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Vitamin A supplementation from natural sources and the infamous Accutane (a vitamin A derivative 13-cis-retinoic acid that WE DO NOT RECOMMEND) are two of the most well-known internal/oral treatments of acne. If you are wanting to treat your acne without Accutane, you can! Since Accutane is a synthetic form of vitamin A, natural forms of Vitamin A, such as Vitamedica’s Healthy Skin, which uses Betatene and Palmatate sources, work just as well— without harmful side effects. For more information surrounding the dangers and side effects of Accutane, take a look at our article exploring this.
There is a ton of information available online, both on websites and in medical journals, which can get pretty deep into the science of why vitamin A for acne is a good treatment method. If you are looking for a more simplified version, here it is:
How Does Vitamin A Work?
First, we must have an understanding of what acne is before knowing how vitamin A works will make sense. For most people, acne is an “inherited condition of the pores.” This means that the way the pores perform or behave is inherited. The causes of acne, however, are not consistent—what caused acne for your mom or dad may not cause it for you. This also explains why your best friend may eat the same foods as you, and share many other things in common with you, but not have acne when you do. They did not inherit the specific behaviors that cause acne to develop at the level of the skin.
So what are these specific behaviors of the pore that cause acne?
A process called retention hyperkeratosis is what makes specific pores acne-prone versus a healthy pore that never breaks out. It is this under-the-skin process that is shedding up to 5 times the amount of dead skin cells per day than a healthy cell. A healthy cell will shed approximately one layer of dead skin per day inside the pore. The pore cannot expel the excess dead skin cells, so they start to build up in the pore.
In addition to a mass of dead skin cells forming under the skin, a sticky layer starts to form as well and creates what is called a microcomodone. A microcomodone is the beginning stage of a breakout, underneath the skin, consisting of sticky dead skin cells. These cannot be seen just by looking at the surface of your skin! They will linger underneath of the skin for up to 90 days before you can ever see or feel them at the surface.
Now that we know that, at the skin level, acne is a genetic condition where the pores are turning over too many dead skin cells in a day (compared to a normal cell), it makes sense that we would want to slow down cellular turnover AND treat acne from the inside out. This is where vitamin A for acne can be beneficial, because vitamin A (in specific forms) slows down cell turnover. In short:
- Vitamin A helps skin repair itself so that dead skin cells turn over less (a.k.a. slows down cell turnover), often leading to less clogged pores. There are also secondary effects, such as reduced inflammation and reduced androgens in the skin, which can also contribute to clogged pores.
- Those with inflammatory acne are often assumed to have low/decreased amounts of Vitamin A in their bodies.
Vitamin A from Food
- Vitamin A comes in many forms. You can get an active form of Vitamin A (retinol) from animal products, most notably, eating liver weekly or drinking cod liver oils daily. You aren’t likely to meet the therapeutic dose of vitamin A through diet alone without these animal sources of vitamin A (retinol).
Unfortunately, these vitamin A sources are also acne- triggering, due their high levels of iodine and androgen (testosterone) stimulating side effects.
- Carotenoids are another form of vitamin A, found in carrots, orange-yellow vegetables, and leafy greens. Consuming provitamin A (carotenoids), a precursor to the retinol form of vitamin A which is in plant sources, will not be enough to reach the recommended 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day.
You only absorb about 1/12th of carotenoids through digestion, so supplementation is absolutely necessary.
Vitamin A Supplements for Acne
- The active form of Vitamin A (retinoids) has an upper safety limit of 10,000 IUs per day. Most supplements don’t go above 5,000 IUs of retinoids.
- If you are diabetic, pregnant, or breastfeeding, seek advice from your physician before supplementing with vitamin A.
- You cannot overdose on provitamin A (carotenoids), but your skin might turn an orange hue if you take too much. Simply taking less will alleviate the problem.
Since there is a wide range of consensus that Vitamin A is one of the best acne treatments, we recommend Clove Hill Multi for Acne-Prone Skin for mild to moderate acne, and in cases of more severe acne, the slightly stronger Clove Hill Skin Clarity Daily Packs. The acne vitamin blends we offer are composed of the plant-based form of Vitamin A carotenoid, Betanine, and the vitamin A retinoid, Palmitate which is commonly found in much lower quantities in skim milk (but because cow’s milk is an acne trigger this is not a recommended source). The blends also contain a proprietary mix of herbs and a few of the other best vitamins for acne, such as zinc and selenium.
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