Low Iron & Acne Woes: What You Must Know

Can low iron cause acne

Can low iron cause acne?
While there is no direct evidence linking low iron levels to acne, maintaining balanced iron through a healthy diet, especially rich in non-heme iron from plant sources, can contribute to overall skin health. Women experiencing acne, particularly adult acne, may benefit from assessing their iron and vitamin levels and adopting a holistic approach that includes stress management.


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Can low iron cause acne? Understanding the intricate relationship between our diet, nutrient intake, and skin health is key to addressing these concerns. Today, we explore how iron levels and nutritional factors play a role in maintaining not only our overall well-being but also the health and appearance of our skin.

What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is a widespread issue, particularly among women of reproductive age. It’s characterised by the body’s inability to maintain enough iron to meet its needs, leading to various symptoms and conditions, including inadequate production of red blood cells and nutritional anaemia. Nutritional anaemia, often stemming from insufficient intake of iron, folate, and vitamin B12, can manifest in several ways, including irritability, fatigue, shortness of breath, brittle nails.

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Iron’s Impact on Your Skin

For women, this deficiency is more than just a health concern; it can directly impact their skin. The link between iron deficiency and skin health is complex. While the body requires iron for various functions, including the formation of haemoglobin for oxygen transport, a lack of iron can lead to skin problems. These issues may range from pale skin to delayed wound healing.

Woman with pale skin

Interestingly, iron deficiency is also very common in women of reproductive age, a group already prone to postadolescent acne. This form of acne persists or emerges after the age of 25 and affects a significant percentage of women. The relationship between iron deficiency and skin health becomes even more relevant when considering the added factor of emotional stress, often a major etiological factor in adult acne. Stress can lead to an increase in adrenal androgens, exacerbating skin issues.

Therefore, the question isn’t just about whether low iron levels directly cause acne, but how the interconnected factors of iron deficiency, stress, and hormonal changes contribute to skin health. Understanding these connections is crucial for women seeking to manage their skin conditions effectively and maintain a radiant, healthy complexion.

Iron and Acne: What’s the Connection?

So, can low iron cause acne? The connection between iron and acne development is not well understood. There isn’t much research to explain if or how iron impacts sebaceous glands and acne breakouts. These glands make oil for the skin, and their imbalances can cause acne. However, it’s unclear how iron levels might affect these glands and acne breakouts.

Low Iron Doesn’t Equal Acne

However, there are a couple studies which suggest that low iron is not a problem for your acne. One study on lactoferrin, a protein that binds iron and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, showed that lactoferrin supplements helped people with mild to moderate facial acne vulgaris. That is, by reducing iron in one’s body was helpful for acne.

Another study was about iron and inflammation. It explored serum ferritin levels (a protein in the blood that stores iron) which can be very high during situations of inflammation. Given that acne is an inflammatory condition, perhaps high iron is bad for acne. If that’s the cause, perhaps low iron is then better for acne.

Can low iron cause acne - woman with bright skin

But It Does Delay Wound Healing

Iron deficiency can affect wound healing. Iron is key for making red blood cells and carrying oxygen around your body. When you’re low on iron, your body might not get enough oxygen. This can slow down the healing of wounds.

Iron also helps your immune system and is important for making collagen. Collagen is a protein that helps wounds heal. If you don’t have enough iron, your body might not make enough collagen. This can also slow down healing.

So, if you don’t have enough iron, your wounds might take longer to heal. This is because your body needs iron to work right, especially for healing.

Iron and Vitamins in Skin Health

The role of iron and vitamins in maintaining skin health is significant and multifaceted. Iron’s primary function in the body is to aid in the production of red blood cells, which are crucial for transporting oxygen and nutrients to the skin. This process is essential for maintaining healthy, vibrant skin. 

However, when the body experiences low iron levels, it can lead to a reduction in red blood cell production, which in turn may affect skin health. This reduction can manifest as pale skin, and in some cases, contribute to delayed wound healing, and reduced collagen production.

Vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin b deficiency and folate deficiency, can also play a critical role in skin health. These vitamins are essential for cell regeneration and maintaining the integrity of skin tissue. 

Checking Your Iron Status

Recognising Signs of Iron Deficiency

Understanding your iron status is vital in managing skin health. The symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia are diverse and can include fatigue and weakness, which are also common symptoms of iron deficiency. These symptoms can affect overall well-being and may indirectly impact skin health, including the potential exacerbation of acne.

