Vitamin C is the cheapest, most widespread, supplement on any high street but few know that it can slash acne massively. There’s also NAC, the antioxidant boosting pill found in doctors’ emergency rooms everywhere, and the mineral zinc, found in every multivitamin sold, which can lower acne by a massive 49.8%.
Meanwhile, the mystical plants from obscure parts of the world are far more mixed. Yes, some like saw palmetto are great at slashing oily skin (for women), and guggul gum was once recorded slashing acne by nearly 70%, but herbal-style supplements generally possess no advantage whatsoever over the more ubiquitous and often cheap as grass substances…
…which brings us to methylsulfonylmethane, also known as MSM. MSM is a sulfur-based compound with a white crystalline appearance which is very well absorbed into the bloodstream.
It’s composed of methyl, oxygen, and sulfur, and forms when the gas dimethyl sulphide, which is produced by marine life and bacteria (and provides some of the sea’s smell), reacts with ozone and ultraviolet light in the atmosphere. The newly formed MSM is delivered to the earth in rainfall. Once there MSM migrates to the root systems of plants and consequently MSM is found in low levels in a wide variety of foods, like fruits, vegetables, cow’s milk, and in particular breast milk.
Minute quantities are also found in human skin, nails, hair and joints. Over the last twenty years, a variety of studies have flooded out and hence MSM has gained a steady but moderate popularity as a health supplement. Specifically, it is commonly used in conjunction with glutamine or chondroitin for treating osteoarthritis, and was approved as a drug (although it’s actually an all-natural compound) for that purpose decades ago.
Why are we discussing MSM, a supplement which can be purchased for roughly $5 for 6 months of supply?
Because MSM’s biggest three powers are extremely promising for indirectly ending the formation of pimples, whiteheads, cysts, and all the forms of our old enemy acne.
MSM is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory supplements
The first big power is demonstrated by the notable anti-arthritic powers of MSM – the supplement has a strong ability to constrain and control the immune system’s activity.
Methylsulfonylmethane can thus prevent the widespread but insidious condition known as chronic inflammation, one of the two biggest causes of acne. It’s unknown how exactly MSM slashes inflammation; MSM is still not fully researched in general. It might be the sulphur (34% of MSM), it could be another component.
However, what we do have is tons of evidence for its anti-inflammatory properties. Long before MSM entered the public conscious for treating osteoarthritis, it was utilised by jump jockeys and horse breeders for keeping their racehorses healthy. Decades ago, pro jockeys and amateurs alike used MSM to help their horse’s soft tissues, muscle stiffness, and lung function after a gruelling race, to get back on the race track in record time.
Greyhound racers used it as well, and recently, these powers have been confirmed in studies. In 2001, a study was performed on 30 Standardbred horses, aged between 3 or 4 years, who were all in full race training at an Ohio country fair track. The horses were divided into three test groups, one which received no treatment, one which received 10 grams of MSM daily, and one which received 20 grams of MSM per day.
The study found that every horse which received MSM had dramatic improvements in their post-race recovery. They had large drops in two metabolites from muscle damage and improved their average training time, by 2 seconds in group 2 and 2.62 seconds in group three…
…but most interesting for us was a substantial reduction in inflammation and soreness of horses’ muscles in multiple areas. There were also no side effects – no diarrhoea, abnormal blood chemistry, or allergic reactions. This led the scientists to conclude that MSM had “significant anti-inflammatory effects”.
What do these results suggest? They suggest strongly that MSM has a general anti-inflammatory effect in the body, because the muscle pain experienced after any exercise is in large part due to the immune system chemicals repairing countless tiny tears in the muscles (and strengthening them, which is part of how muscle expands).
Next, unless you’re a racehorse, we need human studies to confirm this. Luckily tons of studies on MSM and post exercise recovery have been conducted on humans. This one observed a massively blunted increase in systematic levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-1β immediately after exercise. The anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 was 2-3 times higher as well.
There’s more evidence from anecdotal stories; topical MSM is used to treat bites from snakes, mosquitos, spiders and bee stings in some parts of the world. The fact that MSM is used in osteoarthritis drugs, and confirmed by this study to be highly effective, also demonstrates an anti-inflammatory effect. Arthritis is commonly caused by an overactive immune system constantly bombarding the joints and connective tissues, resulting in wear and tear that leads to pain.
If MSM does have strong anti-inflammatory properties, then taking it will have the following results: calmer existing pimples, lower creation of new pimples, and a dramatic improvement in overall skin tone.
MSM provides a key ingredient for glutathione
The second acne-clearing power on our list is an extremely straightforward one – providing the building blocks of the antioxidant glutathione.
