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!
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.