Top Eight Essential Vitamins for Skin Health
Less than one hundred years ago, vitamins and other essential nutrients were only available through diet. Supplements for skin and other purposes did not exist, and health problems caused by vitamin deficiency were common.
Nowadays, vitamin deficiency is rare in the developed world. Most people are unaware of the threat it poses to their well-being. The truth is, however, that you do not have to be a 17th-century sailor to experience health issues due to the lack of vitamins.
Your body needs optimal amounts of vitamins to remain healthy and function properly. Vitamin deficiency is a systemic problem that affects the whole organism. It’s no surprise that the largest organ in your body, the skin, can be affected too.
The skin benefits from different vitamins in different ways. In this article, you can read about the best vitamins for skin health, find out where to find them, and how they can help your skin to look fresher, younger, and be healthier.
Why are vitamins valuable for your skin?
Your skin acts as a protective barrier. It shields your body from the harmful effects of the environment. Because of this, it is not only important that your skin looks well but to function well too.
Luckily, vitamins can help your skin excel in all its roles. Along with other essential nutrients, vitamins nourish the skin and enable it to look good, and do its job correctly.
For healthy skin, you need to maintain a balance of nutrients. If you do not get enough vitamins, the health of your skin and your overall health will deteriorate. But, getting too many vitamins can sometimes also be dangerous.
For example, optimal exposure to sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D. On the other hand, too much sun exposure can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. High doses of some other vitamins can also cause health problems.
So, like with everything in nature, balance is the key. Continuous and optimal intake of vitamins is the best way to protect and nurture your skin and your overall health.
Vitamins in Skin Care
Because of their proven benefits, some vitamins found their place in skincare products. They are usually available as supplements for skin health, topical creams, serums, lotions, and vitamin injections.
Some of the best vitamins for skin also boost the health and appearance of hair and nails. The process is not always fast, but the results are highly-satisfying and long-lasting.
Vitamins do not alter your appearance in the way aesthetic procedures do. They make your skin, nails, and hair be the healthiest and look the best they naturally can.
So, what vitamins are good for hair, skin, and nails?
To answer this question, we made a selection of eight scientifically proven hair, nails, and skin-boosting vitamins. These are:
- Vitamin A (Retinol)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin D (Calciferol)
- Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
- Vitamin K2 (Menaquinone)
Later in this text, we will tell you more about the benefits of each of these vitamins and how you can use them as a part of your regular skincare routine. For now, let’s take a look at the natural sources of the best vitamins for skin health.
Best Natural Sources of Skin-Boosting Vitamins
The best natural source of most vitamins for skin health is diet. All types of food contain some valuable nutrients. However, some foods are better sources of specific vitamins than others.
When it comes to vitamins for skin repair, the only exception to the “food rule” is vitamin D.
Dietary sources of this essential nutrient are scarce. However, your body can naturally create vitamin D in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer skin layer) with the help of sunlight.
Your body only needs a small amount of each vitamin to function on an optimal level. Some vitamins are required every day because they pass through the organism quickly, while others are stored longer.
People who enjoy a diverse diet rich in raw fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils have the best chance to maximize the health benefits of vitamins.
If you want to know which exact foods are the best natural sources of skin-boosting vitamins, keep reading the text below.
When does your skin need vitamin care?
Skin needs vitamins all the time. A well-balanced diet in combination with a basic skincare routine and some supplements will help you to maintain optimal vitamin levels.
Vitamins can also help you to resolve some common skin issues, such as:
- Dry skin
- Dark spots
These conditions can improve with vitamin supplements and skincare products enriched with essential skin vitamins. They can give your body that extra power it needs to heal and repair itself.
Acne – vitamin A
Topical vitamin A, in retinoid form, is effectively used to treat acne. Retinoids play a valuable role in skin repair because they regulate epithelial cell growth (the growth of cells that form the protective layer of the skin).
Most vitamin A-based retinoids are only available on prescription. Oral supplements require extra care and medical supervision because vitamin A tends to build up inside the body where it can reach toxic levels.
Dry Skin – vitamin D and vitamin C
Epidermis, the outer skin layer, is mostly made of keratinocytes. These are the cells that use sunlight to create a form of vitamin D that your body can use.
Vitamin D is valuable for maintaining the barrier function and the immune system of the skin. Additionally, vitamin D is one of the best vitamins for skin repair because it also plays a part in skin cell growth.
Studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with psoriasis and eczema, skin conditions that can cause dry skin.
Low vitamin D levels also negatively affect the level of skin moisture. That is why in winter, with less exposure to sunlight, our skin tends to become dryer.
