While they’re not a cure for acne, vitamins are important for the skin and make one of the best and most powerful allies for ensuring overall good health. And while we've already covered the benefits of vitamin E (including its oil and capsule form), vitamin C, and vitamin B for acne, more vitamins remain.
Today, we’ll go over the benefits and effects of vitamin A for acne vulgaris.
Vitamin A is actually not a single compound but a group of several nutritional, organic, and antioxidative compounds. It's important for the development and growth of the human body and will help you maintain good vision and strengthen the immune system. Not only that - vitamin A can also help you get rid of acne.
Composed of retinoic acid, retinol, retinal, and several other provitamin A carotenoids, vitamin A (and its constituent substances) are naturally available. Fruits and vegetables that are orange or yellow in color pack significant amounts of vitamin A. But yellow and orange aren’t the only indicators of this vitamin - there are also other foods rich in vitamin A, like leafy greens.
Since its full of antioxidant properties, vitamin A plays an important role in promoting better skin health and boosting our body’s immunity. It fights free radicals and, in doing so, minimizes naturally-caused damage to our cells and tissues. Vitamin A also has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it can help you achieve a younger look.
It's no wonder that vitamin A is widely used in acne treatment, skincare, and anti-acne products.
You've probably heard the words retinol and retinoids used by dermatologists or in product commercials, so let’s see what that's all about.
The properties and effectiveness of this essential nutrient will largely depend on which of its compounds you're trying to use. There are two broad types of vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. So what are the differences, and how do they affect our skin and our overall health?
This type of vitamin A is also called a “preformed” Vitamin A. Why? Its main sources come from animals, who have already formed it inside their bodies. Sources for retinoids include any meat, dairy, eggs, and other types of animal products.
But why are retinoids so widely used in skin care and anti-acne industries? Well, it’s because they are the only type of “biologically activated” vitamin A. This means it begins working immediately after digestion. There are no additional steps for your body to take to harness the benefits of this type of vitamin A, which is also known as a retinoid.
Does retinoid sound familiar? We bet it does. After all, it's specifically retinol (isotretinoin) that's used in some of the most powerful prescribed acne medications, like Accutane and Roaccutane. These medications treat cystic acne, the most severe type of acne, and are very effective.
However, while vitamin A is useful for treating acne, can it improve acne scars? Rest easy because medications like Accutane and Roaccutane can also cure acne scars of even the most severe type. However, there are several potential side effects that often dissuade people from undergoing therapy. But more on that later.
Remember when the doctors would tell you to eat more carrots to be healthy and improve your eyesight? Or was it your parents who told you that if you need vitamin A, you should grab a carrot or drink some carrot juice? And what about the famous beta-carotene compound you have undoubtedly seen slapped on some sunscreen bottles?
Carotenoids, also called tetraterpenoids, are organic pigments found in vitamin A. Remember when we said that vitamin A is mostly found in yellow vegetables and fruits? That is exactly because those plants are rich in carotenoids, which are, in turn, a part of the vitamin A complex of substances. Carotenoids give those bright, intense oranges and yellows of carrots, bananas, oranges, corn, daffodils, and even egg yolks.
However, while carotenoids aren’t as effective and useful for the skin as retinoids, they still provide many health benefits. There are over 600 variations of carotenoids in existence, but our bodies can only make use of a small selection of those. According to dermatology research, it's estimated that around a third of all vitamin A intake through food actually falls to carotenoids. Which, if you take into account that we eat eggs, carrots, bananas, oranges, yellow peppers, and so on, it isn’t that odd.
What are the benefits of this vitamin for acne?
Vitamin A plays many significant roles in the functioning of the human body and its processes. It helps improve vision, aids in cell growth, regulates bone development, aids in reproduction, and ensures your immunity is working properly. But there are additional benefits - especially for our skin.
When it comes to skin health, the benefits of vitamin A and its compounds boil down to it being a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants help track and remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are a range of substances that cause so-called oxidative stress within our cells and tissues.
Besides doing all sorts of cell damage, the oxidative stress caused by free radicals can clog pour pores. This is because oxidative stress can also impact our skin’s sebaceous glands, causing them to go into overdrive and produce excessive amounts of sebum. This, combined with dead skin cells and dirt, leads to clogged pores. And on top of that, the sebum is a tasty treat for the acne-causing bacteria - P. acnes. Before you know it, you've had a breakout.
Vitamin A works to prevent this. It removes free radicals from the skin and regulates the production of sebum. This makes it practically impossible for pores to be clogged, eliminating the chance of acne inflammation.
If you recall, Vitamin A compounds are classified into retinoids and carotenoids.
That property of retinols and retinoids is exactly why they're widely used in acne treatments. They can come in two types: prescribed medications that you need to take orally (i.e., pills and tablets), or topical treatments and medications, which come in the shape of topical creams, gels, ointments, and so on.
Now, the so-called “biologically active” ingredient in topical retinoids are two substances called tretinoin and isotretinoin. Tretinoin is found in the (usually topical treatment) Retin-A, and isotretinoin is the main ingredient in one of the most popular acne medications, Accutane.
