Is Saw Palmetto effective as a treatment for acne?
That’s a good question. There aren’t any thorough studies showing that saw palmetto helps with acne. There is one small study showing that it reduces sebum excretion in the skin (oily skin). Most of the remaining evidence is either theoretical or observational. Acne is the number one reason for dermatologist visits though, so it’s understandable why many acne sufferers are looking for alternative or natural remedies to use in place of, or alongside, prescription remedies.
Why saw palmetto, or Serenoa repens, might help someone with acne.
As you may already know, saw palmetto is antiandrogenic. It acts as a DHT inhibitor or, more specifically, a 5 alpha-reductase blocker. By blocking the 5 alpha-reductase enzyme, saw palmetto inhibits the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone or DHT. DHT can cause excessive sebum production in the skin, which can then lead to acne. Sebum is a mix of oily and waxy substances that are produced by sebaceous glands in your body. Sebum production isn’t a bad thing as it protects your skin from moisture loss. However, since a high concentration of sebaceous glands are located on the scalp and face, excess sebum production can cause oily skin and lead to acne.
How can saw palmetto help with excess sebum production? Well, 5 alpha-reductase activates sebum production (via DHT). Remember that saw palmetto is antiandrogenic and reduces 5 alpha-reductase, which should reduce DHT and thereby reduce sebum production. Lower sebum production can lead to less oily skin. This is the mechanism by which saw palmetto can help reduce acne. In short, some acne is hormonal and saw palmetto disrupts the hormonal action that causes acne. Does this mean that saw palmetto may only be useful for treating hormonal acne. Probably.
Actually, the prescription drug Finasteride works essentially the same way as saw palmetto allegedly does. Many people are hesitant to use finasteride because of the potential side effects, so they look for other alternatives. Saw palmetto is one of those alternatives. In fact, saw palmetto is popular as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH – enlarged prostate), androgenic alopecia (hair loss), and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as well.
What is the evidence that saw palmetto can treat acne?
One small study published in 2007 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology studied 20 volunteers with oily skin. The researchers created a cream consisting of a mix of saw palmetto, sesame seeds, and argan oil. The volunteers applied this cream twice daily for four weeks. Sebum production was measured before and after the test. Afterward, 95% of the subjects experienced a visible reduction is sebum production. Their casual sebum level decreased by an average of 20% and oily spots on the skin were reduced by 42%. The researchers successfully reduced sebum production in the subjects with their cream. But, since they used multiple ingredients in the cream, it’s hard to tell which one was actually effective.
There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that saw palmetto is useful. There are several people on the forum, Reddit, claiming that saw palmetto helped them with their acne problem.
One person started taking 620mg of saw palmetto in the morning and evening and saw a marked decrease in their acne within a week. Another took it and had positive results, though it took much longer.
One Reddit user took saw palmetto for two months and it “really seemed to help” but when they quit taking it, their acne came back worse than ever.
A female Reddit member suffering from hormonal acne tried saw palmetto and now has completely clear skin.
Another user tried a saw palmetto pill with 80% fatty acids, taking a pill every two or three days, and saw a large reduction in their acne. Regarding saw palmetto, they concluded, “I think it is worth giving it a shot if you know it’s DHT causing yours, but you would likely need to take higher doses than I mentioned and make sure you have the correct type.” They emphasized buying a quality saw palmetto rather than the cheapest.
Other saw palmetto users have said:
“Within three days I had no more flare-ups! And that’s only taking 160mg daily.”
“I decided to try Saw Palmetto first, as one last natural effort. Well, IT WORKED. It took a few months, but well worth it for virtually NO side effects.”
“Then, I came across Saw Palmetto. Ladies and Gentlemen…It does work!”
“Cured my hormonal acne on cheeks.”
“Miracle! I promise you, you’ll see a big difference. Saw palmetto literally changed my life.”
Keep in mind that these testimonials are subjective. Other factors may have contributed to their reduced acne. So, take them with a grain of salt. But, it’s hard to ignore the dozens of people that claim saw palmetto has helped them with their acne.
At this point there are not any conclusive studies showing that Saw Palmetto can effectively treat acne. The theory is there but the supporting studies are not. There are, however, a large number of testimonials stating that it does work.
Are there side effects from taking saw palmetto?
If you decide to try saw palmetto know that some users have reported side effects. Most of them were very mild, but a few were more severe.
One reddit user mentioned that taking saw palmetto disrupted her menstrual cycle.
A doctor reported that his patient, who had been taking saw palmetto for BPH, was diagnosed with “drug-induced liver injury.” Fortunately, the patient’s condition resolved once he stopped taking the saw palmetto.
The most frequently reported side effect was mild stomach discomfort.
What form of saw palmetto should you use?
There are a few saw palmetto based creams on the market and there are dozens of saw palmetto supplements available in capsule form. Most of the positive testimonials come from the use of saw palmetto capsules. Buy the highest quality product rather than the cheapest.
If you try a topical form, always perform a patch test before using it on your skin. If you develop any adverse reaction, discontinue use and consult your physician. Do not take saw palmetto supplements without consulting your doctor as they might cause side effects especially if you are already taking any substances that affect your hormone levels.
What dosage of saw palmetto should I take?
There is no officially prescribed dosage of saw palmetto for acne. Since there have been no randomized control trials to determine its effectiveness there is no consensus about what dosage may be useful for acne. Common sense would dictate starting off with a low dosage and increasing it if no side effects are experienced. Still, as mentioned above you don’t want to take so much that you damage your liver. Actually, this is the case with aspirin and other over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen as well. So, be careful. Most capsule based saw palmetto supplements have a dosage of 200-1000mg per capsule.
In the end it is your decision whether to try saw palmetto. Do your due diligence and take into consideration the type of acne you have, any medications you’re already taking, and any potential side effects. There is some anecdotal evidence, as we covered above, that saw palmetto is effective at treating acne but good scholarly research is lacking. Saw palmetto is inexpensive relative to the prescription drugs that are on the market for acne so it may be worth trying. Everyone is different and saw palmetto may be useful for some people and not for others.