If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve probably tried a lot of different things to clear up your acne.
You’ve probably tried everything from oatmeal to green tea, and even zit-zapping lasers. But if you’re anything like me, the one thing that never worked was the vitamin A supplement I took every day for months.
I was convinced that it would work, because I’d always heard that vitamin A was good for your skin. But when it didn’t work at all, I chalked it up as just one more thing that wasn’t going to help me get rid of my acne.
But then I did some research and found out something surprising: Vitamin A supplements are actually great for fighting acne! So now I’m going to tell you about how much vitamin A for acne (and how much other stuff works too).
How Much Vitamin A For Acne
As mentioned above, performed vitamin A is found in foods like fish, meat, poultry, and dairy. The synthetic forms of preformed vitamin A are found in oral medications used to treat acne. Health experts recommend 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day.
Vitamin A for Acne: How It Helps, the Best Supplements, and Dosage and Safety Tips
Everything you need to know about taking vitamin A for clear skin.
In all my years of skin research, one of the most important discoveries I’ve made is about vitamin A.
Specifically, I believe that a vitamin A deficiency can be an underlying factor in acne—along with many other skin issues, including psoriasis, keratosis pilaris, calluses, eczema and even dryness.
You see, not too long ago, traditional diets were high in such fare as cream, eggs, butter and organ meats. All of these foods are rich sources of vitamin A, among other nutrients.
But now, in modern times, our meals look completely different. They’re high in vegetables, low in protein, and many people wouldn’t dream of eating dairy, let alone liver. No wonder we’re seeing an epidemic of skin conditions, including adult acne.
In this article, you will find out:
- How vitamin A works to improve skin health and clear acne
- The best food and supplement sources of vitamin A
- The latest word on vitamin A toxicity
Please be aware that this information is for strictly educational purposes only.
How Vitamin A Can Help Acne
The basic mechanism of vitamin A is to oppose keratinization (the shedding of skin cells).
What numerous skin conditions—including acne, psoriasis and keratosis pilaris—have in common is that all involve an abnormal keratinization process.
While healthy pores may only shed one layer of dead skin cells per day, in acne sufferers, this process is accelerated. This is referred to as retention hyperkeratosis.
When the excess dead skin builds up and combines with sebum, impactions develop that can turn into acne.
So what happens when you increase your intake of vitamin A?
It slows down the turnover of skin cells, and makes them function longer before flaking off. In other words, vitamin A helps reverse the retention hyperkeratosis.
This can have a dramatic impact on skin health and appearance, unblocking pores and preventing impactions.
Food Sources of Vitamin A
Getting your nutrition from food sources is ALWAYS your safest bet.
These are the foods with the highest vitamin A content:
- Beef liver: 31,718 IU per 100 g
- Chicken liver: 13,328 IU per 100 g
- Butter: 2,500 IU per 100 g
- Beef kidney: 1,578 IU per 100 g
- Cream: 1,470 IU per 100 g
- Eggs: 520 IU per 100 g (equivalent to two medium eggs)
- Whole milk: 200 IU per 100 g
Most people should be able to meet their vitamin A requirements by simply having one serving of liver, once a week.
(Marilyn Monroe had the right idea—her diet included vitamin A-rich liver, eggs and milk!)
Foods high in beta carotene, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, are NOT good sources of vitamin A. That’s because anyone with a slower metabolism or impaired liver function will not be able to easily convert the carotene to vitamin A in the body. Carotene also blocks thyroid function.
Vitamin A Supplements
Some of us who didn’t grow up eating liver just can’t acquire a taste for it. That’s where vitamin A supplements might come in.
I suggest looking for ones with as few excipients and polyunsaturated oils as possible. Here are a few I’ve found:
Ingredients: Vitamin A (vitamin A palmitate), purified water, xylitol, modified tapioca starch, lemon oil, xanthan gum, natural mixed tocopherols, citric acid, potassium sorbate
BioCare Vitasorb A
Where to buy: Amazon.com
Ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Vitamin A (as Retinyl Palmitate), Antioxidant (DL-Alpha Tocopherol)
Health Natura Simply A
Where to buy: Health Natura
Ingredients: Retinyl palmitate, MCT (medium chain triglycerides) from coconut oil.
BulkSupplements Vitamin A Palmitate Powder
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Ingredients: Vitamin A (as palmitate), gum arabic, starch, DL-alpha-tocopherol.
These are the supplements I DON’T recommend:
- Cod liver oil: While cod liver oil is high in vitamins A and D, I no longer consider it safe (as I explained here), due to its high polyunsaturated oil content, which suppresses thyroid.
- Dried liver: These supplements may be okay sources of B vitamins and minerals, but the vitamin A is likely to be destroyed. (For example, if you look at the label of Now Foods’ Argentine Liver Powder, vitamin A is not even listed.)
Vitamin A Dosage and Toxicity
So now you might be wondering about dosage, and whether you should be worried about vitamin A toxicity.
