peroxide, through a process called dismutation.
Glutathione gets involved later; it breaks down the oxygen peroxides and the hydrogen peroxides into simple alcohols. Another antioxidant enzyme called catalase breaks down the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
The cycle is complete; the superoxides have been vanquished. The result: all three antioxidants have protected your skin from acne.
Superoxide dismutase is vital for the first step in metabolising one of the deadliest free radicals.
Superoxides can inflame your pimples, they can increase clogged pores, and they can age you prematurely by destabilising skin cells. Superoxide dismutase does the opposite.
Get more superoxide dismutase or pay
Superoxide dismutase is present inside almost all cells and extracellular fluids of the human body, or at least it should be.
Like glutathione, endless factors can suppress your SOD levels. They include toxic chemicals like fluoride, lacking the correct building blocks like vitamin D, and completely random things like makeup. Anyone could suffer from chronically low superoxide dismutase levels, including you…
…and acne patients have the lowest levels of anybody. This study proved it. 50 people were gathered, with acne levels ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Their blood levels of free radicals, glutathione and superoxide dismutase were compared to 40 clear-skinned controls.
The acne patients were plagued with significantly higher levels of the lipid peroxide malondialdehyde, and significantly lower glutathione and superoxide dismutase levels.
The mild acne patients had 4% less SOD; the moderate acne patients had 6% less. Finally, the patients suffering from severe acne had 9% less superoxide dismutase in their bloodstream than the participants with clear skin.
There was a steady decrease in superoxide dismutase levels as their skin deteriorated. Acne vulgaris was tested, which is the widespread form of acne as opposed to the severe, burrowing acne conglobata or the red and scaly imposter version called acne rosacea.
The scientists didn’t make any bonus comments with massive interest. They did comment that “the decreased serum activities of SOD… suggest that the antioxidant balance is compromised in acne”, which “may lead to increased ROS levels”. It’s good to get confirmation, but we’ve known that for years.
What this study reaffirms is the precise role of superoxide dismutase in acne, which it turns out is huge.
The great studies for acne don’t end there. Take a look at these ones:
STUDY ONE – 52 patients with papulopustular acne had their blood antioxidant enzymes analysed and compared to 38 healthy controls. The acne patients had significantly lower superoxide dismutase levels, in addition to lower glutathione levels.
STUDY TWO – this study examined 43 people with acne varying from mild to severe and compared them to 24 healthy controls.
Once again, the average level of blood SOD in the acne patients was substantially lower. They confirmed the link between low SOD levels and elevated superoxide radicals in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin. The scientists even recommended that future pharmaceutical acne drugs incorporated antioxidant ingredients.
STUDY THREE – this study concluded that patients with mild acne had roughly equal superoxide dismutase levels to clear-skinned patients. However, once their acne entered severe territory, the forces of deficiency couldn’t be stopped, and their SOD levels became significantly lower.
The last time you debated acne with your friends or family, did they ever mention superoxide dismutase?
Almost certainly not; they most likely recommended toothpaste or warned about the unstoppable, uncontrollable force of teenage hormones. Few acne patients know about superoxide dismutase, but the studies above prove that everybody needs to.
On acne forums where the knowledge is a little more advanced, superoxide dismutase still rarely gets discussed; the anti-ageing mob has a stranglehold over SOD marketing.
How superoxides create more free radicals
Your everyday free radical causes acne through three basic mechanisms. Number one, it depletes vital acne nutrients with dual antioxidant functioning inside your body, including vitamin E and vitamin A.
Secondly, they destabilise skin cells and proteins on the skin’s surface, and finally, free radicals are responsible for the pore-clogging compound squalene peroxide. There’s also countless minor issues such as bombarding serotonin molecules and forcing up your stress levels.
Superoxide anions are unique because they do all the above and more. In this particularly juicy study it was revealed that p.acnes bacteria stimulates a burst of superoxide radicals upon contact with skin cells on the face.
We’ve known for years that p.acnes triggers an onslaught of pro-inflammatory immune system chemicals; we talk about it all the time here. Such chemicals include TNF-a, interleukin-8, and interleukin 1-beta.
