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Which vitamins are good for skin?

We all know that vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are essential to good health. But what is their role when it comes to the skin? Let’s look at the important role topical vitamins play in skin care and which vitamins are good for skin.

Increasingly, people are turning to nutritional supplements to prevent or treat or a range of illnesses. This trend is also being seen in skin care.

Our bodies perform amazingly complex tasks every day. They produce skin, muscle, bone and blood that carries nutrients and oxygen throughout, sending nerve signals along thousands of miles of pathways in the brain and body. They also create chemical messengers that communicate from one organ to another, providing instructions that sustain life. Our skin is part of the body’s amazing communication pathways.

But all of this is only possible if our bodies get the right nutrients. There are at least 30 vitamins, minerals and dietary components that the body cannot provide itself. These are also known as micronutrients, given we only need small amounts of them. They’re essential for everything from strengthening bones to healing wounds, repairing cell damage to sustaining the immune system. We better recognise some of these as vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. Interestingly, we also find these vitamins in skin care.

Getting your vitamins can keep your skin looking healthy and more youthful and may even improve:

Skin nutrition

The skin is the body’s largest organ and it’s the body’s main defender. Around the clock, it works hard to protect us from external assaults, including UV radiation, pathogenic microorganisms, mechanical injury and chemical agents. Our skin barrier is integral to this.

The skin barrier relies on an adequate supply of micronutrients to carry out its integral role, and that requires us to eat a balanced and healthy diet. In some cases, it may be necessary to supplement with specific vitamins or minerals.

Like other organs in the body, the skin needs to be provided with what it needs to be able to function correctly. But what role do vitamins have in skin care? If our diet is sufficient, do we really need to be using them in our skin care too?

Vitamins in skin care

Research suggests that some vitamins play a key role in skin health. We all know that we need a nutritious diet to stay healthy. But is that all we need to do?

In many cases, applying the vitamins directly to your skin can be even more effective.

Vitamin A and Vitamin C are the big guns in skin care, due to their anti-ageing benefits, but they’re not the only ones to consider.

Here we take a deep dive into which vitamins are good for skin. The most important ones to look for in skin care products are:

Vitamin A                   Retinoids

Vitamins B                 Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin C                   L’Ascorbic Acid + derivatives

Vitamin D                   Cholecalciferol

Vitamin E                   Tocopherols

Vitamin K                   Phytonadione, K1

Coenzyme Q10          Ubiquinone

We may have once regarded these as a bit of a marketing gimmick, but now there’s research to show that they’re not just important in the diet.

In some cases, vitamins can be used to treat skin conditions rather than just maintain the health of the skin. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for many functions in the body. It needs to be supplied through the diet as it cannot be synthesised by our bodies. It’s mainly found in meat, dairy, fish and eggs as Retinol and Retinyl Ester. But it’s also in coloured fruits and vegetables as Beta-carotenoid or Provitamin A.

In skin care, the different types of Vitamin A are referred to as retinoids. These come in prescription versions, such as Tretinoin, and cosmetic versions, such as Retinaldehyde, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. There are also synthetic derivatives.

Topical Vitamin A ranks among the most used and most studied anti-ageing ingredients. Decades of research exist to support the use of retinoids in skin care.

Retinoids hold a special position because they interact with cellular and nucleic acid receptors in the skin, resulting in actual changes in skin cells. Put simply, retinoids increase the rate of cell turnover, which improves skin texture, tone, dullness, hyperpigmentation and acne.

A study in 2015 found that both Retinol and Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin) can increase skin thickness and improve wrinkles in 12 weeks by stimulating the production of collagen.

As we get older, our skin no longer functions like that of a young person. It loses its plumpness, bounce, clarity and smooth texture. That’s because our skin cells don’t turn over as quickly as they once did. We produce less collagen and the collagen and elastin in the dermal layer of the skin gets damaged by those rapacious free radicals. As a result, our skin becomes thinner, more wrinkled, more pigmented and rougher. Yep, skin ageing is a bitch.

