How does Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene) fight Acne?

by NIKKI POPE, November 20, 2020

Vitamin A (retinol) and its derivatives are some of the more popular natural remedies for acne. They are considered generally effective, as they can address the four driving factors behind acne: increased oil (sebum) production, the rapid shedding of skin cells (ductal cornification), inflammation, and infection with Propionibacterium acnes. 

Vitamin A Derivatives for Acne

Vitamin A exists in two forms – retinol or the active form of Vitamin A, and carotenoids, which are dark-colored pigments. Both of them are known antioxidants, meaning they can protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals. 

Retinyl Acetate is a preformed version of Vitamin A, the type found in dairy, meat, poultry, and fish. As such, this is often used in the fortification of certain food sources. 

The body works by converting retinyl acetate to retinoic acid. This substance, in turn, binds itself to the cell membranes. As a result, it can exert its effects on the skin right away. Apart from this benefit, it is preferred by most as it is much gentler on the skin.

Beta-Carotene, on the other hand, is a provitamin A carotenoid – a substance that the body converts into Vitamin A. This red-orange pigment is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables (i.e. carrots and sweet potatoes) their characteristic yellow-orange hue. 

While useful, Beta-Carotene's effectiveness may be affected by certain conditions. Having any of the following may block your body’s ability to convert beta-carotene into readily-usable retinol: 

  • Intake of alcohol or certain medications 
  • Digestive disorders 
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic fibrosis 
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Diabetes 

How Does Vitamin A Work Against Acne? 

Vitamin A and its derivatives help reduce acne through the following mechanisms: 

  • Breaks down the ‘old’ skin cells while encouraging the growth of new ones
  • Controls the amount of keratin, so skin cells don’t clump together and block the follicles 
  • Reduces production of oil (sebum) that cause acne 
  • Inhibits the growth of Propionibacterium acnes, the microbe behind acne development
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Regulates the skin tone, thereby reducing the brown, red, or purple discolorations that occur with blemishes 

 Vitamin A’s beneficial effects on the skin are seen in various studies. 

Oral isotretinoin, a synthetic form of Vitamin A, has been approved for the treatment of severe acne since 1982. Results show that a low dosage (20 grams per day) for three months helped treat moderate acne in 90.2% of the participants aged 12 to 20, and in 89.6% of the subjects aged 21 to 35. 

Apart from being widely effective, it also came with lesser side effects. It’s also more cost-effective, seeing that it brings the same positive results as expensive high doses. 

Vitamin A is not just for acne though, as it may work on inflammatory skin conditions as well. 

Add to that, Vitamin A may help reduce skin infections too. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, retinoids can help fight both Gram-positive and Gram-negative microbes on the skin. 

Vitamin A Food Sources 

While supplements provide you with the appropriate dosage for your skin, you may also get your daily Vitamin A fix through the following sources:

  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli 
  • Squash
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Dairy products 
  • Fortified cereals 

What is the Recommended Dose for Vitamin A?

According to the study mentioned above, Vitamin A’s beneficial effects can be achieved with a dosage of 0.5 to 1 mg/kg per day. 

How to Take Vitamin A

Vitamin A is best taken with food, most notably a type of fat, as this can help double the absorption. It should not be taken with alcohol, as this will reduce the efficacy of the vitamin. 

Side Effects

As with most acne supplements, Vitamin A comes with some side effects. These include:

  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to the light/sun)
  • Skin irritation
  • Dryness
  • Peeling 
  • Hair loss 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Liver problems 

Other Things You Need to Know About Taking Vitamin A for Acne

An acne flare may occur at the beginning of Vitamin A treatment. The effects are not immediate as it may take some time (about 12 weeks). 

Even if your acne has subsided, it’s recommended that you continue taking your Vitamin A supplement. As the skin sheds its top layer every 28 days, your pimples may recur if you decide to stop your regimen. 

Avoid exposing your Vitamin A supplements to the light and air as they may degrade them. 

Since Vitamin A can lead to light sensitivity, its creams and gels should be applied at nighttime. Additionally, it's important to minimize your exposure to sunlight. You can do this by wearing protective clothing and non-oily sunscreen (SPF 30) throughout treatment.

Isotretinoin should not be taken by women who wish to be/are pregnant as this can result in miscarriage or birth defects.

While Vitamin A is inherently good for the skin, you must avoid taking an excess of 25,000 IU a day. This can lead to Vitamin A poisoning, which is characterized by mental status changes, blurred vision, headaches, and increased seizure risk.

Vitamin A gels and creams, on the other hand, may lead to irritant dermatitis. This results in a damaged outer layer of the skin. This may be avoided by applying a small quantity at first, gradually increasing the amount as time progresses.

Other Skin Care Tips

Apart from taking Vitamin A-rich food and/or supplements, you can help manage your acne with these important skincare tips:

  • Minimize touching your face or leaning it on objects.
  • Avoid popping your pimples! This will push the bacteria deeper into your skin, thus resulting in redder, more swollen skin. In the end, this may even lead to unsightly acne scars. 
  • Wash your face twice a day with warm water. Only use a mild acne soap and apply it in a gentle circular motion. Avoid over-scrubbing as this will further irritate your skin.
  • Minimize wearing headbands, scarves, or caps as this renders the skin ‘unable to breathe’. These can also harbor some oil and dirt that can cause acne.
  • Use non-acnegenic/comedogenic cosmetics. Remember to remove your make-up before you go to sleep. 
  • Wear sunscreen and protective clothing, as a tan may further worsen your acne. 


Taking supplements and eating retinol-rich food are just some of the ways to get your daily dose of Vitamin A. As it’s good for acne and skin conditions, it may help you achieve blemish-free skin naturally and cost-effectively.