Isotretinoin is a powerful analog of vitamin A. This is why medications that employ it to treat acne require many tests and precautions. This form of vitamin A is so powerful that it works down to the cellular level and its DNA. Isotretinoin activates a set of genes that make skin cells mature faster and induces rapid skin cell growth in the epidermis - the surface layer of the skin. This will help you achieve healthy skin.
It's also one of the most efficient uses of vitamin A for acne scars. Thus vitamin A, or this specific type of it, the retinoid isotretinoin, acts as a reconstruction crew for the skin.
However, that's also why Accutane can cause so many side effects, complications, and even birth defects; because their main compound, the activated Vitamin A, is so impactful.
Despite this, Accutane and isotretinoin remain among the most potent cures for even the most severe type of acne, the cystic ones. Treatment can last up to 6 months, but the success rates are pretty solid - Accutane and Roaccutane clear acne 85% of the time. If you want to learn more about isotretinoin, visit our in-depth article about Accutane for acne.
Vitamin A isn’t only found in oral medications and dietary supplements. As we mentioned above, topical retinoids are also employed in many skin care and anti-acne products.
Here are some of the most common ones:
This is one of the most widely available types of topical vitamin A found in skin care products. Retinol is soluble, so it can easily penetrate the skin and travel around the body through the bloodstream. Retinol begins acting immediately, removing free radicals and regenerating layers of the skin. If you're looking for effective topical formulas containing retinol, try this Misumi Retinol Intense Repair PM Creme.
This compound, while not vitamin A as such, is readily converted into the preformed, readily usable form of topical vitamin A once it comes into contact with the skin. Although most of it will not be absorbed or used, this is one of the most common uses of topical vitamin A for acne. Retinyl Acetate can be found in various skin care and anti-acne products, reducing breakouts and evening-out skin tone.
If you have bought an acne treatment that boasts of containing this substance, you’ve been scammed. While this compound does exist and is very useful, it can only be formed within the cells of the human body. Avoid products that claim they have retinoid acid and that those are effective. It’s just throwing your money to the wind.
Before testing out a new skin care product, always do a patch test. This is especially important if you suffer from skin sensitivity or severe to moderate acne. It'll help you reduce skin irritation in the long run, helping you find the right products to give you healthier skin.
On the surface, vitamin A is a pretty harmless compound and actually essential for healthy human functioning. However, too much vitamin A can cause hypervitaminosis.
Hypervitaminosis A can cause changes in appetite, headaches, irritability, drowsiness, blurred vision, and liver damage. Additionally, prolonged periods of hypervitaminosis A can even cause skin conditions and calcification of the heart valves. When taken in highly concentrated forms, such as in prescribed medications for severe cystic acne, vitamin A can even lead to birth defects in pregnant women.
However, all of that applies only to retinol and retinoid variants of vitamin A, the so-called preformed types of vitamin A. While these can be found in fish, meat, and dairy products, it's doubtful you'll eat enough of these to end up with hypervitaminosis A. Certain medications and oral vitamin supplements carry high doses of preformed vitamin A but remember, too much vitamin A can cause hypervitaminosis.
Since vitamin A is present in almost anything, ranging from various fruits and vegetables to almost any meat, most people have a healthy dose of it. Therefore, Vitamin A deficiency is rare but can still happen.
The recommended dosage for Vitamin A in adults is 700 mcg for women and 900 mcg for men, but those numbers are kinda low and meant for compensating any lack of diet. Since most people have vitamin A inside them, the lower doses will ensure that a healthy level is reached without causing hypervitaminosis.
Regarding the right vitamin A dosage to treat acne, some medical and health experts recommend 5,000 IU of vitamin A every day. Those levels can be reached by following a rich, diverse diet of meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. However, your doctor and dermatologist will sometimes recommend a higher vitamin A dosage to treat severe acne.
When taking this vitamin, there are some things you need to be aware of.
In the rare cases where there is a vitamin A deficiency, it turns out that one of the main causes is a zinc deficiency. Zinc plays a crucial role in skin care - more precisely, in transporting and metabolizing vitamin A throughout the human body.
You can have healthy and even excessive amounts of vitamin A within you, but if there's too little zinc to go around, guess what? All that Vitamin A will be for naught and won’t be used. So, if you want to use the benefits of vitamin A to its fullest extent, ensure your zinc levels are on par.
Vitamin A plays a significant role in skincare, the fight against acne, and ensuring you have good overall human health and a strong overall immune system. When it comes to using vitamin A for acne and skin improvement, it's important to be aware of the two categories of vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids.
While carotenoids are great for healthy eyesight and carrots are tasty to munch on, they're mostly useless when fighting acne and improving your skin. Those areas are reserved for retinols and retinoids - the preformed, biologically activated forms of vitamin A. Both come in variants that can be used orally and topically.
Retinoids and retinols are powerful allies when treating acne, but that power can sometimes cause certain side effects. You should always consult your doctor and dermatologist before taking vitamin A supplements or retinoid medications. Furthermore, if you have hormonal acne rather than inflammatory acne, you may require a different treatment approach.
Overall, vitamin A is one of the key helpers in fighting acne vulgaris and ensuring good skin health. While it’s not a magic formula for curing acne, it's an important part of the equation.