Supplements for skin based on vitamin D make up for the lack of this essential nutrient in the diet. They can also eliminate the need for too much sun exposure.
Some research suggests that vitamin D supplements significantly improve skin hydration and the symptoms of certain skin disorders, such as itchy and dry skin.
Your skin naturally contains high levels of vitamin C. However, when the intake of this vitamin through diet is low, the levels of vitamin C in the skin will also drop.
That harms the skin’s barrier function and increases water loss. Studies show that vitamin C supplementation significantly improves skin hydration.
Wrinkles – vitamin A and vitamin C
Vitamins often feature on labels of popular anti-wrinkle creams. Makers of cosmetic products promote them as powerful tools against wrinkles. The truth is that their effects are limited.
Vitamin-based creams can help your skin repair itself and improve the appearance of fine wrinkles in the process. Deeper wrinkles and creases are not removable with creams.
The best vitamins for skin repair are vitamin A and vitamin C. These two are regularly found in anti-wrinkle cream formulas.
Retinoids, such as retinoic acid and retinol, are vitamin A compounds successfully used in topical products to reduce fine wrinkles and repair sun damage.
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C combat the very cause of wrinkles. That’s because vitamin C protects the skin from the damage caused by unstable oxygen molecules known as free radicals.
Vitamin C inhibits the formation of new wrinkles and helps the reduction of the existing ones. Together with vitamin A, it is a required ingredient of the best multivitamin anti-wrinkle creams.
Redness – vitamin B3
Irritation and inflammation are the most common causes of skin redness. On the other hand, a damaged skin barrier is what causes inflammation and irritation.
The loss of moisture because of a “leaky” skin barrier results in dry skin and inflammation. Allergens, pollutants, microbes, and irritants can also reach deeper into the skin when the skin barrier is damaged.
Therefore to prevent inflammation and redness, you need to strengthen the skin barrier. Vitamin B3, among some other nutrients, can help you achieve this.
Topical vitamin B3 has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. It stabilizes the epidermal barrier function, reduces moisture loss, and improves the moisture content of the skin.
Dark Spots – vitamin C and vitamin E
Vitamin C and vitamin E are often found together in skincare products. There is a good reason for this. They are among the best vitamins for skin and hair, anti-ageing, dark spots, and UV radiation protection.
Hyperpigmentation is the cause of dark spots. Vitamin C inhibits the production of melanin in the skin and helps to lessen the appearance of dark spots.
Vitamin E is one of the best vitamins for skin repair. It effectively lessens the appearance of scars and lightens dark spots.
The Best Vitamins for Skin
Now that you have a better understanding of vitamins and their role in skincare, we bring you a more detailed overview of the best vitamins for skin health.
Vitamin A plays a prominent role in the growth and development of the human body. It also supports the normal functioning of the immune system and some vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
However, the most valuable contribution of this vitamin to your health is in the vision department. Vitamin A is necessary for the formation of rhodopsin, a molecule responsible for light absorption in the retina. Because of this, vitamin A plays a big part in low-light (night) vision and color vision.
Role in Skin Care
Retinol, a member of the vitamin A family, is sometimes referred to as the anti-ageing vitamin. It is one of the most valuable vitamins for skin health. Retinol helps the process of cell renewal (skin repair), effectively combats acne, and boosts elasticity, firmness, and skin tone.
In skincare, vitamin A you use almost exclusively in topical products such as:
- Moisturizers, and
The best way to use vitamin A-based skincare products is to apply them at bedtime, after cleansing, and before moisturizing. In this way, you ensure the maximum effect and minimal chance for sun exposure. Vitamin A tends to make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. That is why you should always use sun protection in the morning after vitamin A application.
Best Sources of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is abundant in the following foods:
- Animal liver
- Sweet potato
- Sweet red peppers
Supplements are also available. However, you should seek professional medical advice before you start taking vitamin A supplements.
Vitamin B3 boosts brain function. It is known to help lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase the good (HDL) cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Also, vitamin B3 injections effectively treat inflammation in patients with arthritis.
Role in Skin Care
The antioxidant properties of vitamin B3 (niacin and niacinamide) protect the skin from damage and strengthen the skin barrier, helping the skin to remain well-hydrated and smooth. Other skin benefits of vitamin B3 include:
- Balanced tone
- Reduced inflammation
- Minimal appearance of pores
- Brighter complexion
- Sun damage protection
Vitamin B3 is often found in creams, cleansers, and face masks. However, vitamin B3 serums are the most effective method of application if you wish to address a particular skin problem such as redness, for example.
