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How I induced cystic acne in myself

cystic acne, iron, vitamin A, zinc

(Last updated April 2023.)

Except for several regrettable weeks in 1995 when I was drinking seven cans of Pepsi a day, I have rarely been bothered by anything but the occasional pimple despite heavy chocolate abuse, which I’m guessing is offset by my heavy water drinking.

Another attempt to raise iron levels

But then ten years ago, in a desperate attempt to get some energy, I started taking about 100 mg of iron a day. I had taken iron off and on, sometimes for years at a time, sometimes at 150 mgs at a time, but had never been able to get my ferritin levels past 26. Conventional doctors feel this number is fine, but… don’t get me started on how stupid lab ranges are. Even though iron had done nothing for me in the past before except energize me for two days and then disable me with zombie brain and splitting headaches, I tried it one more time for about a week.

Vertigo AND acne

I was rewarded with all new reactions: the kind of vertigo that makes you have to throw up when you stand up, and the kind of acne that erupts even under the hair in large, painful cysts. Since I’d been eating poorly and avoiding supplements for two years — from constant exhaustion, and because the whole nutritional therapy thing really can be a pain in the ass — I knew I was most likely deficient in a whole lotta stuff. I figured the iron was outcompeting other nutrients.

… and dry eyes!

First, obviously, I quit the iron. The vertigo got better but still hung on. Since I was also experiencing dry eyes, which I had learned earlier was what happens when my vitamin A levels fall, and since vitamin A was one of the nutrients that competes with iron, I thought I’d start with that. I did an internet search for an association with vertigo, found it, and decided to try 30,000 IU a day. The vertigo went away in about three days. I kept taking a smaller dose for a few weeks, until it, too, gave me headaches.

This also put a small dent in the acne, but not enough. It was a very minor case compared to what some people experience, but still, it did not go away for weeks and I had the scars for A YEAR. My friend suffered this several times a year and always ended up going to the dermatologist for a cortisone shot, but my insurance wouldn’t cover that.

Throwing a lot of zinc at it

Zinc is closely associated with acne (as is vitamin A) but I didn’t think of this for a while because for years my first sign of lower zinc levels would be a plummeting mood, which I did not have, except for the normal feeling you get when you have to appear in public looking like a disfigured freak. (This is another example of how your deficiency symptoms will change over time.) I finally got wise and looked online at a bunch of forums on the subject and decided to try 90 mg a day for a while. The acne was gone in four days (having lingered for weeks up to that point). I kept taking a smaller dose for several weeks — 50 mg and then 25 mg.

Gotta keep taking it

After that lovely episode, I remembered that in high school and college I would get a much milder case of these cysts, in the same place every time. (But not in the places I had them for this episode.) According to acne.org, “unresolved nodules can sometimes leave an impaction behind, which can flare again and again.” That might be an argument for taking the zinc long after the cyst disappears, to make sure you’re getting rid of all the crap that lies beneath.

In my later self-experiment with super-mega-walloping doses of iodine, the zinc/acne issue was also a problem, but 25 mg every other day was enough to prevent it.

When this content was published

The content on this page was first posted in May 2011 and updated in March 2019 and April 2023.

22 thoughts on “How I induced cystic acne in myself”

