Vitamin A for Acne: Is it Really a Good Acne Treatment for Your Skin?

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If you’ve spent some time looking for ways in which you can treat acne, then vitamin A has likely popped up in your research. This ingredient has shown great promise when it comes to clearing both mild and severe acne breakouts, making it one that’s definitely worth exploring further. Here’s what you need to know about vitamin A for acne.

What Makes Vitamin A Good for Acne?

So, what exactly is it about vitamin A that makes it such a good acne treatment? Turns out, this superstar ingredient can help in a number of ways…

It Slows Down Natural Oil Production

Acne develops when your skin produces excess sebum. This oil mixes in with the dead skin cells, dirt, and sweat in your pores, resulting in inflammation and breakouts. The overproduction of sebum can be due to a variety of factors – everything from hormonal imbalances to a poor diet can lead to this.

While it’s important to identify exactly what’s causing your sebaceous glands to go into overdrive, you should also be trying to slow down natural oil production as much as possible. This is where vitamin A comes in. Multiple studies have confirmed that it is able to reduce sebum production [1], making it effective at both clearing existing breakouts and preventing new pimples from forming.

Shirtless Man Looks at Himself in Front of Mirror

It Reduces Inflammation

Blocked pores on their own don’t trigger breakouts. Instead, it’s when those blockages turn inflamed that pimples occur, meaning that keeping inflammation to a minimum can significantly reduce breakouts, along with other health conditions.

There are numerous anti-inflammatory ingredients out there, but vitamin A is one of the most powerful. It can tackle even severe inflammation in acne lesions, halting breakouts in their tracks.

It Helps to Fade Acne Scars

If acne weren’t bad enough, the scars that pimples leave behind can linger for years. One of the reasons why dermatologists often recommend vitamin A to just about everyone with acne vulgaris, especially when it comes to deep and severe acne, is because of its ability to prevent and fade scarring.

Beauty shot of a young woman

Keep in mind that it’s not a quick fix. Other than professional treatments, there’s nothing that can instantly clear scars. However, research shows that after being used regularly for 24 weeks, retinoids, which are a form of vitamin A that you’ll learn about later, were able to noticeably improve the appearance of acne scars [2].

How does it actually do this? By speeding up natural exfoliation. This allows the skin to shed its dead, damaged, and scarred cells at a much faster rate, revealing the fresh new cells beneath.

It’s a Powerful Antioxidant

Recent research shows that free radicals, which are molecules in the skin that have been damaged by UV rays and pollution, are a huge acne trigger [3]. This is down to the way in which they cause cell damage and inflammation, meaning that even the smallest pore blockage has the potential to turn into an angry zit.

The only way to repair the free radicals in your body is with the use of antioxidants. There are so many antioxidant ingredients out there, giving you plenty of choice, but vitamin A should definitely be on your list. It has a powerful antioxidant effect, which not only helps in the treatment of acne, but can also slow down skin aging, meaning fewer fine lines and wrinkles. Keep in mind that antioxidants work even better when combined, so consider adding a variety to your skincare routine.

Related: See our full list of the best acne treatments we recommend.

Does Vitamin A Have Any Side Effects?

There are a few side effects that you should know about. The most serious are linked to overdoing it with medicines and oral supplements, resulting in:

  • Dizzy spells
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Liver damage
  • Birth defects if a pregnant woman has taken excessive amounts

However, topical vitamin A can sometimes cause a few issues too. Although great for skin health, some forms of it are extremely powerful. It can take a while for the skin to tolerate this, so you may experience dryness, tightness, and redness. Keep persevering and these side effects should clear up in two to four weeks.

Which Form of Vitamin A is Best for Acne?

There are several forms of vitamin A available, and each one has its pros and cons:

Retinoids

Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives that are used topically. Once applied to the skin, the body converts them into a form of vitamin A that it can easily use. The amount of time it takes for this conversion to happen helps to measure the strength of each retinoid.

woman applying acne cream in front of the mirror

The most powerful retinoid is isotretinoin, which is also known as Accutane. This is what you’ll find in prescription drugs and creams, since the use of isotretinoin requires professional guidance and informed consent. Other popular retinoids are retinol and retinyl palmitate, with retinol being the stronger of the two. You’ll often find these retinoids in over-the-counter treatment options.

Vitamin A in Your Diet

In addition to using topical vitamin A products to treat acne, you should also make sure that your diet contains plenty of the ingredient too. The ingredient features heavily in red and yellow plant foods, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Other good food sources are dairy products, fish, and foods that have been fortified with vitamins. If you need more ideas, look for a nutritional fact sheet that you can regularly refer back to.

Everyone has their own favorites when it comes to food, so try to find sources that you enjoy eating.

Oral Vitamin A Supplements

Including more vitamin A-rich foods in your diet is the best way to keep your body topped up with the ingredient. However, if you need a bigger vitamin A boost, consider vitamin A supplements, which are another effective way to use this ingredient to treat acne [4].

These supplements are widely available. You’ll find some that have been formulated with a range of different vitamins, while other supplements will only contain vitamin A. Taking a zinc supplement too can also be useful. Zinc on its own is a popular acne treatment, but anecdotal experiences show that taking zinc with your vitamins can mean even better results.

Whichever supplement you choose, get the dosage right. Health information shows that a daily intake of 5000 IU is recommended, but make sure that you also factor in the vitamins that you’re consuming naturally through your diet.

Woman taking vitamins or nutritional supplements

Can Vitamin A Make Acne Worse?

Technically, yes, vitamin A can worsen acne. However, this only happens if you consume too much of it. If you’re eating a healthy diet, then you’re likely getting just the right amount of the ingredient. The problems occur when you combine a healthy diet with Accutane or oral vitamin A supplements, which could potentially lead to a health condition called Hypervitaminosis A.

FAQs

Does vitamin A help hormonal acne?

Yes, retinoids help with hormonal acne symptoms to an extent. However, patients find that hormonal treatments tend to be more effective.

Can a vitamin A deficiency cause acne?

Yes, several studies have confirmed that a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to increased inflammation and slower skin cell turnover, which then causes acne symptoms and other health issues. To get to the bottom of this, increase your vitamin A intake to see if your pimples disappear.

Will taking vitamin A improve my skin?

Definitely! Vitamin A has a number of skin-boosting features, which is why it is used as a treatment for several different skin and health conditions. Whether you’re dealing with acne vulgaris, wrinkles, dark spots, or dehydration, vitamin A will have a positive effect on your overall skin health.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt about it – vitamin A really is a fantastic ingredient for treating acne, as well as for general health. While that may be the case, don’t neglect other acne treatments either. Results are always faster and better when multiple ingredients are combined, making vitamin A just one aspect of a comprehensive acne treatment program.

References

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/sebum-secretion
[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2
[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756869/
[4] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2230.1987.tb01942.x

About the author

Brenda Lawrence

I’ve been a writer nearly all my life and a professional one for almost ten years. My reviews are meticulously researched and fact-checked to allow you to find the brand or product that will meet your needs.