Best Sources of Vitamin B3
The best dietary sources of vitamin B3 are:
- Portobello mushrooms
- Brown rice
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid, or panthenol is one of the eight vitamins belonging to the B-complex vitamin group. It plays a big part in the creation of red blood cells and, therefore, in oxygen transportation inside the body. Together with other members of the B-complex family, vitamin B5 is essential for the conversion of food into energy.
Vitamin B5 also aids:
- Liver function
- Digestive tract function
- Nervous system function
- Creation of stress-related and sex hormones
Role in Skin Care
If you’ve ever asked yourself: What vitamins are good for hair, skin, and nails? Here’s your answer. Vitamin B5 is probably the most comprehensive of all skincare vitamins. It helps the skin and hair to heal and repair. It boosts hydration, soothes, and calms the skin.
Topical application is highly-effective anywhere on the skin, including the scalp. Creams with pantothenic acid help the healing process and relieve itchiness caused by eczema, insect bites, poison ivy, and all kinds of contact dermatitis such as diaper rash.
With optimal levels of vitamin B5, the hair has more strength, and it grows faster.
The main skin and hair benefits of vitamin B5 are:
- Better hydration
- Sturdier lipid barrier (more ceramides)
- Smoother skin
- Stronger hair
- Enhanced flexibility of hair and nails
In skincare and haircare, pantothenic acid is a valuable ingredient of various products, ranging from creams, lotions, and oils to shampoos, conditioners, and hair balms.
Best Sources of Vitamin B5
The best natural sources of vitamin B5 are:
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Chicken breast
- Sunflower seeds
- Whole milk
- Sweet potatoes
Most people get enough vitamin B5 from their diet. Deficiency is very rare. It is usually a sign of a lack of other vitamins as well and, potentially, a more serious underlying condition.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Folic acid or folate is invaluable during phases of rapid growth and development such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence. It is necessary for the creation of red and white blood cells and the production of DNA and RNA.
Role in Skin Care
Folic acid is a potent antioxidant. It prevents free radicals from damaging the skin. The anti-ageing effects of folic acid help the skin to retain moisture better and to function correctly.
Because of this, moisturizing lotions and creams often contain folic acid.
Best Sources of Vitamin B9
- Beef liver
- Citrus fruits
Vitamin C is associated with immune system strength. That does not mean that more vitamin C equals a more powerful immune system.
It is the optimal amount of this nutrient that makes the immune system strong. Taking too much of this vitamin will not make you less susceptible to infections.
Some studies suggest that vitamin C reduces the risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Iron deficiency
- Alzheimer’s disease
Role in Skin Care
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It effectively protects the skin from UV damage by slowing down the production of the skin pigment, melanin.
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C also lighten the skin, including dark spots (hyperpigmentation). The results are improved skin radiance and a more even tone.
Additionally, vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, giving the skin a firmer and youthful appearance. All of this makes vitamin C one of the best vitamins for skin and hair, anti-ageing, dark spots, and UV protection.
Many skincare products contain vitamin C. Topical vitamin C serums work the best. They have concentrations high enough to maximize the benefits for skin health. Lately, vitamin C injections for skin are gaining popularity too. However, these are more for professional treatments rather than self-care.
Best Sources of Vitamin C
- Acerola cherries
- Chilli peppers
- Sweet yellow peppers
The purpose of vitamin D is to regulate phosphate and calcium levels in the body. These two nutrients are essential for the proper development and health of the teeth, bones, and muscles. In the past, when vitamin D deficiency was common many children were affected by rickets.
Role in Skin Care
The “sunshine vitamin” is created in the skin and has a role in its repair, renewal, and UV protection. Vitamin D provides the skin with:
- Anti-acne properties
- Anti-ageing properties
- Cellular growth support
- UVB radiation protection
- Protection against the damaging effect of free radicals
Sunlight is a perfect source of vitamin D, but you need to be careful and avoid too much exposure. Remember, darker skin with more melanin creates less vitamin D, and skin with less melanin makes more vitamin D and needs less sun exposure.
Face masks are a reliable topical method of vitamin D application. However, optimal sun exposure and vitamin D supplements for skin health remain the best ways to get this valuable nutrient.