Importance of Blood Tests

To determine if you are iron deficient, a simple blood test can be conducted by a healthcare professional. This test will measure various aspects of your blood’s iron content, including haemoglobin levels and ferritin, which are indicators of your body’s iron stores. 

Blood test tubes

These tests are critical in diagnosing iron deficiency and can help guide appropriate treatment options, such as dietary changes or iron supplements, to improve overall health and potentially mitigate skin issues like acne.

Regular monitoring of iron and vitamin levels can provide invaluable insights into your overall health and help in making informed decisions about dietary and lifestyle changes for better skin health.

Dietary Sources of Iron and Vitamins

Plant-Based Iron Sources: A Safer Choice

Choosing plant-based sources of iron is a health-conscious decision, especially in light of concerns regarding heme iron found in animal products such as red meat. Studies have highlighted the link between heme iron and an increased risk of cancer. 

Woman eating plant-based food

In contrast, plant-based foods have non-heme iron, which isn’t linked to cancer risk. This makes non-heme iron, predominantly found in plant sources, the best way to increase iron in your diet for clearer skin whilst ensuring long-term health and well-being.

Iron-Rich Foods

A variety of plant foods offer rich sources of iron. 

  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale are not only packed with iron but also come with a host of other nutrients. 
  • Legumes, including lentils and chickpeas, are excellent for a plant-based diet, providing substantial iron content. 
  • Additionally, iron-fortified foods such as certain cereals and grains can help boost your daily iron intake.
Leafy green smoothie

Enhancing Iron Absorption with Vitamin C

To maximise the benefits of plant-based iron, it’s beneficial to combine these foods with those high in vitamin C. This combination enhances iron absorption, making it more bioavailable to the body. 

For instance, pairing spinach with citrus fruits or bell peppers can make for both a delicious and nutritionally synergistic meal.

Dietary Iron Over Supplements

Opting for dietary sources over iron supplementation is generally safer and offers a more holistic approach to health. Natural food sources help avoid the risks associated with excess iron intake that can occur with supplements. Moreover, a balanced diet offers a spectrum of nutrients and health benefits that supplements alone cannot provide.

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Impact on Skin Health

For those dealing with acne breakouts or concerned about overall skin health, incorporating a variety of plant-based iron sources can be beneficial. A plant-based diet, rich in essential vitamins and minerals, supports not only clearer skin but also overall health.

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Lifestyle and Acne Management

Managing acne, especially in the context of adult acne, often requires a holistic approach that includes lifestyle choices. 

Stress Management

Stress is a known factor that can exacerbate acne, particularly in adults. Implementing stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help in reducing stress levels.

can low iron cause acne - Woman with cup of tea

Stay Hydrated

Additionally, lifestyle choices like maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and avoiding skin irritants can also play a significant role in acne management. 


It’s important to adopt a skincare routine that suits your skin type and addresses your specific skin concerns. Regular cleansing, using non-comedogenic products, and avoiding excessive exfoliation can help maintain skin health.

Can low iron cause acne?

The potential link between iron and vitamin deficiencies and acne, especially in adult women, highlights the importance of a well-rounded approach to skin health. While the direct connection between these nutritional factors and acne should still be explored, ensuring a balanced intake of essential nutrients through a healthy diet can be beneficial. However the science may suggest no regarding can low iron cause acne.

Women, particularly those experiencing adult acne, should consider both dietary and lifestyle factors in managing their skin health. Given the complexities of skin conditions, seeking professional medical advice for personalised care and treatment is always recommended. This approach not only addresses immediate skin concerns but also contributes to overall health and well-being.


Alharbi NM, AlGhofaili FA, Alsaud JS, et al. The Relationship Between Nutritional Anemia and Acne: A Case-Control Study. Cureus. 2023;15(5):e39109. Published 2023 May 16. doi:10.7759/cureus.39109

Balta I, Ekiz O, Ozuguz P, et al. Nutritional anemia in reproductive age women with postadolescent acne. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2013;32(3):200-203. doi:10.3109/15569527.2012.751393

Mueller EA, Trapp S, Frentzel A, Kirch W, Brantl V. Efficacy and tolerability of oral lactoferrin supplementation in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: an exploratory study. Curr Med Res Opin. 2011;27(4):793-797. doi:10.1185/03007995.2011.557720

Risk Associated with Iron Supplements video

Wright JA, Richards T, Srai SK. The role of iron in the skin and cutaneous wound healing. Front Pharmacol. 2014;5:156. Published 2014 Jul 10. doi:10.3389/fphar.2014.00156