Vitamins play a big role in skincare. Vitamin A, B, C and E can be especially prominent in some types of skincare products because of their efficacy. These are arguably the top four vitamins in many skincare products today. Vitamin A helps fight both wrinkles and acne, different types of vitamin B provide hydration and improve texture, vitamin C is essential for skin brightness and vitamin E is a very potent antioxidant. Other vitamins like vitamin D and K also play important roles for the skin.
Here’s a primer on how and why vitamins are so important in skincare and how they can help give you beautiful, radiant skin. At the very end, we will also show you some great products you can use if you want to begin incorporating vitamins into your skincare regimen.
Vitamin A is also known as retinol, and usually appears in many skincare products by that name. It is available over-the-counter in different skincare products and can also be obtained via prescription for stronger doses. The retinoid family includes vitamin A and derivatives like retinoic acid and retinyl esters.
Topical vitamin A can be effective against both acne and wrinkles. Tretinoin happens to be the most studied of all vitamin A derivatives. It has been used in dermatology since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it was discovered effective in the treatment of signs of aging. Today, it can be prescribed for both acne-prone and mature skin, depending on the individual’s needs.
Vitamin A works by boosting cell turnover to get rid of dead skin cells more efficiently, thickening bottom layers of skin and stimulating collagen production. By helping to slough off top layers of skin, vitamin A reduces the incidence of clogged pores. Clogged pores are essentially the beginnings of acne. When a hair follicle becomes clogged with sebum (oil) and dead skin cells, it is more prone to infection from acne-causing P. acnes bacteria. Vitamin A also helps to reduce inflammation, a common problem with pimples.
When it comes to wrinkles, vitamin A helps soften existing ones by peeling off the skin’s top layers while simultaneously thickening deeper layers. This essentially causes wrinkle depth to decrease. Most importantly, however, is that vitamin A promotes collagen synthesis. Collagen is a protein in the skin that keeps it firm. As we age, collagen degrades and causes skin to lose its elasticity and strength. By helping to replenish collagen stores, vitamin A helps skin maintain firmness and elasticity, thus keeping wrinkles at bay and minimizing the appearance of existing ones.
Vitamin B (B3 and B5)
Topical vitamin B for skincare comes in two forms: vitamin B3 and vitamin B5. Vitamin B3 is also called niacinamide or nicotinamide. It is a great skincare ingredient with a variety of functions – it can fight signs of aging, help control breakouts and reduce the appearance of discoloration/hyperpigmentation. Topical application of vitamin B3 is often used to address the common skin problems of wrinkles, dark spots and uneven skin tone.
Vitamin B3 helps fight wrinkles by improving moisture content of the skin and reducing transepidermal water loss. Moisture loss in skin can result in excess dryness. It is also inevitable as we age, which is one reason wrinkles appear as we get older. Vitamin B3 has been shown in studies to improve skin barrier function, basically making skin stronger and more hydrated. Vitamin B3 also has anti-inflammatory properties, allowing it to be used to fight inflamed acne lesions. Other studies have shown that vitamin B3 can even out skin tone by reducing the appearance of dark spots and even yellowing of the skin.
Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid or panthenol, is quite adept at providing hydration. It can be used as a weapon against wrinkles thanks to this ability. Like vitamin B3, it also helps prevent transepidermal water loss, helping to keep the skin barrier strong and intact. Transepidermal water loss occurs when moisture deep in the dermis moves through to the epidermis and evaporates. This can cause excessive dryness, leading to more wrinkle formation. Preventing TEWL can thus go a long way in preventing wrinkles and fine lines.
Vitamin B5 is also great for wound healing. In one study, it was found that vitamin B5 helped promote wound healing thanks to its ability to regenerate tissue and increase fibroblasts, which are cells that produce collagen. It also showed the ability to reduce redness around wounds. However, in most skincare products, it will be added as a powerful moisturizer rather than wound healer.
Vitamin C is known and loved for its brightening abilities. In fact, many skincare products that promise to even out your skin tone most likely contain vitamin C as an active ingredient. Vitamin C is also a very strong antioxidant that can help combat free radicals derived from the body’s regular metabolic processes, sun exposure, smoking and pollution. Free radicals are single atoms with unpaired electrons. They are essentially unstable and can lead to all kinds of damage in cells if they are not neutralized. They can become neutralized when an antioxidant donates an electron. Antioxidants are basically molecules that are stable enough to get away with donating an electron. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants must be struck for the body to be healthy.
When it comes to skin, free radicals do damage by damaging skin cells. This in turn leads to problems like collagen degradation, wrinkles, fine lines, sagging, etc. Vitamin C can help to scavenge skin cell-damaging free radicals to undo or prevent these problems. Thus, vitamin C is a great ingredient to have in your arsenal if you’re intent on fighting signs of aging.