There are many other studies also confirming the anti-ageing benefits of retinoids. Various studies have shown that retinoids promote cell turnover, formation of new blood vessels, reduce the appearance of discolouration and soften rough areas of skin. In other words, make skin look younger and more radiant.

A clinical study published in the Archives of Dermatology in 2007 showed that Retinol significantly increased the production of collagen and glycosaminoglycans, which retain water in the skin, leading to an improvement in wrinkles.

Not only are retinoids used to improve ageing skin, they’re also used to treat acne. A retinoid is able to influence factors that cause acne, including oil production and inflammation. And it reduces future breakouts by preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores. Additionally, a retinoid can help reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Prescription retinoids have much greater potency than cosmetic ones. Tretinoin is the most widely known retinoid. Sold under the brand names Retin-A and Renova, it contains the active ingredient Retinoic Acid.

Cosmetic retinoids are weaker because they must first convert in the skin to Retinoic Acid. For Retinyl Palmitate, it involves three conversion steps. For Retinol, it involves two conversion steps. And  for Retinaldehyde, it involves one conversion step.

Conversion in the body occurs imperfectly, and each step in the conversion process diminishes its effectiveness. But this is not always a bad thing. You can still achieve great results with cosmetic retinoids when you use them correctly and consistently. A clinical study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2015 demonstrated that Retinol induces similar changes in the skin as compared to Retinoic Acid.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Vitamin A is also an antioxidant and, like other antioxidants, it reduces free radical damage.

Unfortunately, retinoids, can be quite irritating. They don’t suit some skin types, and they can’t be used by anyone who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

You can read What are retinoids? and How to use retinoids like a pro elsewhere in the blog.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B, or more correctly Vitamins B, is another vitamin that’s also found in skin care. There are eight Vitamins B, and each has its own unique functions. Generally, however, they all work to support our body’s production of energy and manufacture of molecules in our cells. Vitamins in this group need to be replenished regularly through the diet as the body does not store them for long periods. Some good sources of these water-soluble vitamins are salmon, leafy greens, eggs, milk, beef, oysters, clams and mussels.

These water-soluble vitamins get depleted easily as food processing, long cooking times and high alcohol consumption affects their availability.

Research into B vitamins has found that supplementation can help the body produce healthy new skin cells.

The best known and most used Vitamin B in skin care is Vitamin B3, or Niacinamide. This is a wonderful  ingredient that’s very versatile and has many skin benefits. It can be used for almost every skin concern and skin type, even rosacea and sensitive skin. And unlike Retinol and L’Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide is the gentle vitamin that still packs a punch.

So what do I love about Niacinamide? Let me count the ways.

Niacinamide has soothing properties and antioxidant capabilities. It strengthens a weakened skin barrier, eases dryness and sensitivity, softens fine lines and wrinkles, improves dullness and uneven tone, minimises the look of enlarged pores, tightens lax pores and reduces inflammation. It may also help with age spots and other discolouration. All of this means healthier and more radiant-looking skin.

To get more into the detail, Niacinamide reduces the effects of environmental damage on the skin by improving the skin barrier and by playing a role in the skin repair process, thereby helping repair damage. When day-to-day assaults on the skin are not addressed, the skin looks older.

Niacinamide stabilises the skin barrier and reduces water loss. It also stimulates the production of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol in the skin. A loss of ceramides, in particular, makes the skin more vulnerable and therefore more likely to develop dryness, flakiness and sensitivity. This makes Niacinamide an ideal ingredient for anyone who has skin barrier issues, such as acne, dryness, sensitivity and atopic dermatitis.

Additionally, Niacinamide decreases a number of inflammatory cytokines, which makes its helpful for those with acne, rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions. Niacinamide is a great addition to your skin care routine, especially if you have acne, oily or sensitive skin.