Glutathione is known as the “master antioxidant”, primarily because it’s the main antioxidant that the human body manufactures itself, as opposed to dietary antioxidants like vitamin A. Acne-prone skin contains 20% less glutathione than average and is vital for keeping skin cells healthy, so I recommend that you increase your levels by proving the ingredients that your body needs to manufacture it…
…and that’s what MSM does. The key minerals involved with glutathione production are magnesium, zinc and selenium. The key amino acids are cysteine and glycine. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is sulfur. Sulfur is a mediator in the creation of every molecule of glutathione your body manufactures; without dietary sulphur, there is no glutathione, and there is no clear skin.
Methylsulfonylmethane is 34% sulfur by weight. It’s an excellent cheap method for increasing your levels. MSM’s ability to increase glutathione has been confirmed in multiple studies.
First we have two studies on mice. The first examined mice with HIV, which had led to them having dramatically reduced glutathione and elevated free radical levels. The results were very clear-cut – MSM supplementation reversed both of those problems. Later in the review, the scientists made an interesting comment that “MSM has been suggested to act as a direct free radical scavenger, another mechanism that could be underlying its antioxidant properties”. Increased glutathione may not be the only benefit.
Next, we have another study on mice. The results were again straightforward; mice treated with MSM enjoyed supercharged levels of glutathione, catalase, and superoxide dismutase (all manufactured antioxidants), and lower levels of TNF-a, malondialdehyde, and methylperoxidase (all free radicals).
This human study was on untrained but healthy people, so in other words, your average young person or teenager with a faceful of acne. 18 men were ordered to run 14km. For ten days beforehand, they were divided into two groups of nine and given either a placebo or a methylsulfonylmethane supplement.
The result? The 9 MSM men had dramatically lower levels of three free radicals, malondialdehyde, oxidised glutathione (a free radical version of glutathione), and protein carbonyl. Meanwhile, both their glutathione levels and the ratio between undamaged glutathione and oxidised glutathione were significantly increased.
Next we have another study on racing horses. Scientists observed that jumping exercises significantly increased harmful free radicals called lipid peroxides, while decreasing glutathione and antioxidant enzymes activity. However, administration of MSM reversed all of those symptoms.
Finally, we have a couple of contradictory studies. We have two studies on humans undergoing intense exercise; in both of them MSM failed completely to increase glutathione (study, study). However MSM still increased TAC, total antioxidant capacity, which supports the theory of the scientists in the mice study that MSM has antioxidant powers outside of glutathione.
Why didn’t glutathione increase? Probably because you can only increase your glutathione so far. Since we have an undisputed scientific mechanism with sulphur, it’s likely that the athletes here had sufficient levels of glutathione already; maybe they were clean-living fanatics.
MSM increases collagen and strengthens the skin
Finally, MSM’s last big power also involves sulphur helping to manufacture a vital substance. This time the substance is the god of acne proteins, collagen.
The importance of sulphur in collagen protein production has been acknowledged since 1965, when this study found that low levels of sulphur caused low levels of collagen. Anti-aging societies love MSM; the increase in collagen and resulting firm and strong skin is why.
If you haven’t read this article yet, then collagen can keep your skin and acne strong against pretty much anything. Collagen defends against air pollution, chemicals in cosmetics, sunlight, and more. It also improves the general tone of your skin, and it can indeed slow down ageing.
With MSM, the study on racehorse recovery has more clues. After methylsulfonylmethane supplementation, the horses were observed to have better hair coats, stronger hooves and faster and healthier hoof growth. Collagen is the second big factor involved with osteoarthritis – you need to reduce inflammation of the joints but also repair the joints using fresh collagen proteins.
What’s interesting is that MSM is a double-edged sword. MSM is made up of 34% sulphur, which will increase your levels excellently by itself. However, scientists also believe that MSM can increase your body’s utilisation and metabolization of existing sulphur, through an unknown mechanism. In one study, 1 gram, 2 grams and 3 grams of MSM were given to human volunteers. They expected to see increased output of sulfate in urine; sulfate is a waste product of sulphur metabolization.
They indeed notice a correlation – but it was the wrong way round. The more MSM they fed their human volunteers, the less sulfate they lost. This led the scientists to conclude that MSM allows more existing sulphur in the body to be utilised and incorporated in all the vital areas it’s involved with. That’s on top of methylsulfonylmethane being a strong sulphur donor itself.
The best part is that this applies to both the increase in collagen and the acceleration of glutathione production, since they both rely on sulphur. We can tell from a bunch of evidence that MSM has extra powers other than being a convenient sulphur source.
Does MSM have any side effects?
