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In the never-ending quest for clear, smooth, and youthful skin, Americans spent $3 billion on skin care products in 2016. And as science and technology continue to advance, many of the most popular skin care products tout vitamins as their active ingredients. But what are the best vitamins for skin health, and what are the best ways to use them?
Below, we’ll look at six vitamins for skin health, all known to protect, heal, and/or hydrate your skin—and even battle Mother Nature. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s always wise to speak with your dermatologist and/or primary care physician before starting any skincare regimen, taking supplements, or receiving cosmetic treatments to avoid skin irritation and/or allergic reactions.
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#1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A—and its derivatives known as retinoids—is the perhaps that most popular addition to anti-aging skin products because of its ability to reduce wrinkles, fade dark spots, clear acne, and smooth roughness. Vitamin A encourages healthy skin cell production and stimulates fibroblasts, or the cells in connective skin tissue that produces collagen.
How to use it: You’ll find an endless supply of retinol creams and peels at your local drugstore or spa, but for a more effective version, see your dermatologist for a prescription cream or chemical peel. If you use retinol products during the day, apply sunscreen, since your skin will be more sensitive to UV light exposure. Foods that are rich in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, and squash.
#2. Vitamin B3
Medical experts have long been aware of vitamin B3’s key role in metabolism and heart health, but the cosmetics industry has recently embraced niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, as a moisturizer to combat aging, reduce rosacea, and fight acne. For more information about niacinamide, check out “Niacinamide, a Gentler Form of Niacin, Has Positive Benefits on Skin, Eyes, and More.”
#3. Vitamin B5
Also known as pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is often added to skin products because of its hydrating qualities. It stabilizes the skin barrier function, which keeps skin soft and elastic. It also can heal and protect your skin from irritation caused by acne, minor cuts, eczema, and sunburn.
How to use it: Vitamin B5 needs to be absorbed by the skin directly for it to be effective, so look for products that contain it.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
ZINC FOR ACNE
Because it’s technically a mineral, we couldn’t include zinc in our list of vitamins for skin health, but we also couldn’t ignore what it can do for acne, which can affect teens and adults alike.
Studies show that there’s an association between acne and low levels of zinc, which is necessary for the normal development of skin tissue. Zinc inhibits the bacteria responsible for many acne symptoms and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. For more information about zinc and other ways to heal acne naturally, check out “Top Minerals and Vitamins That Help Acne.”
#4. Vitamin C
Just as vitamin C can act as a barrier against viruses that try to invade your body, it can also protect your skin against UV light exposure, which can cause wrinkling, age spots, and roughness. Vitamin C can also stimulate the production of collagen, which further supports the look and feel of your skin. Additional studies show that vitamin C can also decrease your risk of developing dry skin and help accelerate wound healing. To learn about additional vitamin C benefits, check out “Vitamin C Benefits Protect Us Against Heart Disease—and Lower the Risk of Early Death.”
#5. Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, vitamin E acts as a protector against free radicals and UV light exposure, which makes it an important ingredient in anti-aging products. The two vitamins are often combined as a natural form of sun protection. Vitamin E can also help your skin retain its natural moisture.
How to use it: Vitamin E oil is often added topically to skin, hair, and nails, but it can also be thick and greasy, so be careful if you’re prone to acne breakouts. If you have oily skin, try vitamin E capsules or fortified foods, such as juice and cereal, as alternatives. Vitamin E is also found in vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
#6. Vitamin K
Vitamin K has been proven to improve a variety of skin conditions due to its ability to aid in the healing wounds and bruises. Dermatologists often recommend vitamin K to treat under-eye circles, dark spots, spider veins, scars, and stretch marks.
How to use it: Apply topically to affected areas at night. You can also increase your vitamin K intake by eating lettuce, cabbage, spinach, kale, and green beans.
Vitamins for Skin Health: The Great Debate
While there is adequate research supporting vitamins’ effect on skin health, there’s also research showing that taking supplements for skin health might be a waste of money.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, there are only a few well-conducted human trials that support benefits for the skin as the result of taking vitamins.
“While there is a body of research on the science of skin aging, evidence for the benefit of nutraceuticals to skin appearance is currently not strong enough to draw firm conclusions,” Ayela Spiro, nutrition science manager at the BNF, said.
The American Academy of Dermatology is more optimistic about the use of vitamins for skin health but advises people to support their skin care regimen by nourishing the body from within.
“Healthy eating habits appear to be a valuable tool to reduce the signs of skin aging as well as the management of certain skin conditions,” said Patricia Farris, MD, FAAD, clinical professor of dermatology at the Tulane University School of Medicine. “Many dermatologists are involved in the groundbreaking research exploring the benefits of nutricosmetics to the skin.
“While the science behind nutrition, supplementation, and the skin is still evolving, research suggests a diet high in antioxidants and healthy fats and low in sugars, refined carbohydrates and bad fats may help the skin look younger,” Dr. Farris adds. “A board-certified dermatologist can answer questions about how nutrition and supplementation may play a role in your skin health or in managing a skin condition.”