Research suggests that some vitamins might play a key role in skin health. In many cases, these vitamins are most effective when a person applies them directly to the skin. Following a healthful, balanced diet that is free of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies may improve skin health by boosting overall health.
Vitamins are not revolutionary, however. They are naturally occurring substances that the human body needs to function normally.
So, the main way in which vitamins affect skin health is by ensuring that the body remains healthy overall.
Retinoids, including retinol, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and similar chemicals, are manufactured forms of vitamin A.
These products come in creams and serums to apply directly to the skin. Many studies support the benefits of retinoids for skin health.
Retinoids increase the rate of cell turnover. This can improve the texture and tone of skin, exfoliate dull and lifeless skin, fight acne, and slow the signs of aging.
A 2015 study found that retinol and retinoic acid increased skin thickness over 4 weeks. Retinoids also increased collagen gene expression. After 12 weeks, study participants had visible reductions in wrinkles.
Retinoids can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun. For this reason, it is vital to wear sunscreen while using retinoids, and for several weeks after. Retinoids can also be drying, so people should use a quality moisturizer and start slowly.
Try applying retinoids once or twice per week before going to bed, then gradually increasing the frequency of use to once daily.
Several B-complex vitamins may improve skin health. The water-soluble vitamins are readily available as supplements, including as supplements that include all 12 B-complex vitamins.
Research into the role of vitamin B-complex supplements is promising, though inconclusive. A 2018 study found that vitamin B could help the body produce healthy new skin cells.
Not all research has found such benefits, though many studies suggest that B-complex vitamins are most effective when people apply them directly to the skin.
Vitamin B-3, or niacinamide, may help some signs of skin aging. Some studies suggest that it may help reduce the appearance of age spots and other forms of skin discoloration. Some women report improvements in their skin and hair when taking prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid.
Folic acid may also improve signs of skin aging, according to one 2011 study. Researchers found that a cream containing folic acid and creatine supported collagen gene expression and collagen fiber density. Collagen tends to decline with age, which cause wrinkles and saggy skin.
Vitamin B-5, or pantothenic acid, may help with both acne and skin aging. A randomized controlled trial from 2014 found that people who took a B-5 dietary supplement for 12 weeks saw significant reductions in acne and skin inflammation.
One 2010 study examined the effects of a skin cream containing vitamins E, B-5, and B-3. The cream improved skin tone and texture within 6 weeks. It also helped with age spots and hyperpigmentation.
Most research suggests that oxidative damage plays an important role in aging, including skin aging.
In theory, this could mean that vitamin C supplements might improve skin health and slow the skin aging process. Research to support this claim varies, however.
Most studies have found few benefits associated with vitamin C, though a 2010 study does suggest that vitamin C may slow sun-related skin aging.
There is no harm in trying to get more vitamin C. Most multivitamins contain vitamin C, and it is also readily available in many citrus fruits as well as most vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and squash.
Applying topical vitamin C directly to the skin may improve elasticity, helping the skin look younger and brighter. Vitamin C serums may also stimulate collagen production, fighting the damaging effects of the sun.
Vitamin C might also be an effective skin moisturizer. A 2012 study found that formulas containing vitamin C improved both skin moisture and smoothness for at least 3 hours following application.
Vitamin D supports skin cell metabolism, helping the skin grow and repair itself. So, inadequate levels of vitamin D may trigger skin problems. Beneficial sources of vitamin D include fortified products such as milk and cereal, as well as salmon, swordfish, and tuna.
Vitamin D may also help with chronic inflammation. Inflammation can lead to skin irritation, some types of acne, and eczema. In fact, one 2010 study found that using a cream containing vitamins D and E could help with atopic dermatitis.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that may slow aging that free radicals cause.
Many skin care products contain vitamin E. It is a popular scar remedy. However, research into vitamin E's ability to reduce the appearance of scars has reached contradictory conclusions.
A 2015 review found that vitamin E did prevent scarring in some studies, but in other studies, vitamin E either did not work or made scars worse.
Also, a 2010 study found that applying topical vitamin D and vitamin E cream could help with atopic dermatitis.
Many vitamins can improve skin health, especially in people with vitamin deficiencies. Malnourishment can cause a range of skin problems, so eating a varied and nutrient-dense diet remains one of the best things a person can do for skin health.
People should take care not to over-supplement with vitamins, as having an excess of certain vitamins can cause health issues.
People with concerns about specific skin conditions should choose vitamins based on their needs. Not all vitamins are appropriate for all skin conditions, and the wrong combination may even make some issues worse. For example, using too many products containing vitamin A can dry and irritate the skin.
For help choosing the right skin care products and following a skin-healthy diet, see a dermatologist.
Some of the products listed in this article are available for purchase online.