Is it really safe to take these supplements? Here’s the information I’ve uncovered.
What the Authorities Say About Vitamin A
According to the US National Institutes of Health, the Tolerable Upper Intake Level for adults is 10,000 IU/day of preformed vitamin A.
The same organization also warns about health risks from excessive vitamin A, citing this report of Arctic explorers developing headaches, vomiting and other symptoms after ingesting SEVERAL MILLION IU of vitamin A from polar bear or seal liver.
They also mention other side effects of hypervitaminosis A, which this report calls “varied and nonspecific”—and may include liver abnormalities, dizziness, nausea, skin irritation, pain in joints and bones, coma and even death.
What Other Studies Say About Vitamin A
Since its inception in 1985, the National Poison Data System has not recorded a single death from taking vitamin A supplements (nor any other vitamins, according to this source).
Also, some of the research used as “proof” that excessive vitamin A is toxic may be seriously flawed, including this study of 22,000 pregnant women whose offspring had birth defects. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig debunk that research here.
More recent studies appear to indicate that reports of vitamin A toxicity may be greatly exaggerated:
- This study found that retinol was “highly efficacious” in doses of 300,000 IU for women and 400,000 to 500,000 IU for men, with only “slight” toxicity that was limited to dry skin and lips.
- This study found no risk of liver impairment at daily doses of 150,000 to 200,000 IU for months.
- This study found that 300,000 IU of retinyl acetate was “well-tolerated” over a period of several months in cancer patients.
So why are authorities warning us against taking any more than 10,000 IU per day of vitamin A?
According to Ray Peat, PhD: “Some of the stories of its toxicity were invented to sell the synthetic retinoids; animal experiments have shown that it takes very large amounts, with deficient vitamin E, to be toxic.”
oral vitamin a for skin
Vitamin A is an antioxidant, which may help fight inflammation and free radicals in your skin — all which may contribute to acne.
Most people can get enough vitamin A through diet alone. The following foods are rich in vitamin A:
- orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes
- green leafy vegetables
- beef liver
Overall, though, the AAD says there’s no specific diet proven to treat acne. The only exceptions are to avoid sugar and dairy, which could possibly aggravate breakouts in people who are already prone to acne.
Getting enough vitamin A in your diet can help promote overall skin health, but it’s not likely to treat acne alone. Instead, focus on a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables for healthier skin.
Vitamin A supplements
Vitamin A supplements may help improve your overall immune system and your skin health. However, consider taking supplements only if you don’t already get enough vitamin A through diet alone, or if you don’t already take a multivitamin.
Too much vitamin A can lead to adverse health effects, including liver damage. Birth defects are also possible if you take excessive amounts of vitamin A while pregnant.
Side effects from too much vitamin A in supplement form can include:
It’s important to note that these side effects are linked to supplemental forms of vitamin A only. Excessive amounts of beta carotene found in vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables won’t cause life-threatening side effects.
Also keep in mind that the FDA doesn’t monitor the purity or quality of supplements. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin taking any to weigh the benefits and risks for you.
Using a topical vitamin A product
Despite the potential antioxidant benefits of vitamin A, topical formulas show the most promise for acne treatment. These can come in the form of creams and serums.
A 2012 reviewTrusted Source found concentrations as low as 0.25 percent may provide benefits without side effects. If your dermatologist thinks you’d benefit from a higher concentration, they might order a prescription-strength cream.
When you first start using topical vitamin A, it’s important to begin gradually so your skin gets used to the product. This could mean using it every other day at first before you eventually use it every single day.
Beginning gradually can also reduce the risk of side effects, such as redness and peeling.
Retinoids can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen every single day to prevent sun damage.
Vitamin A is just one potential treatment for acne. Your dermatologist can help you decide what treatment measures are best depending on the severity and history of your skin health.
Good skin care practices can also go a long way for acne-prone skin. In addition to eating a nutritious diet and using topical products, getting enough sleep, water, and exercise can also promote better skin health.
What is acne?
Acne is a skin problem that can cause several types of bumps to form on the surface of the skin. These bumps can form anywhere on the body but are most common on the:
Acne is often triggered by hormonal changes in the body, so it’s most common in older children and teenagers going through puberty.
Acne will slowly go away without treatment, but sometimes just when it starts to go away, more appears. Serious cases of acne may not usually be physically harmful, but they are associated withTrusted Source a higher risk of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, social phobias, and low self-esteem.
Depending on its severity, you may choose no treatment, over-the-counter treatment, or prescription acne medications to deal with your acne.
What causes acne?
To understand how acne develops, it can help to understand more about the skin: The skin’s surface is covered in small holes that connect to oil glands, or sebaceous glands, beneath the skin.
The oil gets rid of dead skin cells by carrying them through the follicle up to the surface of the skin. A thin piece of hair also grows up through the follicle.
Acne occurs when the skin’s pores clog up with dead skin cells, excess oil, and sometimes bacteria. During puberty, hormones often cause oil glands to produce excess oil, which increases acne risks.
