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 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:
Vitamin A and its derivatives help reduce acne through the following mechanisms:
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.
While supplements provide you with the appropriate dosage for your skin, you may also get your daily Vitamin A fix through the following sources:
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.
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.
As with most acne supplements, Vitamin A comes with some side effects. These include:
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.
Apart from taking Vitamin A-rich food and/or supplements, you can help manage your acne with these important skincare tips:
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.
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