We’ve already mentioned the important role it plays in strengthening the skin barrier, but its benefits aren’t limited to the skin’s top layer. Niacinamide does something very special when it comes to pores. Science hasn’t fully uncovered the how, but Niacinamide normalises pore function and reduces oil production, thereby preventing pores becoming blocked. Fewer blocked pores means fewer comedones.

The clogging of pores leads to stretching of the pore and this makes pores look enlarged. By reducing clogging, it also reduces the visibility of enlarged pores. Sun damage also can cause pores to become stretched and this leads to an orange peel appearance. At higher concentrations, Niacinamide strengthens the skin’s other supportive elements and this can also reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.

Best of all, Niacinamide isn’t a prima donna ingredient when it comes to the company it keeps. You don’t have to worry about using it with other active ingredients. It plays nice with AHAs, BHA, Hyaluronic Acid, Peptides, Vitamin C and other antioxidants. Niacinamide works well with other moisturising ingredients, such as Cholesterol, Glycerine, Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium PCA and skin oils. And can even boost the hydrating effects of moisturisers.

Other B vitamins, such as Folic Acid and Pantothenic Acid, may also improve the signs of skin ageing. Topical Folic Acid may support collagen production and improve collagen density in the skin. And B5 may improve skin tone, texture and age spots.

You’ll find Niacinamide in our Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide, Bloc Boost Your B3, Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief, Medik8 Breakout Defence and Age Repair, Medik8 Advanced Night Eye and Serum Factory Pimple Punch.

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Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s also known as Ascorbic Acid. It’s found in fruits such as citrus, kiwi, cantaloupe and strawberries and vegetables such as peppers, green peppers, brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.

As part of the diet, Vitamin C is essential to good health. The body cannot make its own Vitamin C.

Ascorbic Acid plays a role in collagen and elastin synthesis. It’s also necessary for a number of other functions, including wound healing. But whether oral supplementation with Vitamin C improves sun spots, redness and rough texture is not clearly established.

The skin actually contains high levels of Vitamin C, having been transported there by blood vessels in the dermal layer of the skin. This vitamin is an antioxidant and protects cells from oxidative stress, and it does so even more effectively when paired with Vitamin E. Research indicates that oxidative damage plays a key role in ageing, including skin ageing.

Vitamin C has been incorporated into many cosmeceutical skin care products designed to protect and rejuvenate the skin.

When applied to the skin, it not only neutralises free radicals that damage collagen but also  stimulates its production, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles and lax skin. Even more importantly, it increases the skin’s protection against sunburn and skin cancer.

Topical Vitamin C has been found to improve skin roughness, reduce overall redness, fade hyperpigmentation and balance out uneven skin tone. Vitamin C impedes the production of melanin in the skin, when used at concentrations above 5%, which also helps to reduce the formation of new dark spots.

This vitamin may be helpful for those with skin conditions that involve inflammation, such as acne vulgaris and rosacea, as it inhibits NFkB, which activates of a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines. But it can be irritating too.

We know that oral Vitamin C also plays a role in reducing inflammatory skin conditions too. But it does this best when combined with other vitamins.

It also helps with pigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, thereby decreasing melanin formation. But because it’s unstable, it’s best used with other depigmenting ingredients.

Vitamin C improves the appearance of sun-damaged skin by strengthening skin’s ability to repair itself. This is why Vitamin C is useful when incorporated into your evening skin care routine. Our Bloc Boost Your C is the prefect serum for your evening skin care routine as it contains Vitamin C, Retinol, Vitamin E and Sodium Hyaluronate.

But not everything is great about Vitamin C, at least in its pure form of L-Ascorbic Acid. This is the form that has most research but it’s unstable and becomes oxidised when exposed to oxygen or light. A pH of less than 3.5 helps with stabilisation and penetration.

L’Ascorbic Acid is maximally effective at a strength of 20%. Interestingly, once the skin is saturated, it has a half-life of four days.