Whether p.acnes bacteria increases free radical levels was always much less clear. However, this study finally confirmed that it does. After exposing human keratinocyte skin cells to p.acnes bacteria, the cells began to churn out high levels of superoxide anions within 15 minutes.
The superoxides were “rapidly produced”. Peak superoxide production was reached after 1 hour and fell progressively afterwards. However, acne patients have p.acnes bacteria in their pores all day long; they don’t live in a scientist’s petri dish.
The superoxide anions triggered apoptosis, the death of human skin cells. So firstly, this shows just how common superoxides are on the skin of acne patients…
…and furthermore, the study found that the superoxides reacted with the gas nitric oxide to form peroxynitrites.
These mutant molecules are another type of free radical with acne-causing powers. They even have photosensitising properties in the face of UVB radiation from sunlight.
Peroxynitrites are like the notorious synthetic nitrites added to bacon (always buy an organic brand) which lead to stomach cancer, except that they’re on your face wreaking acne havoc. They even create residues on skin proteins and alter their functioning.
Superoxide anions can increase peroxynitrites, and also levels of the pro-inflammatory chemical interleukin-8. IL-8 had already been detected in higher quantities than average in acne-prone skin (study). P.acnes bacteria itself stimulates an increase.
However, superoxide radicals can do the same; every chemical used by the scientists to inhibit superoxide anions inhibited IL-8 as well.
Superoxides are one of the worst free radicals for acne, because their existence creates a bunch of new compounds which are equally as deadly.
The best quote from the long and detailed study was this: “superoxide anions produced by epidermal cells are critical in the development of acne inflammatory lesions”.
The key is that superoxide dismutase can prevent this acne mayhem. We already know that SOD is responsible for hoovering up excess superoxide anions. That’s the very reason it exists.
The study itself added two SOD-mimicking drugs to the keratinocytes after stimulation with p.acnes bacteria. The superoxide anion production occurred, but was quickly neutralised. The following IL-8 and peroxynitrite accumulation never happened.
The SOD deficiency epidemic – does it exist?
Compared to glutathione, superoxide dismutase deficiency is less rampant but still a big factor in acne.
Consider the two. Both are manufactured by the human body. The protein ingredients of glutathione are sulphur, cysteine, glycine and glutamine. Its mineral cofactors are zinc, magnesium and selenium. Acne patients are massively deficient in all three of the minerals and almost the entire Western population lacks glycine.
Meanwhile, superoxide dismutase is created using four minerals: zinc, iron, copper and manganese (different to magnesium). There’s no widespread deficiency in manganese or copper, because they’re highly concentrated in many foods. There’s no depletion in drinking water or in soils caused by centuries of farming.
The real threat to your superoxide dismutase factories is a lack of zinc, because approximately 50% of acne patients lack it. As for iron, the big trend of vegan and vegetarian diets is causing shortages. Remember – you can’t absorb the non-heme iron from plant foods properly. You have to eat heme iron from eggs, meat and fish.
There’s this perception that animal foods are inherently unhealthy, that humans are really herbivores and enjoying meat is a “habit” to be frowned upon as much as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. Don’t believe it; this belief is behind rampant zinc deficiencies as well, and acne full stop.
If you’re been bamboozled into shunning chicken legs and boiled eggs for health reasons then you might be iron deficient. A pale and lifeless skin tone is a sign.
Overall, zinc is the proven superoxide dismutase ingredient which most people lack.
Next we have the issue of lifestyle free radical exposure. Free radicals aren’t all identical; free radicals formed from over-frying soybean oil or eggs are primarily lipid peroxides. The same applies to a rancid fish oil pill sitting in a hot warehouse for months.
To optimise superoxide dismutase, you have to eliminate superoxides, superoxide radicals, and superoxide anions, which are all the same thing. The more you ingest, the more superoxide dismutase will be depleted.
Bigtime sources include cigarettes, sunlight when acting on weak skin, parabens from make-up, arsenic, other heavy metals, and phthalates in plastic. A good 60% of the free radical sources you need to avoid manifest themselves as superoxides.
