If you have acne, you've no doubt spent a lot of time trying to deal with it. Maybe you've watched those teen-centric commercials and bought up the latest Clearasil or Neutrogena product on the shelves. Maybe you've consulted with a dermatologist and have progressed through an ever-increasing series of prescription medications and staunch routines. Maybe you've gone a more holistic route and tried out some supplements, lifestyle changes, and environmental changes that might impact it.
Perhaps you've even seen the latest trend in skincare: chlorophyll.
This latest trend comes from TikTok, which has become a huge source of beauty, cosmetics, and health information. Few are as close to the forefront of the TikTok cosmetic explosion as the dermatologist Muneeb Shah, also known as @DermDoctor. Shah has shared a wide range of tips for skincare, ranging from simple and well-acknowledged to more off-the-wall. He's sort of like a Doctor Oz for Gen Z.
He has also inspired an entire industry of health professionals to start up their own accounts, some to spread information and others to shill their own products, regardless of efficacy. To be clear, we're not accusing him of spreading misinformation – in fact, he's unusually good for a popular doctor at learning and adjusting his advice – but he did inspire an entire industry of people, some of whom are less moral than he is.
Chlorophyll is undoubtedly a potent ingredient, but can it really affect your acne? Let's dig in.
What is Chlorophyll?
If you remember your science lessons from grade school, you probably know at least the basics of what chlorophyll is exactly. Specifically, it's a pigment found in everything from some kinds of algae to most plants and is responsible for their green coloration. The deeper the green, the more chlorophyll the plant has. It's an essential component of how a plant gains energy through photosynthesis, and it can also be used as a dietary supplement when it is extracted.
Chlorophyll can be consumed in two ways. The first is through vegetables. Eat green vegetables, and you take in chlorophyll.
The problem with the vegetable method is two-fold. First, many vegetables actually have a relatively low amount of chlorophyll. You need to dig into a big bowl of spinach, alfalfa, or wheatgrass to get a lot of it. Secondly, your digestive process is very good at tearing apart vegetables, particularly leafy greens, so most of that chlorophyll is broken down before it can be absorbed whole.
The second way to get chlorophyll is through supplements. Supplements are not actually chlorophyll, though, at least not always. It depends a lot on what kind of supplement you get. If you get an algae supplement, it's probably real chlorophyll. If you get something that contains "chlorophyllin", or something like a sodium copper or copper complex, you're getting a synthetic derivative of chlorophyll.
While synthetic chlorophyll still has mostly the same impact on the body, it's worth mentioning that it's copper-based rather than magnesium-based like normal chlorophyll. This may be worth mentioning, in case copper has any impact on other medications or health conditions you might be taking or dealing with. Copper is bioactive and is used in some forms of medication and even birth control, but it can also be toxic in some situations. Chlorophyllin isn't toxic, so far as we know, at least in the doses that you'd be taking it as a supplement, though. As always, consult your doctor to be certain.
How Chlorophyll is Purported to Work for Skin?
Chlorophyll is not a new substance by any means, but it is relatively new as a supplement. As such, science has done some work in studying it and has found a handful of benefits it can bring to your body. At the same time, health gurus and supplement salesmen have come up with a whole roster of health conditions they claim it can cure, often with little or no evidence to support them. Thus, it enters the pantheon of all alternative medicine.
A handful of TikTok Docs and other health figures, including bloggers, have picked up chlorophyll as the next new miracle plant to cure anything that ails you. For acne, specifically, they make a few claims. They claim it helps carry oxygen to the skin for healing. They claim it helps purify the blood so it's cleaner and better at helping your body prevent infections.
So, chlorophyll could work internally to help your body fight off acne if indeed that's how chlorophyll works, and how acne works.
What Causes Acne, Anyway?
Acne is a skin infection of a sort. It generally occurs when a hair follicle or pore becomes clogged with dirt, grime, dead skin, skin oils, or other substances. Once the pore is clogged, it becomes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Those bacteria are extremely common and live all over your skin with no issues, but when they get trapped in their ideal environment, they can fester. This causes them to breed and expand, causing that pus-filled pimple and the general skin outbreak known as acne.
Acne is actually quite well understood and can be classified as a disorder of the hair follicle, not the skin itself. Indeed, as the esthetician, Lindsey Blondin says, "Acne is 50% genetics, 25% what you're ingesting, 15% environment, and 10% skincare routine."
Does Chlorophyll Actually Work for Acne?
Let's take a look at that breakdown and see where chlorophyll might fit into it.
50% genetics. Acne being largely a genetic disorder of the hair follicles means that what you eat doesn't really matter as much as you might like. Nothing you do, nothing you eat, can change your genetics, short of actual high-end gene editing, and even that isn't really a thing outside of science fiction. Gene editing can be done on embryos – and is still a legal and ethical gray area – but it can't be done on a grown person. At least, not on a whole-body level that affects everything in a system like your skin. There are some experiments ongoing about using it to treat congenital effects like blindness, with ongoing and inconclusive results.