Vitamin C, E and Ferulic is a winning combination when it comes to Vitamin C serums, as the addition of Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid increases the C’s bioavailability eight times and helps stabilise the formula. A combination of Vitamin C, Tyrosine and Zinc increases the C’s bioavailability even more: 20 times.

Vitamin C and Vitamin E are greater together than individually. Vitamin E potentiates the action of Vitamin C four times, while Vitamin C regenerates the antioxidant properties of Vitamin E, making it protective against UV damage for longer.

Absorption of L’Ascorbic Acid depends on the formulation as it’s a water-soluble vitamin, and therefore gets repelled by the top layer of the skin, the epidermis. It’s also not suitable for some skin types.

There are many Vitamin C derivatives on the market. Some newer forms may prove to be better than L’Ascorbic Acid, based on indications from current limited research. There are two most important factors for Vitamin C derivatives to be effective. One, they need to penetrate in sufficient quantity to reach the dermis. Two, they need to convert in the skin to the biologically active form, L’Ascorbic Acid.

Don’t discount C derivatives. Some of these have been shown to be more effective when used for certain skin concerns, including acne, dehydration, sensitivity and rosacea.

Remember that L’Ascorbic Acid is unstable and prone to oxidisation, making it pro-oxidant and cell damaging. We also like Ethyl Ascorbic Acid and Tetrahexydecyl Ascorbate.

Stable derivatives don’t pose the risk of oxidisation. And we know that lipid-soluble Vitamin C formulas penetrate the skin better than L’Ascorbic Acid. And some derivatives of Vitamin C have indicative high conversion rates to L’Asocrbic Acid.

Discover our derivative top picks in ALPHA-H Vitamin C, Bloc Boost Your C, Medik8 C-Tetra  and Oskia Super-C for power Cs that deliver results.

You’ll find L’Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin E in Medik8 Advanced Night Eye, as well as BioBare C B E & Ferulic and By Wishtrend Pure Vitamin C 15% with Ferulic Acid.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. This is because sunlight is the primary source of this vitamin. However it’s also found in oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolks, as well as fortified foods such as milk and cereals.

UVB rays stimulate the production of Vitamin D3 from 7-dehydrocholesterol  in the top layer of the of the skin. Interestingly, vitamin D is more like a hormone than a vitamin.

Vitamin D, like Vitamin A, is classified as a therapeutic vitamin. Calcitriol,1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, is used topically to treat skin conditions that involve the hyperproliferation of skin cells, such as psoriasis and eczema. It may help with chronic inflammation too, so another reason why those with acne and eczema find it helpful.

The Vitamin D analog, Calcipotriene or Calcipotriol, is also used as a treatment for chronic plaque psoriasis, either on its own or in combination with corticosteroids.

Vitamin D is involved in cell metabolism skin cell maturation that results in the skin building up a soft but tough barrier to protect the body. This process is essential for normal cell growth, wound healing and maintenance of the skin’s barrier function, and may be protective against certain cancers. Inadequate levels may trigger skin problems.

There is some research to suggest that Vitamin D may reduce UV damage to the skin. Cell culture and mouse studies involving the application of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 showed that it decreased DNA damage and redness. How it does this is not clear, but it’s thought that it protects against free radicals and oxidative stress in the deepest layer of the epidermis.

As we age, our skin has more difficulty producing vitamin D. Additionally, those following a dairy-free or vegan diet may get insufficient Vitamin D from their diet.

As a cosmetic ingredient, Vitamin D may calm inflammation, improve cell turnover, reduce environmental damage and protect the skin from skin cancers. It‘s making more of an appearance in skin care products, although more typically in combination with other vitamins and antioxidants.

Vitamin D is fat-soluble and therefore found in products that have an oil base, which isn’t the best for some skin types.

Vitamin D works well with other antioxidant vitamins, growth factors and retinoids. However it shouldn’t be combined with AHAs or BHA because the acidic pH of these inactivates Vitamin D.

