When all of the lotions, potions, and spot treatments don't get rid of acne, it can feel like you're out of options. That's how I felt when I was struggling with hormonal acne in my late 20s. Cutting out dairy for almost a year didn't work and neither did any of the benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid products I tried. While I was desperate for clearer skin, I wasn't willing to go on the pill or Accutane because of the potential side effects, so I started researching other alternative treatments.
During one late-night Google session I came across DIM, a natural supplement that according to blogs and Reddit threads, can cure hormonal acne. Ultimately, I ended up turning to a dermatologist who suggested I try spironolactone, a cardiovascular drug that's used off-label for hormonal acne. It worked, but in an effort to make my entire beauty routine as clean as possible, and hearing from a few friends how well DIM worked for them, I'm considering switching to the supplement.
To find out exactly what DIM is and why the Internet sings its praises as a natural hormonal acne treatment, I turned to Nicole Jardim aka The Period Girl, a women's health and functional nutrition coach to get all the intel.
So, What Is DIM?
DIM is short for diindolylmethane, a metabolite of Indole 3 Carbinol (I3C). It's a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, which are members of the brassica food family. Jardim says that since DIM is the most studied metabolite of I3C, using it has become popular.
How Does DIM Work for Hormonal Acne?
DIM blocks androgen receptors so it stops male hormones like testosterone from getting into the receptor, and the negative effects it has on the body (like instigating acne).
"It also helps to improve symptoms of estrogen dominance like emotional PMS symptoms and heavy or long periods because it supports and ultimately improves the process of estrogen breakdown by the liver," explains Jardim. "Once estrogen is broken down properly, it can be removed from the body more effectively."
What Are the Side Effects?
Jardim says that DIM is generally pretty safe. Some short term side effects include fatigue and headaches that can last a few days to a week. Your urine may be darker, too. This is harmless and will go away once you stop taking DIM.
DIM can also potentially effect your period. "I would say about 10% of my clients who have used DIM see a change in their menstrual cycle," says Jardim. “Some of them have developed shorter menstrual cycles, others developed longer periods, and a few got their period twice in one month. Not ideal, so I suggest stopping DIM if something like this happens."
How Do You Choose the Right DIM Supplement?
If you search DIM on Amazon, you'll get a ton of options, so how do you know which one you should add to your cart? Jardim says that it's important to purchase supplements from "companies that source the best ingredients and ensure high quality final products with third party certification." Her favorites include BioResponse DIM 75, Designs for Health DIM-Evail, and Pure Encapsulations DIM Pro.
VIDEO: 5 Important Facts Every Woman Needs to Know About Her Period
How Long Does DIM Take to Work?
Everyone's different, so how long it takes to see results can vary. Jardim says she's seen clients experience an improvement in their acne in just a few days, while for some it took a month for DIM to kick in.
"Typical recommended dosage for DIM is 75-150 mg a day for 30 days," she explains. "I always like to err on the side of caution, and suggest starting with the lowest recommended dose to mitigate any potential side effects. And at the end of the day, you want to get the best result with the least amount of supplement consumed."
Since there's been no long term studies done on DIM, Jardim recommends consulting with you doctor first before taking it. "It is always advised to consult with your functional or naturopathic doctor if you are starting a new supplement, especially if you are on any medications," she says. "I would not recommend using DIM while pregnant."
Will Acne Come Back If You Stop Taking DIM?
The reality is that it's possible. "As a women’s health coach with a focus on long-term health, I feel supplements like DIM should be used in a medicinal way, meaning that they should be used in conjunction with dietary changes so that they provide a bit of a bridge to healthier hormones," Jardim explains. "If you have had ongoing acne or you have recently developed it, there is a reason for that and it’s important to explore why. If you have elevated androgens (testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, DHEA), it is often because something has gone awry with your body’s carefully orchestrated hormonal system."
The bottom line: Pay attention to what else going on with your body. It's possible that your acne is just one symptom of a hormonal imbalance, an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.