Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science)  on 18th Nov 2020

Curious about the effects of Saw Palmetto on acne? Let’s dig into some research. 

What is saw palmetto?

If you are concerned about any personal care ingredient's real effects before beginning to include it in your routine, it is justifiable.

After a thorough and extensive review of scientific papers and clinical studies, we have brought to you this article about the benefits of saw palmetto, a much-talked-about ingredient in healthcare.

Let's look into the scientific data that has been collected over the years and debunk the myths together. But before we do so, let us see what saw palmetto is. 

What is saw palmetto? 

Saw Palmetto, also known as Serenoa repens, is a small shrub-like palm tree. It originates in the subtropical Southeastern United States and commonly grows along the South Atlantic and Gulf Coastal plains and sandhills. Saw Palmetto is the only species classified in the genus Serenoa, and it grows in sandy soil as undergrowth in pinewoods and hardwood hammocks. It produces dark berries with large seeds.

These Saw Palmetto fruits were long used by Native Americans for nutritional purposes, as a diuretic, a sedative, an antitussive, and even as an aphrodisiac. Currently, these berries are dried and ground to make tea or are also eaten as a whole.

The dried berries are also used to produce oily extracts widely used in healthcare supplement products for various purposes. The saw palmetto extract is even used in manufacturing tablets and capsules that are usually taken as nutritional supplements.

However, not all of its purported health benefits are backed by scientific evidence So, before we go any further, let's find out the facts that we know about saw palmetto. 

What do we know about it?

Over the years, scientists have conducted several research types to determine the beneficial effects of saw palmetto, the dwarf palm tree native to the Southeastern U.S. Previously, the extracts obtained from saw palmetto were used as a remedy for treating male and female reproductive diseases.

Saw palmetto products are generally well-tolerated by all individuals. Many health supplement manufacturers promote the Saw Palmetto Extracts as a dietary supplement for benign prostatic hyperplasia, chronic pelvic pain, migraine, and alopecia. However, there is not much evidence to support this claim. 

The placebo effect!  

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has conducted high-quality research to determine the effects of different preparations of saw palmetto. But the data obtained from this study could only conclude that the extracts of Saw Palmetto have not more effective than a placebo for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia or BPH.

Though there's not much information about the effects of saw palmetto, it has been claimed to have several benefits. Let's see what the claims are and how honest they are. 

Saw palmetto has been claimed to reduce acne. Let's look into some research 

Sometimes, an increase in androgenic hormones, such as testosterone in our body can cause hormonal acne. Saw palmetto extract had been claimed to influence the levels of androgenic hormones in our body. It works by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which does not affect the skin.

The spike in androgen level can also lead to a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). These hormones can stimulate sebum generation, which makes the skin acne-prone. Saw Palmetto can help reduce the severity of this condition.

In 2007, a small study was done on 20 people with oily and combination type of skin. They were given a mixture of saw palmetto extract, sesame seeds, and argan oil to be applied topically. It was found that there was a significant reduction in sebum production in the majority of the participants.

Saw palmetto might also treat the acne caused by hormonal fluctuation associated with menstruation and menopause. However, there is not much sufficient scientific data to support this claim.  

Saw Palmetto Can Nourish the Skin! 

Saw Palmetto extracts contain several fatty acids such as: 

  • Laurate 
  • Palmitate 
  • Oleate 
  • Linoleate 

These essential fatty acids help to keep the skin moisturized and nourished. They may also help in reducing irritation and calms inflammation on the skin. 

How to Use Saw Palmetto On Acne-prone Skin? 

Saw Palmetto supplements could be taken in various forms.  

  • You can consume saw palmetto berries as a part of your diet.
  • You can take nutritional supplements in the form of capsules and tablets. They also come in powder form.
  • You can also combine Saw Palmetto essential oils with another carrier oil and apply it topically on the skin. 
  • Lotions, creams, and toners are also available with Saw Palmetto extract infused in them. 

It is recommended to perform a patch test before applying saw palmetto products on your skin. If any adverse reaction occurs, consult your doctor immediately.

Saw palmetto is not a recommended acne treatment for women under 18 years. It can alter the hormonal balance in pre-and post-pubertal females. 

Saw Palmetto is said to have many other benefits. What does science tell us? 

