Alternative Treatments

Why You Should NEVER Take Saw Palmetto for Acne

As I’ve mentioned in my post about my history with cystic acne, I’ve tried basically everything (except Accutane) to get rid of my pimples.

After being failed by what felt like every prescription and over-the-counter acne treatment in existence, I started looking into alternative options.

I focused more on what I was putting in my body instead of the gels and creams I was putting on my skin. I cut out dairy, started eating low GI foods, reduced my caffeine intake, all that good stuff.

As part of this newfound focus on how my internal body chemistry could help my acne, I also started researching nutritional supplements that could help.

And that is what led to the worst acne breakout I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

What is Saw Palmetto?

Among the other supplements and alternative remedies suggested for treating acne was saw palmetto.

I’d never heard of it before, but there were quite a few YouTube videos of women who claimed that they used saw palmetto to once-and-for-all cure their hormonal acne.

Hallelujah — tell me more!

Saw palmetto supplements are essentially just the dried and crushed fruit of the saw palmetto plant, also called the American Dwarf Palm Tree. You can find it growing wild in Florida.

Traditionally, saw palmetto benefits men who take it as a supplement by supporting their prostate and urinary health. It can treat certain kinds of prostate infections and can even be used in the treatment of prostate cancer. Powerful stuff.

However, women have also begun to experiment with taking the supplement as an alternative acne treatment medicine.

Saw Palmetto for Women

The thinking behind women taking saw palmetto for acne is the (misguided) belief that it can help lower the production of androgens in your body.

Androgens are hormones that both men and women produce, but because androgens are made up of hormones like testosterone, they often get labeled as male hormones.

In addition to testosterone, androgens also include the hormones DHT and DHEA ( dihydrotestosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, respectively). Testosterone, DHT, and DHEA can all contribute to acne in women when they are produced in excess.

Saw palmetto is thought to be an excellent anti-androgen supplement, so women take it hoping it will counteract what they perceive as an over-production of acne-causing androgens.

HOWEVER, there is no research to support the anti-androgenic claims about saw palmetto.

In fact, clinical trials from 2006 and 2008 revealed that saw palmetto wasn’t any more effective at reducing androgen levels than a simple placebo. And a 2012 review of this research called the anti-androgenic claims about saw palmetto “far from convincing.”

Nevertheless, YouTube is a thing. And since there are women on YouTube claiming that saw palmetto cured their acne, other acne-ridden women are bound to give the supplement a try, too.

I was one of those acne-ridden women.

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I’m not going to call out the YouTuber whose video I watched that convinced me saw palmetto was something I needed to try. But I did watch a video of a woman who seemed to share my pain and struggles with hormonal adult acne.

She praised saw palmetto for its anti-androgenic effects (I didn’t know how unfounded these claims were at the time, and said taking the supplement once a day had drastically helped her hormonal acne.

‘I’ve tried everything else,’ I thought. ‘I have nothing to lose.’ I ordered a bottle off Amazon that day.

The Horrible Side Effects of Saw Palmetto

A few days after I started taking the supplement, I noticed that my skin was purging a bit. This is pretty common with many acne treatments and medications, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I’d have to wait the purge out.

A few days later, I had to acknowledge the fact that something was seriously wrong. My face had broken out in dozens of painful, red pimples.

The acne seemed to be coming from every pore on the lower half of my face. My cheeks and jawline were especially affected.

Since taking the saw palmetto supplement was the only drastic change I’d made to my acne treatment routine, I was pretty sure that the supplement was the reason for this heinous breakout. Sure enough, when I stopped taking the saw palmetto, the breakout stopped.

However, let me be clear that “the breakout stopped” doesn’t mean that my skin went back to normal. The breakout stopped getting worse, but the damage was done. More than a month later, my skin is still far from completely recovering from what saw palmetto did to it.

I want to be mad at YouTube and at the saw palmetto plant in general but, in the end, the only person I can really be mad at is myself. I didn’t do nearly enough research into this supplement before taking it.

I thought the words “herbal” and “natural” were enough to safeguard against any major reactions I might experience from the supplement. Needless to say, I was wrong.  Natural supplements, and especially concentrated herbal supplements, can be very powerful.

You should always research a supplement thoroughly before adding it to your Amazon cart.

Because, even though you think your skin can’t get any worse, it can.

Have you ever had a bad reaction to a supplement or skincare product? Tell me what to avoid in the comments section below!


Also published on Medium.

14 thoughts on “Why You Should NEVER Take Saw Palmetto for Acne”

  1. So sorry you went through that. May I posit that you are under 40-50?
    For myself and other women I know who have experienced incredibly frustrating and, formerly uncharacteristic breakouts during perimenopause & menopause, saw palmetto has been incredibly helpful.
    Spearmint and stinging nettle added to the diet as herbs/teas also helped, as did cleansing with a benzoyl peroxide bar soap. I wish you & all here good skin & good health!

    1. Hi Samantha,

      I am indeed under 40… I’m actually not quite yet 30. What you’re saying sounds somewhat like the information I was finding on saw palmetto when I was initially researching it before I started taking it. However, for me it just didn’t help. I’m happy to know that it does help some women though!

