Saturday, 3 January 2015

Berberine and Acne

Let's talk about a very promising natural acne-fighter, berberine, and how it helped me go from this:

To this:

Berberine is an alkaloid compound that is isolated from plants such as Barberry, Goldenseal and Oregon Grape. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine going back centuries and is currently making a resurgence as an herbal treatment for type-II diabetes, poly cystic ovarian syndrome, high cholesterol and acne.

Berberine has anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory effects and is able to reduce glucose production in the liver:

"Berberine targets a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism present in all animals and plants called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces glucose production in the liver, which is in overdrive in patients with diabetes. It slows the release of free fatty acids, which lowers lipid levels and prevents harmful fat deposition, and boosts fat burning in the mitochondria. It also stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO), a signaling molecule that relaxes the arteries, increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, and protects against atherosclerosis." source:

In addition to the properties described above, berberine is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and androgen-inhibiting. It suppresses acne by inhibiting the skin-cell processes that form comedones, killing the acne-causing bacteria P. acnes, suppressing sebum production and improving intestinal permeability. One clinical study has shown a 45% reduction in acne following one month of treatment.

Looking for more information on berberine? Read my Berberine Q&A here.

My experience with berberine 

I am just finishing up a second course of berberine. I started the herb in September, after my naturopath recommended it to improve my digestion and gut and help my acne. She started me on 1,000 mg twice daily of Thorne Research Berberine.  It's one of the cheaper herbs I've taken - $28 CDN for 60 pills purchased through my naturopath.  

I only took this dose for 10 days as I started feeling as though I was hungover all the time - likely a detox reaction. I went down to 500 mg a day for the remainder of September. I was still getting frequent breakouts, possibly because I hadn't changed my diet at the time. One side effect I did notice  was that I dropped about five pounds within a week of starting the supplement. This is likely initial water weight loss says my naturopath. 

I started another course of berberine again at the end of November, in the middle of my gluten-free/sugar free diet. 500 mg twice daily transitioning to 500 mg once daily for the last two weeks of the month. Again, I dropped about 5-7 pounds right off the bat (I had regained the weight I lost earlier in the fall). 

A few words of caution - I'd recommend starting slow with this herb as it is powerful stuff. When I was beginning this second course of berberine I took 1,000 mg on the first day (two pills at the same time) and within an hour felt extremely nauseated and could barely stop myself from throwing up. I had to high tail it home from work and immediately go to bed. I felt better within a few hours, but it was scary.  Due to it's intense anti-microbial properties, you should also up your probiotic intake, and not take the herb for more than two months at a time. I've been drinking raw goat's milk kefir and taking probiotic supplements as well. It should also be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women as it is toxic to the fetus and breastfeeding infant

How has my skin been during this second course of berberine? Great! I'm sure it is largely due to the diet I'm on, but as I've started reintroducing sugar and gluten, my skin has remained excellent - smooth and fairly clear. It's hard to say, but I'd attribute it in part to the berberine. I have two pills left, and will be taking a break from berberine for the next month. I will likely start taking the herb again in February. 

The bottom line

If you're suffering from acne and have been trying to heal your gut through diet and supplements, berberine may be the next step to clear skin. It's worth a shot.

Looking for more information on berberine? Read my Berberine Q&A here.

February 2015 update: After talking to my naturopath about my longer term plan with berberine, she suggested I stick to one pill a day (500mg) for several months as that may be the minimal dose I need to continuing seeing the positive effects. She said another option is to take the herb for the first two weeks of my cycle and then take a two week break. This would definitely be the route to take if you are trying to conceive as you do not want to be taking this herb while pregnant. My plan is to continue taking 500 mg a day until the end of April, while still taking lots of probiotics and kefir.


  1. Hi. Thanks for your post. Did 500mg twice a day seem better than 2 pills at once? And then you did 1000mg for 10 days before going down to 500mg a day? And how long was your course?

    (I've also started a healthier diet; gluten-free, dairy-free, cutting back on coffee, no refined sugar, etc.)

    1. Oh, and I don't think I properly answered your question. yes, 500 mg twice a day (one pill) was tolerated much better than 1,000 mg (two pills) at once.

  2. Hi there, Here's the doses that I've tried. I'm now on my third 60 pill bottle of berberine, and have been dosing on and off since September.

    1,000 mg twice daily as per my naturopath's 'perscription': not good. I felt sick within a few days and cut the dose down to 500 mg twice daily for the remaining couple of weeks and then took a six week break

    For subsequent rounds, I've done 500 mg twice daily for a couple weeks, then down to 500 mg once a day for the next few weeks until the bottle ran out.

    Shortly after I wrote this post, I saw my naturopath again and talked to her about how long term I can take this supplement because I really like what it's doing for my skin and overall health. She doesn't see a problem with me taking 500 mg once a day over the next few months. So that's my plan until about the end of April. If there are days where I feel a potential breakout coming on, or if I didn't eat well, then I take two pills.

    I hope that helps!


  3. Hi Meg,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Berberine!

    I'm planning to use it for my PCOS, which has many annoying symptoms like acne, unwanted hair growth, and etc. I don't know if you're familiar with this ovarian syndrome. It is also an insulin resistance issue affecting ovaries with multiple cysts.

