In fact, you may already be using vitamin A for your skin without knowing it. Pure vitamin A forms are called "retinoids", and include retinol- yes, the same retinol used topically to clear up acne and improve signs of aging! Another vitamin A derivative is isotretinoin, sold under the name Accutane as an acne treatment.
Vitamin A is important for your skin's appearance and health, so let's dig into all the benefits and how to use vitamin A for your best skin.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in two forms: provitamin A and preformed vitamin A.
Provitamin A is also known as "carotenoids". These come from vegetable sources, and must be converted to vitamin A. The disadvantage of carotenoids are that not everyone can convert them to vitamin A efficiently (see article here).
Preformed vitamin A typically comes from animal products. It's the best form of vitamin A for your skin, because it can be absorbed directly. Preformed vitamin A types are called "retinoids".
Retinoids can be used topically or internally. Topical use can help with fine lines and acne, but their benefits will stop once you discontinue use. Consuming adequate vitamin A is an excellent way to support your skin's health from the inside out.
Benefits of Vitamin A for Skin
1. Improves Acne
It also improves skin cell growth which heals scarring from acne, protects skin from environmental damage, and improves the effectiveness of antibiotic acne treatment.
2. Fine Lines
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, and as such it can prevent free radical damage which is responsible for fine lines.
Retinol is often used topically as it is well-absorbed via skin, and it has been proven to increase collagen production and water retention thereby reducing wrinkles and improving naturally aged skin.
3. Skin cancer, psoriasis, ichthyosis
Retinoids use has had promising results in treating skin conditions as mild as acne and as serious as skin cancer. At-home supplementation is not a substitute for dermatological treatment, but research continues to show the relationship between healthy skin and vitamin A levels.
Best Sources of Vitamin A
The best source of vitamin A is liver. That's because in all animals, vitamin A is stored in the liver.
If you have a vitamin A deficiency, you can correct it by taking a high-quality vitamin A supplement, such as Why Not Natural Vitamin A which is a hard-to-find vegan retinoid.
The best sources of retinoids, or bioavailable vitamin A, are:
Beef or lamb liver
Cod liver oil
Dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
The best sources of provitamin A, or carotenoids, are:
Leafy greens such as spinach
Any bright orange, or red fruit/vegetable
How Much Vitamin A for Skin Health
Before supplementing with vitamin A or consuming an A-rich source like liver, it's important to check with your doctor that any medications you take don't already contain retinoids. Medications for acne, psoriasis, obesity and other conditions are often retinoid-based.
Excess vitamin A can be toxic, causing liver problems and other complications. Do not supplement with a higher dose than 10,000 IU without explicit instructions from your healthcare provider.
It's recommended that adults consume around 5,000 IU per day. The exactly amount depends on age and form of vitamin A (for example, beta carotene will need to be consumed at a higher dose). You can find your recommendation here.
Other Ways to Improve Skin Health
Maintaining overall health is essential to a healthy, glowing complexion. Consuming a nutrient-rich diet that contains plenty of colorful vegetables will keep your skin looking its best.
Getting enough rest, hydrating, and regular exercise will also help your skin's appearance. Avoid tobacco and alcohol as these can cause premature aging.
Most skin types will also benefit from regular cleansing and exfoliation. All skin types should use a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, and this is especially important when using retinoids as they can improve your skin's sensitivity to the sun.