For other formulations that target redness and sensitivity, you may like Serum Factory Red Rescue or our Comfort Zone Remedy range. And for areas of irritation, dryness or skin buildup, our Skin Juice Green Juice Organic Skin Saving Balm is essential and safe for all members of the family, even infants.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that protects our cells and, like many other vitamins, is needed for the proper functions of many organs in the body. It helps us maintain healthy skin, good vision and a strong immune system.

Vitamin E is fat-soluble. In the body, it’s stored in the liver and in fat tissue. You’ll find it in many foods, but particularly in vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals.

In skin care, Vitamin E has been in use for over 50 and was once seen as a hero ingredient. It’s still found in many skin care products but typically not in a starring role. Most of us are familiar with it as powering up with L’Ascorbic Acid in Vitamin C serums, but if you look closely at ingredient labels you’ll find it making a small appearance in many products, whether a serum, moisturiser, eye cream, body cream or even sunscreen. Because it’s seen as yesterday’s hero, it’s a little overlooked these days.

But Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, and not just when it keeps company with L’Ascorbic Acid and Ferulic Acid. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E primarily counters reactive oxygen species (ROS), more commonly recognised as free radicals. These are atoms that have lost their electrons and become unstable, so they go on a rampage trying to steal an electron from anything in their path, including DNA, skin proteins, connective tissues and cell membranes. This results in damage to cells, illness and ageing.

The free radical theory of ageing holds that free radicals break down cells over time. As we age, our bodies become unable to fight off the effects of free radicals. This leads to more free radicals in the body, more oxidative stress and more cell damage. The end result is ageing and degenerative diseases. It sure does suck to get old.

Interestingly, Vitamin E is naturally found in sebum. However, like so many other naturally occurring beneficial components in our skin, it diminishes with age. Topical application can supplement the dietary supply of this vitamin.

When applied to the skin, Vitamin E neutralises those free radicals by donating an  electron. But it can do another remarkable thing. Vitamin E can absorb the energy from UV light, and in so doing prevent UV-induced free radical damage to the skin.

Further, Vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory benefits. Research is more limited on this and so the way it does this is not well understood.

It also helps with cellular repair, giving the skin a helping hand to recover from sun damage, wounds and burns. However there isn’t solid research to show it can fade scars or stretch marks. It may even make things worse.

There are eight different forms of Vitamin E molecule used in skin care, some naturally derived and some synthetic, but usually listed as a tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate. The most common ones you’ll see are d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopherol acetate, dl-alpha tocopherol and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate.

As great as Vitamin E is, it isn’t for everyone. Those with acne and oily skin types may find it clogs their pores, while a small number of those with sensitive skin may find it causes irritation, itching or a rash. Yet, at the same time, it’s been shown to relieve eczema.

L’Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin E work well together in formulations because they potentiate each other’s antioxidant powers.

Additionally, Vitamin C works best on the surface of the skin while the Vitamin E is oil-soluble so can penetrate deeper.

And when it comes to natural versus synthetic, natural wins here. Natural forms of Vitamin E have been found to be more effective. 

You’ll find E in our Bloc Repair Your Skin, Oskia Super-C, Comfort Zone Remedy Cream and Comfort Zone Remedy SerumComfort Zone Sublime Eye Cream and Serum Factory Firm Face. Of course, it’s also in BioBare C B E & Ferulic and By Wishtrend Pure Vitamin C 15% with Ferulic Acid.

Skin-needs-to-be-nourished-internally-and-externally-Skin-Clinica

Vitamin K

If Vitamin E is the old-fashioned vitamin, Vitamin K is the forgotten vitamin.

Vitamin K, or phytonadione, is essential to the body. This fat-soluble vitamin is necessary for blood clotting and therefore the healing of wounds and bruises. Vitamin K is claimed to  help with other skin conditions too, including:

The best sources of Vitamin K are kale, mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beef liver, pork chops and chicken. You’ll also some of it from cottage cheese and some fermented cheeses.