    Well, I have been using Inositol (myo-inositol) to regulate my cycles and achieve better ovulation since July 2014. And, it helped me tremendously (if you make a search you'll see there are many peer-reviewed studies with Inositol and PCOS. It is a supplement which you can buy from your wholefoods). However, I still have cysts in my ovaries, which give me constant pain and acne. So, searching for a remedy to shrink cysts, I came across Berberine. It seems that Berberine is very new to the PCOS community, so I couldn't find many people sharing their experience. Reading your blog definitely helped and I plan to use it with Inositol.

    Two questions: Are you taking it with your food or before food? When do you take your daily dose of 500mg? Like in the mornings with breakfast or in the afternoons with lunch?
    I want the effects last so I have a better control of my insulin during the day.

    Also, I see that your last update was recent, but can you let me know how it is going so far. Any complaints?

    Thanks so much!


  4. Hi Rory, thanks for your comment.

    I am familiar with PCOS, and have a couple friends and family members with the condition. They are also taking berberine/barberry, though I haven't had a recent update from the girls on how it's going or if they find it is helping them.

    When I was taking 1,000 mg a day, I would take 500mg in the mid-morning and 500 mg in the mid-evening. I don't really worry if I take it with food or not, although the timing tends to be that I've just had a meal or snack when I take it. It is also pretty bitter tasting, so I find I eat something following it to get the bad taste out of my mouth! Now I take one dose of 500 mg mid-morning. I found it took about a few weeks of berberine to notice a difference in my skin. However, it did immediately help with regularity and water-weight loss.

    I really like berberine and have no complaints with it (other than feeling sick at higher doses of >1,000mg). I feel like it's helped me stay fairly clear even if I don't follow a strick blood-sugar regulating diet. However, berberine+insulin regulating diet gives me 100% clear skin so it feels fantastic to finally have found the answer to my skin woes.

    One blog you might find super helpful is She is a wealth of resources on treating PCOS naturally and her posts are fantastic. She also just released a book on getting your periods back on track. You may have already seen her post on berberine, sugar and dairy and treating acne? If not, definitely check it out:

    I wish you much healing! Keep me posted on how berberine goes for you.


  5. Hi,i have been taking berberis aquifolium orally from 3 week for my inflamatory and comedonal acne.I am heard about the antiandrogenic activity of berberis ?is it true?because my skin is extremely oily,so i want to reduce the sebum secetion.i am also using adapalene gel.How long should i take berberis?i have faced acne from i am 27 yrs old.i had no acne during my skin was beautiful.i am very depressed.plz help me.i know my acne is due to excessive sebum secretion,but i am scared about the initil break out from birth control i cant use the birth control pill.

  6. Hi Nasrin,

    Thanks for your comment and I'm sorry you're suffering with acne. I hope it gets better soon.

    It took a couple of months for me to see significant healing while talking berberine, however I was combining that with an overhaul to my diet and going gluten/processed and sugar-free and had been working hard for a year prior to that to heal my acne. What type of diet are you following? It can take some time but don't give up hope. I used to have quite oily skin at times, but have not found that to be a problem since treating my acne with diet/supplements like cod liver oil and berberine. I also use Rose Hip Oil as my moisturizer and did avoid using any moisturizer for a few months this winter.

    Please do not go on the birth control pill as a last resort to heal your face as it will only mess further with your hormones, deplete your body of zinc and other essential vitamins and could lead to worse breakouts once you eventually stop the pill. It only masks the problem.

    Two terrific online resources that I recommend to improve your hormone health and your skin are and Please check them out. I followed Tracy's programs when initially starting my clear skin journey.


  7. Thank you dear.feeling better hearing from u.i am hopeful,waiting for beautiful skin.

  8. Dear,should i take zinc everyday for my oily skin and acne with berberine?if yes then how long should i contue the zinc treatment?

    1. Hi,
      You should be fine taking zinc daily for many months. I take 50 mg of zinc citrate, but I think the most bioavailable form of zinc is zinc picolate. You can also get zinc from food sources such as grass-fed meat and pumpkin seeds. Here's a post from Lara Briden about how Berberine and Zinc work to clear acne:

    2. do you know what the safe dosage of zinc is during pregnancy? I'm TTC and want to be able to take zinc at 30-50mg daily when pregnant and was curious if you knew if that was safe or not

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. How long should i take zinc supplement for acne??because i have read long term excess zinc causes copper deficiency.Should i intake omega 3 ,for acne??should i remove sugar from my diet ?Are you taking zinc 50 mg ,more than 3 months?

  11. Hi Meg did the thorn berbrine normalise your oily skin ??

    1. Hi there, yes it definitely did help normalise my skin. I also switched to moisturizing with oils (coconut, then hemp, and now rose hip oil), which I think helped. I've been washing my face with a tallow-based cleanser that has been great for my skin. Check out my latest blog post to read about it.

  12. Hi kaitlyn don't take zinc regardless if ur Havin baybe or not especially if your pregnant take zinc from natrual source like seeds pumpkin seeds are high in zinc why u want to take ? U don't need to as u don't have a testostrone defiancy and U take it too much U get skin issues like axne oily skin pms and dry skin and bad stuff

  13. Nothing nothing NOTHINGGG. Again, I've been doing the diet and cleansing thing for a while so I know it is the calcium - magnesium thing. Vitamins for Erection and Impotence

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