25% ingestion. This is where chlorophyll would take center stage, assuming it works. Diet, in general, affects every system in your body. If you eat a ton of processed foods and a ton of sugars and bad fats, you're going to end up with a variety of health issues. If you eat a general fruit and veg-filled diet, you're going to have a generally healthier time of things.
Chlorophyll is difficult to place in this, for two reasons.
First, if you're the kind of person to consider drinking chlorophyll or taking a chlorophyll supplement, you're probably already going to be working on a generally healthy diet. You might already be getting plenty of chlorophyll from the vegetables you eat or other supplements you take, though you also might not. You will also have a higher "floor" on your health, and a lower ceiling for what something like chlorophyll alone can do. You can take the supplement, and it might have a beneficial impact, but it might be more difficult to isolate and it might not be too pronounced.
Secondly, it can be difficult to tell what effect something like chlorophyll has on the body. As with most supplements, it's something that you have to take in advance and get your body used to the processing before it can have a tangible effect. This can take days, and during that time, an acne flare-up might recede on its own or through other treatments as well. This isn't something you can take like a pill that has an immediate effect, it's more like a general dietary change.
We can say one thing: a healthier diet, whether you're including a chlorophyll supplement or not, is going to have a beneficial impact on your health in innumerable ways, and thus will probably benefit acne regardless.
15% environment. Chlorophyll isn't really going to impact your environment. You can get more of it through exposure by going for walks in nature and enjoying being surrounded by plant life, but that's not really going to put it in your body unless you like to graze as you walk.
Environmental factors more apply to things like smog, humidity, and particulate in the air. Living in a dense city might be worse for your skin than living in the country. Living in a humid area might be worse than living in a dry area. Living in an area with frequent changes in temperature might be worse than living in an area with a more stable climate. There are some studies looking into this, but it's not something we can draw conclusive advice from.
10% skincare routine. There are a lot of different ways your skincare routine can impact acne. We haven't written a full guide, but we've mentioned it in some other posts, which you might find of interest. Consider:
- Whether or not collagen can help with acne.
- Why a detox or cleanse might trigger acne, and how to cope.
- Using turmeric to help clear up acne.
- The pros and cons of exfoliation, and how often you should do it.
- Different kinds of clay and mud masks you might consider.
Chlorophyll hasn't really come into our skincare advice yet, but then, that's what this very post is about, isn't it? We have a liquid chlorophyll product you might be interested in trying, after all.
Given the overall percentage breakdown, what it comes down to is that while chlorophyll can be a beneficial and helpful nutrient, it's a relatively minor part of the disease known as acne, and it may or may not have a significant impact. Frankly, it's a little hard to tell, and there haven't been a ton of studies performed into this effect specifically.
What Else is Chlorophyll Good For?
We want to make it clear that chlorophyll is absolutely not a useless or empty supplement. It's not a scam, it's just maybe a little overblown in its benefits. We aren't scientists, but we know how to cite them, so let's take a look around.
First up, we can go right back to the TikTok Doc himself, Shah. Shah says that "The actual benefits of drinking liquid chlorophyll are minimal" and he has debunked some of the more outrageous claims. No, chlorophyll will not clear up wrinkles or get rid of acne entirely. It's worth noting, though, that Shah is a dermatologist, and is speaking solely about how it affects the skin. Chlorophyll is more than skin deep.
A study performed by Oregon State University nearly a decade ago found that chlorophyll has a sort of double-edged effect on cancer. When taken regularly, chlorophyll can help prevent cancer from a normal, moderate level of carcinogens found in the environment. However, in an environment with high levels of carcinogens – such as very high exposure levels to something like a pesticide – chlorophyll can actually increase cancer levels. Of course, if you're spending a lot of time in an environment with high carcinogen levels, you should probably be taking other precautions to isolate and protect yourself.
Another study showed that a topical application of chlorophyll, in the form of skin cream or lotion, can help protect your skin from aging. It's not a dramatic effect – it's more like a low-SPF sunblock – but it's there.
There's also evidence to suggest that chlorophyll can help control body odor and that it can enhance wound healing. It might also be able to help your liver function more smoothly and clean your blood more effectively, like a minor additional detox without the harshness of an actual detox.
At the end of the day, what should you do if you have acne? There are a handful of steps you can take.
- Shift your diet to be healthier if possible. Eat more fruits and veggies throughout the day, and consider taking a multivitamin or a supplement regimen that includes healthy boosters like chlorophyll.
- Try to limit your environmental exposure to skin-damaging elements. Protect yourself from the sun, keep your skin clean, and use ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to exfoliate, cleanse, and kill off the bacteria that cause acne.
- Get more Vitamin A and Vitamin C in your diet. These two vitamins are essential at keeping your skin healthy, so you definitely want to make sure you get enough.
Drinking chlorophyll won't be a miracle cure for acne, but it can have a beneficial effect on the health of your skin, and it certainly won't hurt you to consume, so feel free to give it a try for the other benefits involved!