      Thanks for sharing!

      Kayla

      P.S. I haven’t tried nettle, but I did buy some neem tea a while back and BOY is that stuff bitter!

      1. 🙂 Don’t worry, stinging nettle is very mild & fresh (COOKED!) green are often served as a side dish in the UK, like broccoli rabe. However, dried you can have it as tea — again, dried spearmint leaves/tea helped too — or add it to any recipies as you would parsley. Amazon sells Frontier organic versions of both in Bulk bags, so it’s very affordable as one only needs steep small amounts for teas.
        Sending you all best & healing wishes,

        Sam

  2. 450 mg is far too much for a woman to take and that brand in the pic is not a quality supplement that I would put in my body. When looking for supplements, Now Foods is always a good choice as well as Piping Rock, Vital Nutrients, Jarrow or Life Extension. All do extensive research on the supplements they provide. I take Now Foods for cystic acne @ 160 mg twice a day. I also take 1000 mg curcumin (turmeric), 750 mg green tea extract and 100 mg DIM. The DIM will likely help you more than anything, especially if you are on birth control. All of the others will likely help more than the saw palmetto. Sulfur masks are also helpful. Cystic acne has been a life long battle for me. I will be 49 this year. Fight the good fight.

  3. Hi,
    I’m a man and it happened the same. Actually I took SP because the urologist gave it to me as I had discomfort but no diseases. Well 2 weeks later I got pimples on my face. I used to have acne all my life but only on my back never on my face. But now is on my face :/. Not sure if I should blame SP, or was a coincidence as I was turning 30, big point in life where body dramatically suffers a shift. because doesn’t make sense to me that after i left SP…the break out indeed stopped, but acne came back slowly over time. is 2 years since then and well i have mild acne. Took Doxy, peeling and I fought back but i think it will remain there forever, doxy and peeling helped me to counterattack but it keeps coming back. So in principle dermatologists are liars, once acne comes it never goes. I’m planning to try SP again but combine it with Doxy. since the latter is an anti-inflammatory i believe will fight back the break out and something interesting may happen..lol..now my face is a ground play for experiments

    1. Hi Chris,

      In my research I did read that it’s often prescribed to men as a preventative health supplement. Sorry to hear you may have experienced a breakout because of it.

      While I don’t necessarily agree that dermatologists are liars, I do completely think that a lot of the time they prescribe treatments that haven’t had enough research done on them. Just to be clear I don’t think they do this intentionally, but I think there’s a big lack of information out there about acne and what causes it.

      It’s amazing that out of all the things we know about the world and science today, we still can’t quite pinpoint what causes some people to get acne. -_-

      I hope you’re able to find something that works for you soon!

      Kayla

  4. thanks for sharing this. I had suspicions that it was making my acne worse instead of better, but seeing as I only saw positive reviews on Youtube and online, I pushed through for a week. I am mow recovering, and seeing this article has definitely convinced me to go slow on the experimentation. i was just so desperate with my pcos acne that I thought an herbal supplement would be good. Guess not. 🙁

    1. That’s pretty much the same boat I was in, too. I looked online before trying it but didn’t find anything to suggest it would have the horrible effects that it did.

      Sorry you had to find out the hard way, too! Glad you’re recovering though. Good luck moving forward! ❤️❤️

  5. I also got worse, im thinking it might be because i have low estrogen and progesterone and high androgens. I read that SP might lower estrogen and since mine is already to low its probably why i breake out worse.

    1. Hi Janna,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience here! I’m sorry to hear you had a breakout because of this, too.

      I’m not a doctor or anything, but I’m of the opinion that it really has very little to do with your estrogen and progesterone levels — I think this stuff is just a bad idea for anyone (mostly women) with acne, in general. I more or less feel like it’s just convenient for people to blame unsuccessful users’ hormones as being the reason that it doesn’t work; I really just think it doesn’t work. period.

      Ahh well. We’ll keep trying other solutions!

      Good luck with clearing up your breakout and moving ahead with your acne journey in the future!

      xoxo

      1. Saw palmetto does work for me.

        I have bern taking it for over 2 years, I have PCOS and I wouldn’t be without it.

        It’s best to get your hormones levels checked before staring any hormonal supplements.

      2. Hi Hannah,

        I’m glad to hear it works for you. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I did but, unfortunately, it does happen. “/

        Thanks so much for commenting!

        Kayla

  6. I had this same experience. I’ve been taking sp for about a month now and my skin is oilier than its ever been, increase in facial hair growth in places no growth before. I was hoping this was my bodies way of adjusting to the extract but I don’t think I can continue like this! I guess it works differently for everyone, had high hopes for this too!

    1. Ahhh, sorry to hear that. Hopefully you didn’t also get the crazy breakouts too.

      I know not everything “natural” is risk free, but I was truly surprised by the insane reaction my body had to saw palmetto.

      I hope your side effects go away if/when you stop taking it!

      Thanks for sharing. xoxo

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