Remember that you need to avoid every type of free radical, to keep your vitamin E and vitamin C stores healthy. However, if you regularly get exposed to the sources above, your superoxide dismutase is probably in acne-causing territory.
Your SOD strategy – a piece of cake
Firstly, never get tricked into eating food sources of superoxide dismutase.
Almost all plants manufacture superoxide dismutase to protect their own cells from sunlight or poor soil conditions, just like we humans do. Therefore many foods on your plate contain it, with mangos, cantaloupe melons, corn and soy being rich sources.
However, superoxide dismutase is a delicate molecule, way too fragile to make it through the digestive system intact. Supplement companies have attempted to cash in on the life extension hype by making SOD pills, but again, their test trials were disappointing. The proteins were completely destroyed by acids and digestive enzymes in the gut.
Recently, a more effective formulation was developed, consisting of superoxide dismutase molecules bound to gliadin proteins extracted from wheat. This complex was protected from rapid digestion and in studies on rats, the gliadin-SOD increased blood SOD much more effectively than isolated SOD. However, gliadin is a very dodgy substance for acne; it’s the active component in gluten, and the real reason why celiacs fear bread.
The fact is that human beings are designed to make superoxide dismutase themselves. That’s the natural path, and if you feed yourself the right nutrition, it’s the only path for acne you need.
So which nutrition do you need? Your top priority is to fix your zinc levels, either through your diet or a supplement. Animal foods such as eggs, beef, oysters, crab and other seafood are optimal.
If you need a supplement then you can take this NutraBio L-OptiZinc, my favourite brand because it’s so pure and well-absorbed. It’s in the zinc l-methionine form rather than the ineffectively utilised zinc oxide.
Secondly, vitamin D was also shown in this study to increase SOD. The mechanism hasn’t been discovered, but vitamin D affects over 3000 genes in the body. It could be equally as important in the manufacturing process as zinc or iron. It’s not an official co-factor but it might be an undiscovered one.
Get more sunlight or take a supplement, especially in winter. I take this Nature’s Plus Garden Vitamin D3 daily, which is derived from mushrooms and highly bioavailable.
19 bonus strategies
The tricks and hacks are endless. Foods can’t supply you with intact superoxide dismutase, but they can supply you with compounds that enhance your ability to make it.
We won’t know for hundreds of years how all these plants function. Some could simply contain antioxidants and prevent superoxides from depleting SOD. Others could contain compounds which fuel your natural production, like the curcumin from turmeric which stimulates glutathione production.
What’s confirmed is that these strategies increase superoxide dismutase and they’re ready and waiting for you to take advantage:
Resveratrol – the phytoalexin compound resveratrol is proven to increase superoxide dismutase by enhancing the enzyme heme-oxygenase 1. Resveratrol also upregulates the output of superoxide dismutase at the genetic level (study). Add red grapes to your diet, eat some dark chocolate, or become a red wine addict.
Ginger – basic ground ginger root powder increased superoxide dismutase levels by 76-414% in this 1 month study on rats. Buy a bulk bag of ginger and add it to yoghurt, tea, coffee, and any acne-friendly recipes you can.
Basil – this rarely discussed herb increased levels of superoxide dismutase 1.1 to 1.4 fold in mice after 15 days (study). Basil is a top savoury herb for adding to meat, egg and cheese dishes (load your pizza with it to minimise the acne during a cheat meal).
Almonds – the prince of acne-clearing snacks (dark chocolate is king) increased superoxide dismutase levels by 35% in this study on 60 male smokers. If you can’t stop puffing on cigarettes then gorge on almonds daily.
NAC – for acne, n-acetyl-cysteine is most famous as a short term weapon for increasing glutathione levels, since it supplies the key ingredient of cysteine. However, this study found that NAC increased superoxide dismutase as well.
Cardamom – an Indian spice which people in the West ignore. This study found that cardamom consumption increased superoxide dismutase levels significantly whereas this study observed a 90% increase in blood antioxidant levels.