At extremely high doses, yes, but at normal intakes methylsulfonylmethane is almost completely safe. Even very high doses are safe; the standard recommended dosage is 1.5 to 2 grams (1500-2000mg) per day, but dosages of up to 6000mg have been demonstrated to be safe.
Take more than that, and side effects can rear their ugly head, and they include…
- Swelling of the ankles.
- Intestinal discomfort.
- Minor skin rashes.
Clearly you don’t want to get a skin rash, otherwise your whole goal of getting great skin is derailed, but it looks like the risk is tiny. One study by the Oregon State University gave 12,000 volunteers two grams worth of MSM for 6 months straight, and by the end none of them had experienced side effects. None of the 30 racehorses experienced any side effects like diarrhoea or allergic reactions – they were back on the track racing in no time.
What can have risks is a compound very similar to methylsulfonylmethane. MSM is produced in the human body during the metabolization of a virtually identical compound called DMSO. MSM has one extra oxygen molecule, which is why it is occasionally referred to as DMSO2.
Despite their similarities, DMSO has been observed to have far more side effects; taking too much can cause reddening, itching, nasal congestion, allergic reactions, and shortness of breath…
…but even though it’s one molecule different, MSM is extremely safe. Some claim that it’s no more toxic than water. A lot of MSM proponents recommend taking 500mg per day for a while, and then slowly upping the dosage to give your body time to adapt. That’s a very smart strategy, particularly if you’ve never taken it before.
Can MSM be used topically?
Yes, it can, although the evidence all suggests that internally is the best. Many acne patients first stumble across MSM for use as a topical treatment, not a supplement, and there’s evidence that it does good.
Scientists in this study invented a topical cream consisting of methylsulfonylmethane and silymarin, a plant-based antioxidant. 46 patients afflicted with stage 1-3 rosacea were treated with the cream for 1 month in a double-blind, placebo controlled experiment. Scientists evaluated their rosacea after 10 days, 20 days, and of course 1 month. As well as the overall appearance, the scientists investigated a ton of secondary characteristics like itching, stinging, hydration and colour…
…and the results showed an improvement in every characteristic. Skin redness, papules, itching, hydration, and skin colour were particularly improved. This all led to the conclusion that “the combination of silymarin and S-MSM can be useful in managing symptoms and condition of rosacea skin”.
The verdict? There’s some decent results there, but in my reckoning you’re wasting your MSM if you’re doing anything other than eating it. Basically, you manufacture glutathione inside your body. Chronic inflammation is a systematic problem. You can increase your collagen levels locally with an MSM cream, but does this match the benefits of a good old pill? Definitely not.
In this instance, laziness is the way forward, as the lazy option is easily the best one here. It could have all been the silymarin as well. Silymarin is an extremely potent antioxidant compound (it’s the reason why milk thistle works wonders in a few). The evidence is more convincing for MSM as a supplement.
The verdict/ultimate product
MSM is one of the best cheap supplements for acne in existence. It’s an excellent way to circumvent the lack of sulphur in our diets today and all the accompanying acne problems with a stable supplement.
The average MSM supplement contains 2 grams per day; the average daily fruit and vegetable intake contains MSM in the milligram range, about 2.3-5.6mg. My recommended supplement is this Nature’s Way MSM.
Methylsulfonylmethane won’t clear your skin as well in some circumstances. The two studies in section 2 show that if your body is already packed with glutathione and all the ingredients for it, levels won’t increase further. With vitamin C, you can take tons of it, and the megadose will flood through your bloodstream deactivating water-soluble free radicals with unstoppable efficiency. With vitamin E, taking high doses will deactivate all the fat-soluble free radicals.
Meanwhile, with glutathione, your body regulates the production, so if your supplies are high enough already, taking further doses of MSM won’t work. However, most people do need more glutathione. Glutathione is also a detoxification agent, and with all the chemicals and heavy metals lurking in our environment today, its services are called upon more than ever.
If you’re someone who’s only just getting into clearing acne naturally, I would estimate that the chances you need more glutathione are 90% plus. Even discarding glutathione, MSM lowers inflammation and increases collagen and may have unique antioxidant abilities.
MSM is fairly cheap, my recommended brand Nature’s Way MSM costs just $3 per month, or even less if you take one tablet per day. It’s an excellent supplement to take if you can’t afford the more expensive avenues of glutathione replenishment, like grass-fed gelatin. Some compounds are vital, like zinc and selenium, but with the bonus supplements you can pick and choose.
Overall MSM is a great supplement for acne, and has no real downsides. You don’t have to take it to get clear skin, not by a long shot, but it’s an excellent bargain basement weapon.
Thanks for reading!