Vitamin A can help your skin by treating acne and reducing fine lines.
A topical vitamin A treatment — like Retinol — is most effective for skin health.
Vitamin A can treat acne and reduce fine lines by increasing cell turnover, which prevents dead skin cells from clogging pores.
This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
Vitamin A, specifically in the form of retinoids, can be used topically on your skin for a multitude of health benefits. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of vitamin A and how the vitamin can benefit your skin.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s crucial for various aspects of your health. It helps cells reproduce, boosts the immune system, supports good vision, and improves your skin.
There are two types of vitamin A:
Retinoids (mainly Retinol) are known as preformed vitamin A, and they can be found in dairy, fish, and meat. Although retinol can be consumed orally through diet or supplements, it’s more common to use retinoids topically for skin concerns.
Carotenoids (mainly beta-carotene) are known as provitamin A. Whereas retinoids are already Vitamin A, these must be metabolized and converted by the body into vitamin A. Carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables and are typically consumed orally.
Vitamin A helps with acne
Vitamin A is effective for preventing acne because it increases cell turnover, says Margarita Lolis MD, board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New Jersey.
Skin cell turnover prevents dead skin from clogging pores, which Lolis says can be a major cause of acne. Additionally, cell turnover can decrease inflammation, which helps treat and prevent red, inflamed pimples.
Topical retinoids are the best form of Vitamin A to treat acne. A small 2008 study examined the efficacy of two forms of popular topical retinoids: adapalene and tazarotene. 172 participants with acne used either retinoid topical gel for 12 weeks, and both were found to be effective. Those who used adapalene had a 61% reduction in acne, and those who used tazarotene had a 57% reduction.
An over the counter retinol or prescription retinoid should be applied topically to combat acne. Lolis says that vitamin A is best used topically in order to directly target the skin, and that as an oral supplement, it is not nearly as effective for acne or other skincare benefits.
Vitamin A reduces fine lines and wrinkles
On top of acne reduction, another benefit of the improved skin cell turnover is a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, Lolis says. Dead skin cells are sloughed away, revealing newer and healthier skin cells.
Additionally, Lolis says that vitamin A has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants counter the formation of free radicals, which are substances that can lead to cell damage. By combatting the oxidative stress caused by free radicals, skin aging may be slowed down, decreasing fine lines and wrinkles, Lolis says.
Furthermore, retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, Lolis says. Collagen is a protein our bodies naturally make that helps to keep our skin plump. Increasing collagen production can reduce wrinkles and result in skin looking more youthful overall.
In a small 2015 study, researchers found that topical retinol increases collagen protein levels in women, and noticed significant wrinkle improvement after the 12 week period. They also noted thickening of the epidermis, or the outer layer of the skin. Usually, with age, the epidermis becomes thinner, so this is another way that retinol can counteract aging.
The overall skin color can be improved with retinoids, too. According to Harvard Medical School, retinoids can result in the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which can improve skin tone and color for a more youthful look. This can also help with the appearance of dark spots that come along with aging.
How a diet with vitamin A may also benefit your skin
Though topical application of retinoids is the most effective way to use vitamin A for skin benefits, a diet rich in vitamin A can help support skin health, whether you’re ingesting retinoids or carotenoids.
Foods high in retinoids include:
Fish like herring, salmon, and tuna
Dairy products like milk and cheese
Foods high in carotenoids include:
Leafy green vegetables like spinach
Orange and yellow fruits or vegetables like cantaloupe, peppers, mangos, and apricots
The bottom line
Vitamin A has many skincare benefits, especially when you’re using topical retinoids. These products can improve the appearance of your skin, whether you’re looking to heal acne, get rid of wrinkles, or simply boost your overall radiance.
However, you have to be patient, as retinoids may take a few months to be effective. If you’re interested in getting more Vitamin A or using it topically for skin benefits, you should work with your dermatologist to develop a treatment plan.