Best Sources of Vitamin D
- Fish oil
- Cod liver oil
- Canned tuna
- Egg yolks
Antioxidant properties of vitamin E are valuable for cellular health and the proper functioning of many organs and the immune system. The research conclusions, when it comes to the health benefits of this vitamin, are different. Some experts believe that vitamin E could lower the risk of:
- Heart disease
- Inflammation, and
Role in Skin Care
Vitamin E is one of the best vitamins for skin repair. It is an antioxidant that provides valuable protection against the sun’s harmful UV light. In this way, vitamin E acts as a prevention against wrinkles, dark spots, and other signs of ageing caused by sun damage.
Various skincare products for dry skin usually contain vitamin E. This nutrient can boost the production of sebum in people with dry skin and improve inflammation, rough patches, and scars.
Vitamin E soothes the skin and supports:
- Effect of vitamin C in the skin
Best Sources of Vitamin E
- Wheat germ oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Hazelnut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Pine nuts
- Goose meat
Vitamin K2 or Menaquinone is mostly associated with bone health. A Japanese study shows that women who consume food rich in vitamin K2 have a higher bone density. That could mean that vitamin K2 can lower the risk of bone fracture in older women.
Role in Skin Care
Menaquinone boosts the production of collagen in the skin. Extra collagen gives the skin elasticity, firmness, and a fresh and youthful look.
In skincare, under-eye creams, serums, cleansers, and face masks often contain vitamin K2.
Best Sources of Vitamin K2
- Fermented soybeans (Natto)
- Hard cheeses
- Animal liver
- Egg yolk
Vitamin Overdose – Is it a real threat?
When it comes to toxicity, not all vitamins are the same. They are all organic molecules and essential nutrients that benefit our health in small quantities, but that’s where all similarities stop.
Some vitamins, like vitamin D, we can create ourselves with the help of sunlight. Others we get through food and supplements. Some vitamins are fat-soluble, while others are water-soluble. Some vitamins are toxic in large doses, while others are not.
The list of differences between vitamins is long.
This fat-soluble nutrient takes longer to excrete from the body. Therefore, it can accumulate to toxic levels causing symptoms such as:
- Reduced appetite
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Drying of mucous membranes
It is not possible to have too much of this vitamin through food. Taking too much vitamin B3 supplements, on the other hand, can cause serious health problems. The common symptoms of high vitamin B3 levels are:
- Impaired blood sugar control
- Blurred vision
- Damaged liver
It is hard to take in too much vitamin B5. In such rare cases, diarrhoea is the most likely side effect.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Healthy people get enough vitamin B9 through diet, while pregnant and breastfeeding women usually require supplements.
Excess of folic acid goes out through urine. However, high doses can sometimes cause:
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability, and
Additionally, people with allergies who take higher doses of vitamin B9 supplements can experience:
- Skin rash
- Breathing difficulties
High doses of dietary vitamin C are usually harmless for healthy individuals. Extreme intake through supplementation (mega dose) is very unlikely, although it could probably cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
Sun exposure and diet cannot lead to a high intake of vitamin D. Extreme supplementation can cause hypervitaminosis D, a condition characterized by the buildup of calcium inside the body.
The symptoms of hypervitaminosis D are:
- Frequent urination
- Kidney problems
- Bone pain
Vitamin E accumulates in fat tissue where it can buildup to toxic levels. Very high amounts of vitamin E in the body can cause blood thinning and bleeding. In rare cases, this can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke or bleeding in the brain (stroke).
There is not enough evidence to show that high doses of vitamin K2 are harmful.
What is the optimal amount of vitamin supplements for healthy skin?
Healthy skin needs an optimal daily intake of vitamins and other nutrients through diet. You can, however, exceed the recommended doses when vitamin supplements can help you cure a disease or a skin condition. Nevertheless, the daily intake has to stay below the safe limit.
These are the recommended daily doses of vitamins for skin health:
The following are the safe daily doses for adults:
Back to Basics Skin Care Routine
Healthy skin is a result of nourishment and care that come from both inside and outside. A well-balanced diet combined with a regular basic skincare routine is all your skin needs to be healthy and look fresh.
Vitamins can also enrich your skin from inside and out. Supplements for skin health, toners, moisturizers, creams, and other vitamin-based products can give your skin a much-needed boost.
However, a basic skincare routine is the foundation of skin health. Clean – Tone – Moisturize is the holy trinity of skincare.
- Cleansing is the first step. Wash your face to prepare it for proper care.
- Use a toner to balance your skin.
- Moisturize to soften and hydrate the skin.
With this skincare routine, you will experience the maximum effect of vitamins for skin health.
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Dr. Rosmy Barrios is a medical doctor and the current Head of the Regenerative Aesthetics department at IM Clinic in Belgrade, Serbia.