Iodine and Acne

Today’s post on the possible B12/acne link prompted me to ask if you’ve ever reviewed any literature on a link between iodine and acne. I began supplementing with iodine a few months ago–thanks to Vegan For Life, I realized I must be terribly deficient!–and I noticed a few weeks later that my skin was absolutely freaking out. I’ve dealt with adult acne pretty consistently for years but had things well under control with topical medication, and it seemed like something was really aggravating my skin all of a sudden. After googling around, I found a number of people claiming a link between iodine and acne, but I can’t tell whether any well-done studies have confirmed this. I’m well aware something else might have been causing my skin to flare, but I stopped taking the iodine and waited for my skin to calm down (which it has), and I plan to start with a very low dose of iodine and see if it happens again. I would love to know whether any good research supports a connection.

I had not previously reviewed the literature, as I had never heard of this before, but I reviewed it today (click for list of studies). Like B12 and acne, there is very little recent information. I was able to get copies of a couple letters from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Arbesman, 2005; Danby, 2007) in which there was a discussion about whether iodine in dairy could cause acne and they cited papers from the 1960s and 70s as evidence that iodine can cause skin problems.

A 1990 review of iodine toxicity reports says “…iodine intakes less than or equal to 1.000 mg/day are probably safe for the majority of the population, but may cause adverse effects in some individuals (Pennington, 1990).” The RDA is 150 micrograms per day.

It seems safe to say that iodine supplements could cause acne (or acne-like) skin problems for some people.

Iodine is not like B12 in that you should not try to catch up with a low iodine intake in the past. If your iodine intake was so low that you have hypothyroidism or a goiter, then you should see a doctor for supervision. But in terms of starting to supplement for optimal health, do not start with amounts more than we recommend in Vegan For Life or on, which is 75 – 150 micrograms every few days. Some iodine supplements have as much as 225 micrograms per tablet; in those cases I’d either break it in half or take it once every two three days.

So, I am scared to wonder what other supplement recommended for vegans might cause acne in some people. Vitamin D? Luckily, a quick search finds people claiming vitamin D cleared up their acne, rather than caused it!

(I do not know if the claims that vitamin D can clear up acne have any validity.)


Arbesman H. Dairy and acne–the iodine connection. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005
Dec;53(6):1102.   |   Link

Danby FW. Acne and iodine: reply. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Jan;56(1):164-5.   |   Link

Pennington JA. A review of iodine toxicity reports. J Am Diet Assoc. 1990
Nov;90(11):1571-81. Review.   |   Link

13 Responses to “Iodine and Acne”

  1. Sarah Gould Says:

    Growing up in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, I was probably vitamin D deficient even before I spent a summer in New Zealand — which meant a whole year of weak winter sunlight hitting my skin. When I started supplementing, I found that both my mood and my skin improved, though I all I could find as a link between vitamin D and clearing up acne was an old case study where a dermatologist found success prescribing it to his teenaged patients. Vitamin D *is* normally produced in the skin, but why would it — or iodine or B12 for that matter! — affect break-outs?

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    From the Jansen, 2001 paper:

    “The aetiology of rosacea fulminans triggered by vitamins B6 and B12 is unknown. It is likely, however, that prolonged and increased excretion of the causative substances might have caused an irritation of the follicular epithelium and sub- sequentlyproducedaninflammatoryreaction.Tothebestofour knowledge, this is the first report of rosacea fulminans triggered by high-dose B vitamins.”

    I haven’t seen any explanation regarding iodine.

  3. Betty Says:

    For iodine to work efficiently you need to take Vitamin E. Just a guess – maybe the iodine acts as a sort of poison if the vitamin E isn’t there to cause it to be used properly. (A. Costa, 3rd Int’l Congress on Vitamin E, 1955). Just passing it along.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > For iodine to work efficiently you need to take Vitamin E.

    I’ve never seen anything suggesting that iodine works with vitamin E, so I seriously doubt this is true.

  5. Betty Says:

    I showed you where I got that information from. Could it be incorrect?

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Is there a link to the information on the internet you can provide me with? If so, I’ll take a look.

    Any nutrition idea that old, and that is no longer promoted in the literature or textbooks, is likely to have been wrong.

  7. Marzo Says:

    Some Vitamin D supplements do cause Acne. Solgar vitamin D3 does cause facial break outs from my previous experience.

    I started taking Vitashine D3 5000iu and no more breakouts anywhere but during my experiment I decided to try out corn oil and sunflower seed oil, both caused cystic acne, the type teenagers develop during puberty.

    As you can see the study below. Linoleic acid increased sebaceous lipids however nuts do not cause break outs and actually improve skin health. Maybe there is some important nutrient in nuts which regulates enzymes that is missing in omega 6 refined oils.

    Vitamin D does regulate the thyroid –

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:


    That PDF doesn’t argue that vitamin D regulates the thyroid but rather that people with thyroid problems often have low vitamin D levels as a result of the thyroid problems. But I do not mean to imply that vitamin D deficiency cannot cause thyroid problems, just that the PDF you provided doesn’t argue for it.

    And I’m sorry to be contrarian yet again, but suggesting that linoleic acid causes acne break outs based on that study you provide seems like a big stretch.

    I’m glad you found a vegan vitamin D supplement that doesn’t cause you outbreaks!

  9. David Lewis Says:

    From what I’ve heard, the issue with iodine comes from bromine detox. Ever since bromide has been linked to breast cancer, there has been a lot of research into bromide dominance theory (the idea that bromide has displaced an unhealthy amount of iodide, as they are reactively similar). I’m sure you can find some information on it and weigh the evidence for yourself, but (again, just from what I understand of it) it would be unfair to call iodine/iodide a poison. Bromide (and other non-iodine halogens) are the poisons.

  10. Betty Says:

    Further to your and my comments (above) on a possible relationship between iodine toxicity and vitamin E:

    “Vitamin E ameliorates iodine-induced cytotoxicity in thyroid.”

  11. Jack Norris RD Says:


    That study indicates that if you give iodine-deficient rats a high dose of iodine, including vitamin E can prevent toxicity to the thyroid. I suppose it’s possible that including vitamin E with iodine could reduce the risk of an acne-induced response in humans who are prone to it. I would not take this study to be anything but the very smallest of evidence that this could be the case.

  12. Betty Says:

    I’m against testing on animals. As a matter of fact, of all the bad things humans do to animals, I’d place animal experimentation on the top of the list. But virtually everything that was ever supposedly proved on humans had its start with, yes, tests on animals. And we must sorrowfully acknowledge this.

  13. nyleve Says:

    I am taking iodine for hair loss and I feel that my breakouts are from the iodine. I don’t know what to do, is this breakout from iodine or should I continue to see if my hair loss improves. I have hypothyroidism.

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