Most of us experience acne as we go through adolescence, finally growing out of those nasty pimples in our twenties and moving on to clear skinned adulthood. Unfortunately for some, including myself, it’s smooth sailing through adolescence and then — BAM! — you hit your mid-twenties and all of a sudden you’re dealing with acne. No matter when you find yourself battling blemishes, there’s a host of information to learn about caring and loving your skin to keep it healthy and breakout free.

More recent research surrounding diet has helped many young adults and adults manage their acne. From watching your dairy intake to consuming sugar, diet plays a key role in maintaining acne-prone skin. In this article, I’m going to highlight the link between B12 and acne breakouts. While B12 is an incredibly important and essential vitamin for your body, overconsumption via supplements or diet can aggravate sensitive skin and cause unnecessary breakouts.

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So, let’s take a deep dive into why this is!

Understanding How Vitamin B12 Works in Your Body

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So, vitamin B12 may cause you to break out, but that’s definitely not a reason to cut it out of your diet. This vitamin is incredibly important, more like essential, for your health. We’ll get to the acne connection, but let’s start out by taking a look at how important vitamin B12 is for your body!

The 101 on Vitamin B12

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Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin — the ability to dissolve via water — and is essential for keeping “the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA,” as well as preventing megaloblastic anemia, a rare form of anemia in which bone marrow produces immature and abnormally large blood cells. Vitamin B12 is “absorbed in the stomach with the help of a protein called intrinsic factor” and, because our bodies are truly amazing, if you consume more than your body needs, the extra is stored in the liver to aid in avoiding deficiency.

Luckily, most Americans receive the recommended daily doses of vitamin B12 from their diet. Daily doses of vitamin B12 differ depending on age. For example, adults and teenagers 14 to 18 years of age are recommended to consume at least 2.4 micrograms a day, while children under 13 are recommended half that dosage ranging between 1.2 to 1.8 micrograms daily.

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Yet, due to the fact that natural sources of vitamin B12 come from animal-based products, those that practice a plant-based lifestyle without the knowledge of this fact have an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a variety of unpleasant physical symptoms such as “tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss,” anemia, megaloblastic anemia, and even nerve system damage including “numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.” Vitamin B12 also plays a crucial role in mental health and a deficiency may lead to “problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia,” and spotty memory.

Foods High in Vitamin B12

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So, where do you obtain this essential vitamin?

Foods containing the highest levels of vitamin B12 generally fall in the animal-product department such as meat — specifically animal liver, beef, and kidney’s — seafood — specifically sardines, trout, salmon, tuna, and clams — dairy products, and eggs. With that said, you can find high doses of vitamin B12 in fortified kinds of cereal, nutritional yeasts, non-dairy milk alternatives, and other fortified processed foods.

Unfortunately, for strict plant-based eaters (such as vegans and vegetarians), there aren’t natural forms of vitamin B12. Therefore, if you aren’t adding fortified products or supplements to your diet, it’s possible you may become vitamin B12 deficient.

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Understanding the Relationship Between Vitamin B12 and Acne

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By now, you get how important vitamin B12 is for your body. Yet, you are also like me and are looking for ways to maintain healthy, blemish-free skin. As with most everything, it’s important to start with the why, so let’s talk about how vitamin B12 promotes acne.

First off, let me introduce you to the bacteria that has been linked to acne, Propionibacterium acnes. Propionibacterium acnes, also called P. acnes, “forms part of the normal flora of the skin,” and yet it also thrives in the “oral cavity, large intestine, the conjunctiva” — the clear membrane that covers the eye — “and the external ear canal.” As much as we hear about healthy, helpful bacteria, this bacterium seems to cause a lot of problems. Along with promoting acne, P. acnes is linked to many infections including “infections of the bones and joints, mouth, eye and brain,” to name just a few.

As researchers seek to find a cure for acne, they stumbled across a key relationship between P. acnes and vitamin B12. While the connection between vitamin B12 and acne is not a new one, with studies dating back to the 1950s, newer studies have illuminated more concrete evidence and scientific findings regarding why and how they are connected.

In one such recent study conducted by UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, when P. acnes was exposed to vitamin B12 the bacteria began to produce “inflammatory molecules known to promote pimples.” As they dug deeper, the researchers discovered that “vitamin B2 changed the gene expression of the skin bacteria, which could have led to acne-promoting inflammation,” causing breakouts in both acne prone and non-acne prone participants.

In the end, the findings surmised that too much vitamin B12 suppresses appropriate synthesis of the vitamin leading to the production of porphyrins, which cause an “uptick in inflammatory compounds,” that are linked to acne.

Getting the Right Amount of B12

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It’s all about balance!

For both acne prone and non-acne prone people, overconsumption of vitamin B12 has the potential to cause breakouts. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how much vitamin B12 you are consuming. For plant-based eaters who are incorporating fortified foods and supplements, this is even more of an important task because you are not receiving the vitamin naturally. For the healthiest and safest outcome, make sure to speak with a medical professional regarding your transition to or current practice of a plant-based diet. Your physician can not only test for vitamin B12 levels, but they can also advise and guide you as to the best sources for your specific body.

With that said, all it takes is a little knowledge and a little patience!

Vitamin B12 Fortified Foods

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Besides supplements, fortified foods are the only source of vitamin B12 for plant-based eaters.

Luckily, if you enjoy non-dairy milk on a daily basis, then you’re getting a healthy dose of vitamin B12. For example, almond and coconut milk generally provide at least 3 micrograms of vitamin B12, while soy milk generally offers up 1.2 micrograms. Using non-dairy milk alternatives is also incredibly easy such as this delicious morning Bircher Muesli with Chocolate Chia Pudding or this simple Almond Milk Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer.

Many plant-based recipes ask for nutritional yeast, but do you really know what it is? Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast product that is quite similar in taste to cheese and is used in a variety of vegan cheese recipes such as this Cheesy Mac n Yeast or this Sliceable Cashew Cheese. With that said, you can also add a spoonful to many sauce and stew products — such as this Simple Vegan Pasta or this Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Mushroom Sauce — not only for that additional delightfully nutty flavoring but also because it’s an incredibly dependable source of vitamin B12.

Another great source of vitamin B12 is fortified cereals. Just think, if you start your day off with one of these vegan-friendly, fortified cereals with a generous helping of plant-based milk, then you’ve met your vitamin B12 quota for the day!

Vitamin B12 Supplements

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With supplements, make sure to look at the dosage. I found that some multivitamin supplements that are packed with almost everything you could wish for, also cram way more vitamin B12 than you need, oftentimes 10 micrograms plus. In fact, this is how I stumbled upon the connection between vitamin B12 and acne to begin with!

This mistake is super easy to side-step. Simply look at the label!

As mentioned above, adults over the age of 18 should be consuming around 2.4 micrograms daily. If your multivitamin has a considerable amount more than that, it may not be the one for you. Therefore, try out a vitamin B12 only supplement instead.

Looking for more vitamin B12 fortified recipes? We highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!