Rosemary extract – this natural topical treatment contains the active compound rosmarinic acid, which reversed an SOD depletion caused by sunlight exposure in this study. Rosemary extract also kills p.acnes bacteria, by morphing the cell wall and causing uncontrollable cytoplasm leakage.
Saffron – the spice saffron is proven to increase superoxide dismutase in mice after 6, 10 and 12 weeks (study). Interestingly, this inhibited the formation of tumours on the skin’s surface. Could it translate to acne? If it was down to the SOD increase then almost certainly yes.
Turmeric – this orange spice has been dubbed “the fountain of youth” because of its SOD-boosting properties. Don’t fall for that snake oil, but this study did find that turmeric combined with carrots could increase cellular superoxide dismutase levels.
Ashwagandha – this herbal remedy from the plains of India is associated with cheating Olympians and stress reduction, not antioxidants. However, it can inhibit free radicals effectively and this study concluded that ashwagandha compounds called glycowithanolides could increase SOD levels after 21 days.
Aloe vera – the gel of the aloe vera stem contains seven isozymes of superoxide dismutase. You can’t eat superoxide dismutase but you can apply it to skin cells to minimise superoxide anion activity locally. Aloe vera application also generates an antioxidant protein called metallothionein, which prevents SOD from being suppressed.
Blueberries – a famous health food because of its own antioxidants. However, this study concluded that a blueberry-enriched diet could significantly increase superoxide dismutase production after two months. Interestingly, glutathione levels went up but only by a small amount.
Burdock root – this herbal remedy is used for enhancing digestion and detoxification. It’s no miracle for acne but this study found that burdock root tea increased superoxide dismutase and total antioxidant levels in human patients. Once again, glutathione increased but only slightly.
Avoid aflatoxins – the mycotoxin aflatoxin B1 is notorious for depleting antioxidants and this study on rats found that it could deplete superoxide dismutase supplies after several weeks. Avoid poor quality chocolate, coffee, peanuts, and beer.
Pecans – a bunch of scientists fed 344 male rats a control diet, a 5% or 10% almond diet, or a 5% or 10% pecan diet. The baseline SOD level in the control group was 1.20. In the 5% pecan group it was 2.95 after 17 weeks and it was 2.16 in the 10% group. The almonds performed similarly. The solution: eat small quantities of pecans daily.
Apricots – some scientists irritated the small intestines of rats using a chemical called methotrexate. Levels of glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase were crippled. However, both whole apricots and carotenoid antioxidants extracted from apricots reversed the damage.
Ditch fluoride – fluoride doesn’t protect teeth any more effectively than a low sugar diet or a lifestyle rich in vitamin D to shuttle the calcium properly. What it does do is deplete superoxide dismutase, by generating vast swarms of superoxides (study). Say no to fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash.
Milk thistle – a plant revered for its silymarin compound which stimulates glutathione production, but like NAC, this study found that silymarin increases superoxide dismutase as well, though more mildly than glutathione. Note that milk thistle is a powerful herb which can have side effects, so check up on them here before you make a move.
Stop smoking/cut your intake – we’ve saved one of the best hacks until last. Every cigarette you smoke is a rich fountain of superoxides. This study spelt it out clearly; smokers had significantly higher levels of superoxide anions and lower levels of superoxide dismutase compared to non-smokers. It was concluded that superoxides “might be responsible for an enhanced risk of various diseases related to cigarette smoking”. Acne is one of them.
Eat a great variety of acne-clearing foods and you’ll probably be boosting superoxide dismutase automatically.
If you have acne, and your superoxide dismutase factories are being suppressed or not being fed the nutrition they need, you are in serious trouble.
But if you know all the strategies for increasing SOD, which you now do, you are at a serious advantage. Correcting your zinc and vitamin D levels are the most important ones alongside ruthlessly eliminating as many free radical sources as you can.
Throw in a handful of the foods above and you’ll be in great shape. Your main goal by far is to boost your internal production of superoxide dismutase and avoid depletion, but the topical treatments are an excellent bonus trick.
Yet vitamin D has been shown to boost superoxide dismutase, a molecule which almost every acne patient lacks, whereas BP works only temporarily and is the king of premature ageing.
Thanks for reading!