  1. Please don’t pay much attention at all to ferritin. Mine was 8 and I felt fine (energy wise) for 15 years. The doctors all badgered me to take iron but after my life was destroyed by accutane and then other drugs by doctors I learned to ignore them and not touch anything on a prescription pad. I donated blood (at the blood donation clinics here they are smart enough not to test ferritin but only test hemoglobin). My hemoglobin was always fine, except once, and they told me to eat some dried apricots and I came back and it was fine. . Was fine, until (ironically) and antiaging doctor (IRONically because iron is extremely ageing) finally convinced me to take iron. All hell broke loose in my body and I had a whole cluster of major health issues. I learned from watching morley robbins “rethinking iron” videos on youtube and his 70+ iron toxicity posts that iron was the cause of all these new health issues. I also learned that those who have low iron in the blood generally always have high iron in the tissues. If you were taking all those bottles or iron where do you think it went? It probably went into the tissues as toxic free iron. People who have low iron often have low vitamin A, low bioavailable copper and low ceruloplasmin which is needed to make iron bound in blood and bioavailable. So what health issues did I get? I noticed I was starting to almost get hypothyroid while taking the iron which has never happened to me before, but that seemed to get back to normal after quitting the iron. (Iron causes extreme oxidative stress when it is not bound and gets pushed out to the tissues and where ever it ends up it causes damage and destruction.) I also developed severe sulfur intolerance (which I still have). It is the genetic kind (c699t) and I found out oxicative stress is what turns on these genes. That gene was turned off all my life until I took a bottle of iron. Oxicative stress also turns on cancer genes. I also got chronic infections and discharge (iron feeds parasites). Didn’t help my candida (iron feeds candida). I also got leaky gut and food intolerance and would develop tendonitis if I ate chocolate. I’ve been working for over 2.5 years now to get rid of this damned iron out of my tissues. It’s very hard to get rid of. Best way to get rid of iron is blood donations or menstruation. But if it’s trapped in the tissues and not bound in the blood it is very hard to get it out. I take vitamin a but I think the accutane I took 20+ years ago blocks the real vitamin a from working in my body, and I think accutane gets stored in the fat cells indefinately and blocks real vitamin a. So I’m still in trouble and still struggling to make this damned free iron bound and get it into my blood and out of my tissues. Grassfed beef liver or food sources of iron is the only safe way to get iron. Why don’t these stupid doctors ever suggest eating liver?

    • Thank you for that info. I have also found that iron supplements mess things up for me. I recently learned of parasites’ affinity for iron so I tried liver pills. Over the years I’ve used a lot of milk thistle, molybdenum, lactoferrin, and binders which hopefully eliminated some of the tissue iron. My ferritin levels have always corresponded pretty closely to how I feel, while hemoglobin does not. BTW, if you haven’t seen it already, I have a post on having to juggle zinc and iron while on Armour.

  2. Thank you very much the feedback. Its expensive and Im wondering if its worth it. Did it clear sinuses permanently?
    And did you have a brand you preferred? Apolactoferrin or regular?
    Any experience with colostrum?

    I discovered that either vitamin D or berberine keeps the cysts away, Im assuming this is gut related. Any insight with these? I never got around to trying the other supplement you recommended since these two worked in just a day. Fastest results ever.

    • Yes, the lactoferrin supplements do add up. I started with Life Extension’s apolactoferrin and then when it worked tried switching to colostrum and then non-apolactoferrin. I don’t remember the exact results except that I decided to stick with the apolactoferrin …… It was two years of methylation supplements that seemed to permanently clear my sinuses. Knock on wood ……… That is amazing about the vitamin D and berberine. I have to remember that. I have no experience with berberine, but I am convinced that getting a ton of sun exposure in the summer of 2015, especially on my torso, improved my health significantly in several ways …. Isn’t there a relationship between D and folate? If the production of D from sun increases, folate decreases. Don’t quote me.

    • For about a year I took a lot of it every day because it cleared out my sinuses and helped my brain fog. I’ve also tried it as a way to get iron when my ferritin level was abysmally low, and it was better than nothing, but not great. Now I use it when I get a yeast infection and the milder candida reactions I get from corn syrup, and it handles it pretty quickly.

  3. If your struggeling to get your iron level up you may actually need copper. your body can not process the iron with out enough copper.

    • Thank you, Amy. I actually seemed to run too high in copper. I believe the problem was systemic inflammation caused by an environmental toxin. It became quite easy to raise my iron levels once I attacked that issue.

  4. Hello! I’m anemic and have bad menstrual cycles. I’ve been struggling from cystic acne for almost one year now. My doctor recommended that I take Ferraplus 90mg only when I have my cycle (once a day for five days) because I’ve been able to get the anemia to normal levels through food.