You’ll find it in the form of K1 in various skin care creams, mainly those targeting dark circles, capillaries and bruises. Even doctors recommend the use of Vitamin K after surgery to help with skin healing and reduce swelling and bruising.

One controlled study found that, at a concentration of at least 1%, Vitamin K supports wound healing by speeding up the skin’s natural repair process.

As we age, our skin becomes thinner and it loses its even tone, making blood vessels below the eyes, in particular, become more visible. Even though Vitamin K is often used for dark circles there isn’t much research supporting its effectiveness in treating this.

A study in 2004 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology looked at whether an undereye gel with 2% could improve undereye dark circles. The majority didn’t see a difference, but 47% of users did. The problem with this study is that the gel also included 0.1% each of Retinol, E and C. Given these minute amounts of helping ingredients, it’s possible the Vitamin K did do the heavy lifting.

The same 2% was used in another study and some improvement was again noticed, but the formulation included caffeine and emu oil. The study’s authors concluded that the benefits seen were due to the Vitamin K.

But unlike Vitamins A and C, the research on the benefits of topical Vitamin K is limited.

Krave Beauty Kale Lalu-yAHA exfoliant toner naturally contains this important vitamin.

Coenzyme Q10

As the name suggests, Coenzyme Q10 is not a vitamin, however it’s vitamin like. Coenzyme Q10, otherwise known as Ubiquinone, has antioxidant and energising benefits. Energy is essential for the correct functioning of cells in the body, including in the skin.

Like so many other things found naturally in our bodies, our skin stops functioning like it did when we were young. Age and environmental stressors have an effect on our cells and our skin is not able to energise cells as it did during our 20s.

Q10 gets stored in our mitochondria. Mitochondria are organelles that produce energy that’s needed to power our cells. They also play another very important role, and that’s to protect our cells from oxidative stress, bacteria and viruses.

Low levels of Q10 in the body have been associated with heart disease, brain disorders, diabetes and cancer, however it’s unclear whether this is a result or as a cause.

When taken orally, as a supplement, Q10 also has energising effects and functions a little like caffeine, giving you a bolt of energy. Taken in this form, it increases levels of Q10 in the skin and may help to smooth those wrinkles. If you prefer not to take supplements, you can look to increase your levels by ensuring your diet is plentiful in fatty fish, meat, soybeans, green vegetables, nuts and seeds.

There’s a lot more evidence supporting the health benefits of Q10 as a supplement than as a skin care ingredient. In studies on mice, it’s been found to improve age-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, hearing loss and Parkinson’s. It may also be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraines.

You may have heard about it as Ubiquinone through Nivea’s advertising, given it’s the brand’s hero ingredient. When applied to the skin, this ingredient is claimed to increase antioxidant protection and reduce sun damage.

However, like other antioxidants used in skin care, Q10 can stabilise free radicals and prevent them doing damage to your cells, warding off those unwanted signs of ageing in the skin. This helps offset damage caused by UV exposure and pollution. What sets Q10 apart, though, is that it may ward off chronological ageing and not just photoageing.

But Q10 acts on the upper layers of the skin, just like most other antioxidants.

One clinical study involving the application of 1% Q10 cream for five months reduced wrinkles, as observed by a dermatologist. The researchers concluded that Q10 may protect proteins in the dermis, the skin’s support layer, from being damaged.

There isn’t much more research on Q10 in skin care, unless you count a study on zebrafish that suggests it could have brightening effects.

Putting it all together

This provides a roundup of which vitamins are good for skin. Keeping your body correctly nourished is essential for total health and skin health. Using vitamins in skin care products provides additional benefits to keep your skin looking at its best, fight the signs of ageing and even ward off certain skin conditions.

Don’t forget to visit our shop and discover some of these skin beneficial vitamins in the skin care products we sell. We’ve carefully selected each and every product we carry based on science and actives, so that you get results, safely.

Yours truly in better skin

Anna Marie from Skin Clinica - The Skin Experts