Vitamins for Skin Health

Benefits, Risks, and Research

Your body needs vitamins to function. Someone who is vitamin deficient can have all sorts of problems. Sometimes, a deficiency can be very noticeable because it affects the appearance of the skin.

Certain vitamins are particularly vital for skin health. That said, popping a multivitamin or slathering your face in vitamin-infused skincare products doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up with glowing skin.

Much of our skin’s appearance is determined by genetics. And while a deficiency might make your skin appear less healthy, taking vitamins won’t necessarily do much unless you’re sorely deficient.

The benefits of topical vitamin-based skin care are somewhat unclear. There’s some evidence that certain vitamin serums may help reduce signs of aging due to sun exposure, pollution, and smoking. However, like with supplements, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see results. What works for you may not work for someone else.

Young woman washing her face
MOAimage / Getty Images 

What Are Vitamins for Skin Care?

Not all vitamins have an impact on skin health. However, some, like vitamin E and vitamin C, play an essential part in the skin’s ability to repair itself. 

Most of the research on vitamins for skincare is inconclusive or limited. The reality is that the most important way to support skin health is to eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins. A healthy body, in turn, helps support healthy skin. Your skin can often be a window to your insides. Yellowed, jaundiced skin, for instance, can be a sign of liver damage.

Popping supplements and applying vitamin-infused creams and lotions to the skin can help, especially when a person is deficient. Some topical vitamin-containing serums can also help reduce scarring and sunspots. But a healthy diet is the best way to get the vitamins your body needs to prevent and repair skin damage.

If you have a particular skin condition, like acne or eczema, you should speak to a dermatologist before adding supplements and topicals to your skincare regimen. They may have an adverse effect and further irritate the skin.

Essential Vitamins for Skin Care

Here’s a breakdown that covers how different vitamins play a role in skin health. For the most part, more research is required to understand the direct correlation between ingesting or topically applying these vitamins and skin health.

Remember, you can get all these vitamins via a healthy diet. They’re readily available in many whole food sources.

Vitamin A

A form of vitamin A called retinol is one of the most popular skincare ingredients on the market. There’s significant clinical evidence that shows it can help limit the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also can increase the rate at which skin repairs and heals itself.

Unfortunately, topical formulations do tend to cause skin irritation. If you have sensitive skin, do a skin patch test and start with a product that isn't very concentrated.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant that plays a role in building collagen. Research on how it affects the skin is still quite limited, but there’s some evidence that it can limit UV sun damage.

You shouldn’t use a vitamin C product as a substitute for sunscreen, though, because it doesn’t absorb UVA or UVB rays. People with a vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) may experience slow wound healing and dry skin.

Vitamin D

You absorb vitamin D via sun exposure. Because of concerns about how UV rays impact the skin, you probably keep your skin covered or wear sunscreen when you’re outside, which can increase your risk of a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause problems with calcium absorption and, in turn, affect your bone health. Some studies suggest that topical forms of vitamin D can help people with certain forms of psoriasis.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is commonly included as an ingredient in many skin care products. It’s an antioxidant that’s vital to maintain healthy skin.

It may have some protective effects regarding UV rays, but like vitamin C, it isn’t a substitute for sunscreen. However, it may help heal sunburned skin, which is why you’ll see it included as an ingredient in many sunburn relief creams and gels.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K plays a part in blood clotting and bone health. Because it helps with clotting, it’s essential in wound healing. There’s not much research on vitamin K and skin health, but what we do know suggests that it may reduce the appearance of bruises.

What About B Vitamins for Skin?

Can B vitamins help improve skin health? Researchers don’t completely understand the role between many B vitamins and skin health. Biotin supplements, for instance, may help people with a deficiency, but there’s little evidence that they can help healthy individuals. The same is true for other B vitamins like niacin and riboflavin. 

How to Use Vitamins for Skin Care

There are various ways to get the vitamins you need for healthy skin.

Diet 

The most effective way to get various vitamins and minerals that support skin health is through a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. It’s also a safe way to ingest vitamins and should be your first line of defense when attempting to improve your skin’s appearance.

Supplements

Taking supplements is a convenient way to get vitamins you may not be getting in your diet. However, with supplements, there’s often a risk of taking too much. Taking too much vitamin A, for instance, can be harmful. You’re better off attempting to improve your diet before relying on supplements.

If you want to try supplements, talk to your doctor. Although they’re “natural," supplements can interact with medications, and it’s easy to overdose if you’re not technically deficient.

Topical

Some vitamins can be absorbed by the skin, which is why you’ll find many skincare products that contain vitamins as added ingredients. That said, just because a lotion or cream says it contains vitamins doesn’t mean you’ll experience magically radiant skin post-application.

Not all lotions and serums are created equal. Some have higher concentrations of vitamins. You should also know that some topical vitamins can cause skin irritation, especially those with a high concentration of the active ingredient. Apply cautiously and talk to a dermatologist if you’re unsure a product is right for your skin.

Signs of Vitamin Deficiency in Your Skin

Some signs of a vitamin deficiency include hyperpigmentation, poor wound healing, hair loss, nail abnormalities, rough, scaly patches, and excessive dryness. However, this is not an exhaustive list. If you suspect that you have a deficiency, talk to your doctor. A blood test is the only way to confirm whether your body is low in a particular nutrient. 

Benefits

Here are some of the frequent claims you might see about vitamins for skincare.

  • Anti-aging: Many claims about vitamins are not backed by extensive research. Studies show that retinol (the synthetic form of vitamin A found in many skincare products) is effective against signs of aging, such as wrinkles. However, the research on vitamin C for skin aging is inconclusive.
  • Improves skin elasticity: Research suggests that topical vitamin C may help improve the skin’s elasticity.
  • Reverses skin damage: There’s conflicting evidence as to whether vitamin E can help with scarring. A 2015 review of studies demonstrated that in some cases, topical vitamin E application helped reduce the appearance of scars, and other times it actually made them worse.
  • Reduces inflammation. Some skin products can irritate rather than soothe the skin. One study from 2009 suggests that vitamin E and D may help with skin irritation due to contact dermatitis. 

If you’re considering taking supplements, discuss your decision with your doctor to ensure a balanced intake and avoid an overdose. 

Risks

It’s possible to experience adverse reactions when taking too much of a specific vitamin. While there’s no risk of overdosing on a vitamin C supplement—because it’s water-soluble, you urinate the excess—it’s possible to a reaction when using it topically. Some side effects of topical vitamin C use include:

  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Staining of clothes
  • Stinging
  • Dryness 
  • Hives  

Topical retinoids can also cause skin irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin.

Taking too much vitamin E in supplement form may also cause ill-effects. Studies suggest potential long-term health risks such as prostate cancer and an elevated risk of death in people with existing heart conditions. Vitamin E may also interact with certain medications, like anticoagulants.

A Word From Verywell

Most of the studies on vitamin supplements and topical skincare involve small groups of participants. It’s also tough to measure the effects of these things on skin health because there are so many variables and factors at play. How much a person goes out in the sun, for example, can drastically affect the appearance of their skin.

Some people are also lucky to be blessed with great genes that gift them with nearly flawless skin. If you’re seeking a way to improve the health of your skin, your best bet is to talk to a dermatologist—especially if there’s something specific that’s bothering you, like acne or rosacea.

If you’re concerned about skin aging and the appearance of wrinkles, trying creams and supplements might help, but it’s also an expensive road to go down. Ultimately, a healthy diet is the most effective way to prevent vitamin deficiencies that can lead to problems with your skin. 

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Article Sources
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