    I’ve been noticing that when I take the Ferraplus 90mg I develop these huge painful cysts around my mouth, cheeks and jawline. I’m using topical acne medication which is helping tremendously with the acne so I’m starting to think that the problem may be the iron tablets.

    The ingredients are: Docusate Sodium 50 mg
    Folic Acid 1 mg
    Iron (Carbonyl iron) 90 mg
    Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) 12 mcg
    Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) 120 mg

    Is the zinc still working for you? What else do you recommend? Thank you.

    • I’m afraid I can’t offer any other suggestions, as zinc is the only thing I’ve tried for cystic acne. I’m back on iron again — 195 mg/day — which seems to be working for the first time in decades. (I’m assuming this is attributable to a huge reduction in systemic inflammation after 18 months of mold avoidance.) I actually forgot all about the cystic acne problem, but for the first month on iron I also took 120 mgs of zinc a day to avoid mild mood effects and sinus inflammation. So far no acne. I recently cut the zinc down by a third, so we’ll see what happens… BTW the commenter “ing” has a suggestion below about lysine and proline, although I never tried it myself.

  5. It’s challenging to get your iron levels up. I’ve found it takes a combo of all cofactors–folate, B12, B6, and even copper. (Numerous sites say everyone is high in copper, but a hair mineral analysis showed me as extremely low.) I’m about to try lactoferrin, which binds iron and gets it to the liver and cells….

    My cravings, weak fingernails, low adrenals, and tinnius have all been significantly impacted by raising my iron levels (which are still below 50–I’m aiming for 70).

    • try some liver..I too was looking for co-factors for raising iron (and for raising b12 and folate) 100 grams of liver contains all of the cofactors and iron with RDA of 100% or more!

  6. discovered lysine and proline get rid of those under skin impactions in a week. Used to hang around for months! And no more cysts as long as I keep taking them.
    Do you know why lysine and proline work? Lysine worked by itself and when I added proline effects were better.

    • I take 1000mg each per day. Worked in three days. I usually get three cysts per month; none since starting. Ive read about it working for acne before on acne.org just never tried it. Kicking myself.

  7. Came across this today and wanted to say its very interesting. I have hydragenitis and suffered some cystic acne and I recently stopped drinking MILK. I have not had a cyst since!! I still break out a little on my face but my cysts have stopped flaring up. I started drinking almond milk and eating lots of nuts of all kinds along with more fruit in my diet and I have more energy than ever but I have been having vertigo and/or dizziness quite often. I am going to look into some of the things mentioned here and try to figure out what is causing it.

    • Congratulations! Hydragenitis sounds very frustrating. Dairy used to tank my mood until I got my zinc levels up. Apparently casein binds zinc in the body. Now I drink way too many mocha drinks with no effect on my mood. (Knock on wood.) Good luck on the vertigo investigation.

    • They return if I stop taking zinc and stay off them for several months and eat badly or take a lot of iron or vitamin D. Recently I started taking 100 mg a day for other reasons (no cysts) and in a few days my skin was a lot healthier looking everywhere. I’d forgotten it used to look so much better. I can’t say about the blackheads. About 9 years ago my coworker told me to use a glycolic acid peel for a week and and THEN use those pore strip things from the drug store, and that did it for me. Before that, nothing had worked. I haven’t used either for years and the problem has not returned.

    • When I go past 10mg of zinc my skin gets dry and I cant sleep. But it does help with the cysts. Must me another mineral its blocking that Im low in. I suspect magnesium. You’re lucky with the blackheads not coming back! Neither of those cures worked form me.

  8. Ola! Marjorie,
    Thanks for the info It is well known that cystic acne can be treated and reduced by many over the counter products, conventional drugs, creams and topical treatments. The truth is that these products are not guaranteed to permanently cure your acne; in fact these treatments are designed just for battling the superficial symptoms and not the root cause of the disease. The pharmaceutical and drug companies main interest is to design a product that creates consumer dependency; this means more profit for them.
    Good Job!


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