Vitamin C also has a starring role as a skin brightener. It works to fade away dark spots from sun exposure, acne scars and other sources of hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin-producing enzymes like tyrosinase. Thanks to this ability, it can help remove discoloration for skin that is brighter, more luminous and more even toned in general.
Furthermore, vitamin C is crucial for collagen synthesis. This is another reason why it’s so good for anti-aging purposes. In fact, studies have shown that it can help stimulate collagen in both young and mature skin. By stimulating collagen, vitamin C ensures skin can stay firmer for longer, especially, as we’ve already established, because collagen degrades with age and with exposure to UV rays.
Vitamin D is sometimes called “the sunshine vitamin” because a major source of it comes from exposure to sunlight. Some preliminary studies have shown that vitamin D can actually also help protect against UV damage. Studies done in cell cultures where vitamin D was applied topically exhibited these photoprotective properties of the vitamin. It was found that these cells exhibited less DNA damage and erythema (redness). However, much more research is needed in this area to determine how exactly vitamin D protects against sun damage and how that can be useful in skincare.
Vitamin D has also exhibited wound-healing properties in some studies by regulating the expression of cathelicidin, a protein that appears to promote wound healing. These studies have shown that cathelicidin can reduce inflammation and improve the process of restoring the skin barrier. Still, more research is needed to determine whether it’s oral supplementation of vitamin D or topical application is helpful in this area.
One area where topical vitamin D is helpful in skin health, however, is when it comes to psoriasis. Topical application directly onto psoriasis plaque can help improve this condition. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can flare up and cause itchy, scaly and sometimes painful red rashes to appear. If you suffer from psoriasis, you may have already tried a topical vitamin D treatment.
Vitamin E, or tocopherol as it is usually noted on skincare products’ ingredient lists, is an excellent antioxidant that can protect skin from UV and free radical damage. When applied to skincare products, it is mostly there as an antioxidant. It is also more effective when combined with vitamin C. In fact, both vitamins are stronger together than apart.
Topical application of vitamin E will help neutralize free radicals caused by UV damage and pollution. This is its main role. But it’s not to be dismissed, as most extrinsic skin aging is caused by excessive sun exposure. Topical vitamin E application has been shown to help improve photoprotection by reducing DNA damage in cells and limiting damage to the two important skin proteins collagen and elastin. Minimizing this damage can go a long way in helping to reduce signs of skin aging by either preventing them or helping to treat them. In one study, vitamin E was also found to protect skin from damage immediately following sun exposure by reducing redness and swelling, showing that it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Beware of skincare companies that will tell you that applying topical vitamin E can help with wound healing or scar reduction. This has become a popular story with certain skincare brands, but there is no evidence that it is true. Vitamin E will also not help with melasma or dark spots on its own.
Vitamin K is effective against bruising and aids in blood clotting. It is sometimes marketed as a treatment for spider veins, but it does not actually have any sort of impact on them. Neither does it have any positive impact on dark undereye circles or stretch marks, as some beauty brands may claim.
Vitamin K helps blood clot and also helps with minimizing bruising and facilitating wound healing, but you likely won’t find it in many skincare products for aging or acne, as there’s no concrete evidence that it helps with these concerns. Doctors may often prescribe vitamin K lotions to help patients deal with bruising and wounds following surgery or other type of medical procedure. Topical vitamin K has also been shown to be helpful in treating laser-induced purpura (a type of bruising) when combined with retinol.
Some Products To Try
Formulyst Active Serum – Vitamin B, C, E, Ferulic + Niacinamide
This remarkable product contains vitamins B5, B3, C and E for a formidable impact against a variety of skin problems. Not only is this a hydrating formula thanks to vitamin B5, but it will also help even out skin tone thanks to vitamins C and B3, while further fighting signs of aging with the powerful antioxidant duo of vitamins C and E. Ferulic acid is added to this formulation to help stabilize vitamins C and E and to double their photoprotective powers. These three are a potent combo of antioxidants that can really revitalize and rejuvenate your skin, leaving it looking younger and brighter.
Formulyst Anti-Aging Night Cream
This product features vitamin A (retinol) to deeply penetrate into skin to help promote cell turnover and collagen synthesis. Signs of aging will be slowly but surely reduced with other ingredients like jojoba and safflower seed oil helping to provide hydration. Another great ingredient featured in this formula is sodium hyaluronate, a substance that can retain 1,000 times its weight in water, helping to keep skin plump and smooth.
References: Clinical Interventions in Aging, “Retinoids in the Treatment of Skin Aging: An Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Safety”; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, “Nicotinic Acid/Niacinamide and Skin”; Dermatologic Surgery, “Niacinamide: A B Vitamin That Improves Aging Facial Skin Appearance”; Indian Dermatology Online Journal, “Vitamin C in Dermatology”; Oregon State University, “Vitamin D and Skin Health”; Indian Dermatology Online Journal, “Vitamin E in Dermatology”; Dermatologic Surgery, “Effects of Topical Vitamin K and Retinol on Laser-Induced Purpura on Nonlesional Skin”