1. May improve prostate health. 

The prostate is a tiny gland in men located between the urinary bladder and the penis and is responsible for maintaining the sperm count. Saw Palmetto has been seen to have beneficial effects on prostate health and can also prevent the development of benign prostate hyperplasia.

A test-tube study done on prostate cancer cells showed that saw palmetto berry extract can significantly decrease the proliferation of cancer cells by deactivating some specific receptors involved in cancer development. It was also found that saw palmetto can help in reducing any inflammation associated with BPH.  

2. May improve urinary tract function.

Increasing age in men can develop incontinence and difficulty in urination. Saw palmetto has been claimed to be good for the urinary symptoms associated with benign prostate hyperplasia. BPH causes enlargement of the prostate gland, which impinges the ureter, resulting in decreased urine flow.

A study was conducted on 92 men suffering from BPH. It was found that after 12 weeks of taking two capsules daily of Prostataplex, which is a herbal supplement containing saw palmetto extracts, there was a substantial improvement in the urinary tract symptoms associated with BPH. So, there is some truth to the claim.

Another research was done on 85 men over 45 years of age, all having urinary tract symptoms. They were administered 160 mg of saw palmetto twice daily.
It was seen that after six months, there was a reduction in the severity of the symptoms and an increase in urine flow. Moreover, there is still a need for more research to determine whether Saw Palmetto can have similar benefits to the general population without BPH.  

3. May help prevent Hair Loss. 

Saw Palmetto may also help in preventing male and female pattern hair loss. It does so by blocking the enzyme which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This enzyme is responsible for causing this specific type of hair loss in males and females, known as Androgenic Alopecia.

If the DHT level in the body rises, it can shorten the hair growth cycle and causes thinning of the hair strands. Saw Palmetto is claimed to reduce the production of such androgen hormones.

A study was done on men with male pattern baldness where they were given 320mg of Saw Palmetto per day or finasteride, a conventional hair growth medication. After two years, it was reported that one-third of men who received saw palmetto supplements had an increase in hair growth. The study concluded that Saw Palmetto was only half effective compared to conventional hair loss medication.

Though the results were substantially promising, there is a need for more extensive studies to make a strong statement.  

4. May help in reducing inflammation.

Saw palmetto has been found to contain a high amount of antioxidants such as epicatechin and methyl gallate. These compounds have a prominent role in preventing cell damage, reducing inflammation, and protecting against chronic diseases.

Though there is a scarcity/lack of clinical studies to support these claims, some animal studies might contribute to the statement.

A study done on mice with enlarged prostate glands saw palmetto extracts have demonstrated that it can decrease the swelling. It has also been seen that saw palmetto can reduce the count of several markers of inflammation. 

5. May help in boosting testosterone level 

Testosterone, the male hormone, has several effects on the body. It plays a crucial role in maintaining body composition, libido, psychological health, and also cognition. However, testosterone levels in men gradually decline with age. This can lead to certain conditions, like heart diseases. It has been seen that men often use saw palmetto for boosting their testosterone levels.

According to a study, it was found that Saw Palmetto decreases the activity of the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. And this preserves the testosterone in the body. A study conducted on 40 men observed that Saw Palmetto can effectively maintain the testosterone level in men after six months.  

Is Saw Palmetto Safe To Use? 

Saw Palmetto is generally considered safe to use and has little known side effects. It is well-tolerated by most individuals. However, some cases have been reported where usage of saw palmetto causes symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and constipation.

Because of its ability to alter hormone levels, saw palmetto is not recommended for people on hormone replacement therapy or hormonal contraceptives.

Pregnant and lactating women are also advised to refrain from using Saw palmetto supplements to have an undesired impact on their hormone levels.

Saw palmetto has also been found to cause interference in the action of certain blood-thinning drugs such as Warfarin and aspirin. Taking such drugs and saw palmetto simultaneously can increase the risk of uncontrolled bleeding.

Thus, if you have any pre-existing health condition, it will be wise to consult with your physician before you begin to take Saw Palmetto Supplements. 

Wrapping Up! 

The studies were done over the years on Saw Palmetto to find its effectiveness on acne, and other sebum-related skin conditions gave somewhat mixed results. Some people have reported that taking Saw Palmetto supplements has helped reduce acne, while some said there had been no apparent effect. Some even reported that it had worsened the existing condition.

Some small-scale studies have shown evidence that it can be effective in treating various health conditions. Nonetheless, there is a requirement for a lot more research and studies to support the claims confidently.