Cod Liver Oil Acne Management

By Adrian Oaks / January 16, 2016

Is cod liver oil a good supplement for treating acne? The answer is a resounding yes. Surprisingly, one of the earliest known uses of fish oils dates back to 360 BC. The use of fish oil is mentioned by Hippocrates “to treat eruptions of the skin”. The omega-3's and vitamins in fish oil are known for their skin revitalizing properties. To understand how cod liver oil helps treat acne it’s important to know the cause of acne.

In this article you will learn:

• The true cause of acne
• The role fish oils play in preventing and treating acne
• Why conventional acne treatments are mostly useless and some are downright dangerous

Causes of acne

It was originally believed that eating an excess of greasy foods or too much chocolate was a direct cause of acne, but this is not the case. Some people can have reactions to certain foods, but this is very rare.

In reality, there are 3 factors that contribute to cause acne: over production of sebum (oil) in the glands, dead skin cells on top of the follicles of the skin, and a buildup of bacteria on the skin. This means that acne is essentially caused by clogged follicles and over active sebaceous glands.

The sebaceous glands located beneath the hair follicle secrete sebum, which travels along the follicle to the surface of the skin. If there is dead skin and bacteria clogging the pores of the skin, the sebum has nowhere to go. This buildup is what causes pimples and blackheads/whiteheads. If there is an over production of sebum in the body, this can exacerbate the condition even further – causing painful cysts to occur.

Sebum levels are controlled by male sex hormone (androgen) levels. The pituitary and adrenal gland regulate the production of androgens in both men and women. Any number of factors can cause these glands to become out of balance. The most common causes are: blood sugar fluctuations (too much high glycemic foods), puberty/adolescence, or a lack of/out of balance vitamins in the body, particularly vitamin A (retinol).

CLO acne treatment with vitamins: A, D, and E

If your retinol level is too low and you are lacking in omega-3's, you may develop over active sebaceous glands, resulting in an excess of sebum secretion. Cod liver oil promotes a healthy ratio of vitamins A/D and omega-3’s in the body. By itself, CLO also has many other health benefits. The omega-3 content can also help reduce skin inflammation caused by severe acne and can help strengthen the immune system. This provides further protection against aggressive bacteria.

One important thing to note is that most cod liver oils on the market today have been processed and heat treated. As a result these products have very low amounts of vitamin A/D. To remedy this some companies will add vitamin content back in after processing. Be sure to check the ingredients to see that the product you buy does in fact contain vitamin A and D. If it does not, you should also supplement with a stand alone supplement of vitamin A and D.

Also, you may want to round out your supplementation with some Vitamin E. Vitamin E is another antioxidant vitamin that you can use topically or orally. Vitamin E can also reduce help reduce and lighten the appearance of scars from previous acne breakouts. If you use the topical variety be sure to avoid acetates, as these have been known to make acne worse in certain cases.

Can fish oil cause acne or make it worse?

In some people, taking fish oil can actually make acne worse. In these cases the cause is likely due to the synthetic vitamin D3 and synthetic vitamin A (tocopherol acetate) that some companies will add to their fish oils after processing. Synthetic vitamin A can also sometimes cause a rise in Histamine levels, resulting in eczema rashes and breakouts. In these cases, you may need to opt for a less processed variety of cod liver oil. That's where fermented cod liver oil comes in.

Fermented cod liver oil

Fermented cod liver oil is made with minimal processing. Instead of being bleached or heat treated, this cod liver oil is made with a slow fermentation process. The way this works is simple: fish taken from the sea have there livers extracted, the cod livers are then added to a solution and sealed in large vats for a period of time (about 6 months).

The outcome is an oil that is minimally processed, resulting in a naturally nutrient dense and balanced product. It is a little more expensive than traditional fish oil, but since it is unprocessed and contains only naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, the extra cost is well worth it.

If you are someone who is allergic to processed fish oil, you may want to give fermented cod liver oil a try. Green Pastures is the only company still actively producing fermented cod liver oil. But beware – the taste is very strong. It is however the most potent cod liver oil supplement on the market. Fermented cod liver oil is more like a super food as it has all the vitamins and minerals you would need to maintain healthy and acne free skin. You can use it topically as well if you don’t mind the fishy smell. Click here to learn more about fermented cod liver oil benefits.

What about conventional treatment?

There are quite a few acne drugs on the market, but the 2 most common ones are Benzoyl Peroxide and Accutane.

Benzoyl peroxide is a strong antibacterial agent that is applied topically. Once applied it penetrates into the sebaceous ducts and dissolves, killing the bacteria that build up under the acne. Upon dissolution the benzoyl peroxide releases damaging free radicals to promote an anti- inflammatory result. It has no effect on sebum secretions.

Possible side effects can include irritated skin, peeling, redness, and in some cases severe allergic reaction rustling in extreme dryness or swelling. This product is obviously ineffective since we have already established that killing sebaceous bacteria alone will not cure acne. At best it will work temporarily until the sebaceous glands become clogged again. Also, it also seems unwise to apply free radicals to the skin, as these can cause cellular damage (oxidative stress) over time. Free radicals have been linked to numerous diseases – including cancer.

Accutane works by binding to the receptors of sebocyte cells causing slowed growth and eventually shrinking the sebaceous glands. This can prove effective for some people, however there can be dangerous side effects. Accutane cannot be prescribed to pregnant woman as it is known to cause birth defects in all cases. It was actually removed from the market in 2009 due to continual lawsuits against Hoffman La-Roche. However, to some people with severe acne the risks are worth it. There have been some cases of life long trauma caused by this drug, as the method of action is not fully understood.

Cod liver oil is very safe and there are few side effects associated with it. Mild gas (burping) can occur, as well as indigestion or heartburn. Mild allergic reactions have occurred in some cases. This can be due to that fact that some manufacturers add excess tocopherols back in to their product after processing. However these risks seem quite minimal when compared to the drug treatments that are on the market.

Check out our buying guide if you want to learn more about choosing a quality fish oil.