You know that you’re supposed to take your vitamin supplements, but what happens if the vitamins that you need for your health have some unpleasant side effects, like causing you to break out? Can that really happen?
In the case of vitamin B12, there are certainly some interesting connections between nutrition and our skin, but overall, it doesn’t seem to be a huge factor in causing acne to break out.
Most people can take all of the vitamins they need, including B12, without any noticeable negative changes to their skin. In fact, vitamins even help your skin look healthier and younger!
The key lies in balancing what you put into your body. Too much, or too little, of anything can have a negative impact on your health and vitamins are no exception to this rule.
As long as you take a healthy dose of B12 supplements or make sure that you’re ingesting it in your daily diet, there’s no reason to worry about breaking out.
What is Vitamin B12?
There are limitless brands, types, and combinations of vitamins out there that help us stay healthy. But what exactly is vitamin B12?
B12 is the most complex vitamin out of all the B vitamins. It helps our body make red blood cells, it strengthens our nerve cells, it aids in digestion, and it actually plays a role in DNA production.
We need B12 for the same reason that we need to take certain vitamins and minerals that our bodies just don’t produce-they keep us healthy and sane.
B12 also keeps our nervous system running, which helps prevent depression and other nerve-related diseases.
Since it’s a B vitamin, B12 usually works with other vitamins to do its job, although individual supplements are available.
Most people in first world countries get all of the B12 they need, but people without access to dairy, meat, or seafood products and no supplements are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency.
It isn’t produced in plants and can only be found naturally in animal products like meat, eggs, poultry, and certain seafoods. It has also been added to cereals and other foods as a supplement, and of course it can be taken in pill form.
It can also be injected directly into our muscles, but this is a relatively uncommon method and is primarily used for medical treatments and those suffering from B12 deficiency.
We need to have B12 throughout our entire life to stay healthy, but not everyone needs the same amount. Young children need less than teens and adults, who need less than seniors.
B12 and our Skin
Working with all of the other healthy things you put in your body, B12 helps keep your skin youthful and glowing. Keeping everything at the right levels is important. In fact, B12 is kind of a double-edged sword.
If your B12 intake is at the right level, you’re unlikely to experience acne related issues, but if you overdose or are deficient, you’re more likely to risk breaking out.
There are several ways that B12 could cause a breakout if there is too much present in the body. But first, I want to clarify the meaning of “overdose” in this context. Strictly speaking, it’s practically impossible to overdose on B12 in the sense of ingesting too much and seeing negative results to your health.
It’s not at all the same as overdosing on a recreational drug, for example, where your health is severely impacted, even to the point of death.
According to the National Institute of Health the average adult needs 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day to maintain healthy levels. Just to show how much you can take without adverse effects, Nature Made sells B12 supplements that go up to 3000 micrograms per pill!
Our bodies can easily process, distribute, and remove any excess nutrients. Vitamin B12 is water soluble, meaning it dissolves in water.
If you ingest more than is healthy for you, your body simply processes the extra nutrients and flushes them out when you use the bathroom.
So where does the concept of breaking out due to taking too much B12 come from? There are a few reasons that this may happen.
In this study UCLA researchers found that too much B12 does have an impact on the bacteria that lead to acne breakouts, propionibacterium acnes (or p. acnes). We all have this bacteria on our skin, and only when it is irritated does it lead to breakouts.
When taken in high doses, B12 can disturb p. acnes and the result is a pimply face. This level of dosage is only possibly when B12 is administered through medical injections.
According to facingacne.com “The good news about vitamin B12 excess and acne is that the blemishes go away about two weeks after the last B12 injection, even if you do not do anything to treat them.”
Since this treatment is only given to those with severe B12 deficiency or other health needs, you don’t need to worry about taking too much B12 if you take a daily pill.
B12 is found in a lot of food products in today’s world. Many animal meats, seafood, and dairy products contain it in addition to synthetic B12 added to cereals and other foods.
For the average person, getting enough B12 is fairly easy. Still, there are other factors that can lead to a B12 deficiency.
Vegans who follow a strict diet that contains no animal products have to get B12 from other sources. Supplemented foods and B12 pills are great alternate ways to get nutrients.
If you’ve had a gastrointestinal surgery or illness you may be at risk for B12 deficiency.
Some people may not have access to the foods or supplements they need to maintain healthy B12 levels due to the state of their lifestyle or livelihood. For example, people from developing countries have a higher risk of having a B12 deficiency than people living in a first world country.
B12 deficiency is characterized by “tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and…nerve problems” to name a few symptoms listed by the National Institute of Health. It’s unlikely that being deficient in B12 will cause acne, but being deficient in other members of the B vitamin family can cause acne, particularly vitamin B5.
How We Get B12
Most people get enough B12 through their daily diet. Actually, they may get much more than they need. The amount of B12 necessary increases as a person grows, or is a pregnant or nursing mom. Here’s a handy calculation chart to see how much B12 you should be taking from the National Institute of Health.
Children 9-13 years old should take 1.8 micrograms per day (mcg)
Teens 14-18 years old should take 2.4 mcg
Adults need 2.4 mcg (pregnant moms need 2.6 and breastfeeding moms need 2.8)
As we get older, our ability to digest B12 changes. Because our bodies don’t produce B12 naturally it takes a little more effort to digest it in its natural form.
First, our stomachs have to separate B12 from the food source we ingested it from. This is done with hydrochloric acid produced in the digestive system. Once the B12 is separated from the original source, our bodies combine it with another protein called intrinsic factor.
Once the B12 is combined with our body-made protein, our stomach is able to digest it and it is then distributed throughout our body.
How does B12 Affect our skin?
Because it’s a little difficult to digest and the pure form often contains toxins from the animal meat, our bodies may have to work overtime to get the B12 we need into our system.
For someone with a healthy liver, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if someone is a smoker or has a preexisting liver or skin condition, processing the vitamin may be more difficult.
Remember, our skin is an organ too and if our liver can’t process toxins then our skin may step in to do the job. If this is the case, then all those toxins being processed with the B12 are excreted through the skin, raising the potential to irritate the p. Acnes bacteria already living there and causing breakouts.
How to treat acne brought on by B12
A B12 breakout is easy to spot as it usually comes after a B12 injection and looks like a series of pimples in roughly the same location that are all the same size. If you have this uniform type of breakout and suspect B12 is the culprit, it’s probably caused by an injection.
If you just started taking B12 supplements and notice an increase in pimples, try to assess your daily intake. Are you taking too much? Are there other factors playing in with the B12 pills, like excessive smoking or drinking?
Make any necessary changes, like minimizing supplement intake if you’re already eating animal meat on a frequent basis, or increasing supplements if you aren’t getting enough.
Finally, monitor your skin. If B12 was the root of the problem and you took steps to fix the problem, then you should see the acne disappearing. There are some creams and lotions that contain B12, but the most reliable sources by far are pill supplements and natural sources.
If you are genetically acne-prone, eat a strict vegan diet, or have to take B12 injections for other medical reasons and find yourself breaking out, don’t despair! There are many ways to make sure that your body is getting the perfect supply of B12.
B12 is an essential vitamin and you shouldn’t stop taking it if you’re at risk for B12 deficiency for any reason. If you find yourself breaking out after taking your supplement or getting an injection, talk with your doctor to see what options are available for you that will still allow you to get the nutrients you need.
Out of everything that causes acne (clogged pores, toxins on the skin, genetics, sebum overproduction, etc.) B12 isn’t a major source of acne. Odds are, your body will actually thank you for keeping up with your daily intake.