UPDATE: I no longer recommend cod liver oil. This post explains why, plus alternate suggestions for getting vitamin A and D (both are still great nutrients for skin and acne).
I'm talking about cod liver oil. Again. Yep—lately, not a week goes by without me telling at least a couple of people (mostly in the comments here) about this best-kept beauty secret. So in case you missed all of that chit-chat, listen up, because this stuff is downright miraculous for acne and dull skin. AND for your overall health, including boosting vitamin D levels.
And you thought I was going to say fish oil, or probiotics! Nein and nein—it's this bad boy right here that you need:
First, let me give you the backstory
Before I discovered the CLO (as geeky health freak types like me tend to call it), I'd been seeking something—anything!—to deal with persistent hormonal breakouts, usually around the chin and jawline, that would crop up like clockwork at that time of the month. (Sound familiar?)
Although dermatologist-prescribed meds always worked for me (I've taken the pill, short courses of antibiotics and spironolactone—an anti-androgen medication that is prescribed off-label for acne), I just didn't want to take anything pharmaceutical anymore because to me, the side effects of all that stuff are pretty scary.
And other derm treatments, like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, lasers and light therapies—all of which I've tried as a beauty ed—are stupidly expensive and the results don't last. (Really, don't even get me started on those...)
I've also had my blood tested and tried all kinds of naturopathic things—fish oil, probiotics, liver cleanses, you name it!—but none of them really made any marked difference. And after you dabble in all this stuff for a while, to no avail—even though the breakouts aren't really that bad—you start to question WHY... why are the breakouts still happening and do I have a more serious underlying health issue?
Chances are, you probably don't. You just are lacking certain nutrients that we don't get in our modern diets.
And one of those happens to be vitamin A, which as you know, is in Accutane (a pretty scary drug in my opinion, despite what derms will tell you).
Why cod liver oil works for acne
The difference between the vitamin A in Accutane and the vitamin A in cod liver oil is that the latter is a natural, not synthetic source—and therefore carries less risk of toxicity in the body because it works synergistically with its other nutrients.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation:
The claim that vitamin A in cod liver oil is toxic just doesn’t make sense in the context of traditional diets, which were very rich in vitamin A from liver, organ meats, seafood and the fats of grass-fed animals. The crux of Dr. Price’s research is that the diets of healthy primitive peoples contain about ten times more vitamin A than modern diets.
Doesn't that make sense that we'd have a modern epidemic of acne now that we're eating fewer of these foods?
I thought it was worth trying, at least, so I started taking this about six months ago. And oh em gee did I ever notice a difference in my skin. Not just in eradicating breakouts—I rarely get them anymore, and if I do, the blemish goes away very quickly and isn't at all inflamed—but in the overall quality, texture and colour of my skin.
From The Skincare Edit Archives
I glow, people! Really, I do—so much so that I've been asked what it is I'm doing differently and can they have some too!
It's not just me who hearts cod liver oil
Reader Jenny started taking it and noticed similar results... and she also alerted me to blogger/vlogger Kandee Johnson, who calls it her "number one secret potion":
My mom and BFF are also in on this and both noticed a glow and (in the case of my friend), NO. MORE. BREAKOUTS!
Other benefits of cod liver oil
Anyone else take this as a kid? It turns out our mothers were right about it preventing sickness. I haven't gotten any colds since I started taking this—and because it's also a fantastic source of vitamin D, it's replaced the need for those synthetic vitamin D3 pills I used to take.
(And on that note—just as the synthetic form of vitamin A can be toxic, so can vitamin D; that's why the RDA of vitamin D is so low. You can ingest a much higher dose with cod liver oil if you simply follow the recommended dosage on the label.)
Taking cod liver oil is also a better idea than following that misguided advice floating around about getting our vitamin D from 10 minutes a day in the sun. It's actually really difficult to do that, especially in the Canadian climate. Traditionally, humans have made up for the slack with foods (including liver, which I will bet you do not eat). Enter CLO!
Fun fact: I've read several testimonials from people taking CLO that they no longer burn in the sun!
The best type of cod liver oil
Ideally, you want to be taking a high-quality, fermented cod liver oil because the cheaper, highly-processed ones tend to be stripped of the very vitamins that make it beneficial (for your skin and health). I follow the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation and they caution against CLOs that go through high heat processing.
But I'm a wimp and take the capsules!
HOWEVER. This is not to say you won't see results from a less pricey and more widely available brand. Carlson's is the one that seems to be pretty decent (Jenny, Kandee and my friend all take it and the lemon flavour isn't too bad, apparently). You just have to be careful choosing because the vitamin A and D need to be in the right proportion, otherwise you could initiate deficiencies of either one in your body.
* Disclaimer: Please know that all of the above is just my opinion through personal experience—I'm not a doctor and definitely get medical advice if you suspect you might have a more serious skin or health condition. This is just what has worked for me, and lots of people I've shared it with.
Doesn't it drive you crazy when there's a simple, inexpensive solution out there and yet NOBODY will tell you about it? My BFF and I call it The Acne Conspiracy.