There are two main types of acne:
- A whitehead, commonly known as a pimple, is a pore that gets clogged and closes but sticks out of the skin. These appear as hard, whitish bumps.
- A blackhead is a pore that gets clogged but stays open. These appear as tiny dark spots on the skin’s surface.
Other types of acne include pustules and papules.
How does diet affect the skin?
One thing that can affect your skin is diet. Certain foods raise your blood sugar more quickly than others.
When your blood sugar rises quickly, it causes the body to release insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that manages the effects of growth. Having excess IGF-1 in your blood can cause your oil glands to produce more sebum, increasing your risks of acne and inflammation.
Some foods that trigger spikes in blood sugar includeTrusted Source:
- white rice
- white bread
These foods are considered “high-glycemic” carbohydrates. That means they’re made of simple sugars.
Chocolate is also believed to worsen acne, but there isn’t enough high-quality research available to confirm this.
Other researchers have studied the connections between a so-called “Western diet” or “standard American diet” and acne. This kind of diet is based heavily on:
- high-glycemic carbohydrates
- saturated fats
- trans fats
These kinds of foods have been foundTrusted Source to stimulate the production of hormones that can cause excess oil to be created and secreted by oil glands.
They’ve also found that a Western diet is linked to greater inflammation, which can also contribute to acne problems.
What foods are believed to help your skin?
Eating low-glycemic foods made of complex carbohydrates may reduce your risk of developing acne. Complex carbohydrates are found in the following foods:
- whole grains
- unprocessed fruits and vegetables
Foods containing the following ingredients are also thought to be beneficial for the skin:
- the mineral zinc
- vitamins A and E
- chemicals called antioxidants
Some skin-friendly food choices include:
- yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, and sweet potatoes
- spinach and other dark green and leafy vegetables
- whole-wheat bread
- brown rice
- pumpkin seeds
- beans, peas, and lentils
- salmon, mackerel, and other kinds of fatty fish
Everyone’s body is different, and some people find that they get more acne when they eat certain foods. Under your doctor’s supervision, it can be helpful to experiment with your diet to see what works best for you.
Always take into account any food allergies or sensitivities you may have when planning your diet.
Do any studies show that these foods help your skin?
Several recent studies suggest that following a low-glycemic diet, or one that is low in simple sugars, can prevent and improve acne. Researchers in a 2012 studyTrusted Source of Korean patients found that following a low-glycemic diet for 10 weeks can lead to significant improvements in acne.
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology Trusted Source, researchers found that following a low-glycemic, high-protein diet for 12 weeks improved acne in men, and also led to weight loss. More current studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Studies also suggest that eating foods rich in zinc may be useful in preventing and treating acne. Foods that are rich in zinc include:
- pumpkin seeds
- seafood such as oysters and crab
In one study published in the BioMed Research International JournalTrusted Source, researchers looked at the relationship between the levels of zinc in the blood and acne severity. Zinc is a dietary mineral important in skin development as well as regulating metabolism and hormone levels.
The researchers found that low levels of zinc were linked to more severe cases of acne. They suggest increasing the amount of zinc in the diet to treat people with severe cases of acne.
Vitamins A and E
In a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Ocular ToxicologyTrusted Source, researchers found that low levels of vitamins A and E also seem to be linked to severe cases of acne.
They suggest that people may be able to lessen the severity of their acne by increasing their intake of foods containing these vitamins. Talk to your doctor before taking vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A toxicity can cause permanent damage to your major organs.
Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a type of fat found in certain plants and animal-protein sources, such as fish and eggs. Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize damaging toxins in the body. Together, omega-3s and antioxidants are thought to reduce inflammation.
Studies largely support the connection between an increase in consumption of omega-3s and antioxidants and a decrease in acne.
Studies in 2012Trusted Source and 2014Trusted Source found that people who took a daily omega-3 and antioxidant supplement were able to both reduce their acne and improve their mental health. Overall, more research is needed.
The bottom line
Some studies suggest certain foods can help get rid of acne and improve skin health, but there is no definitive food “cure.” Before modifying your diet, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure any changes you make won’t harm your health.
The best diet advice in dealing with acne appears to be eating a wholesome, balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and whole grains.
How to Use Aloe Vera for Acne
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Aloe vera is a plant in the succulent family. It grows wild and has thick, serrated leaves. The clear gel inside of aloe vera leaves is used topically to soothe skin that has been burned or irritated, and some people use it to treat acne. The antibacterial qualities of aloe are probably what make it effective for topical use to treat acne.
There is also a school of thought that believes taking aloe vera orally can be beneficial for hydrating and healing your skin from within, but there is far less evidence to substantiate that idea.
Uses for acne
Aloe vera has been studied Trusted Source when used in conjunction with traditional anti-acne medication, and the results were promising. If your acne is mild to moderate and you’ve been looking for a gentle way to soothe your skin, try these home remedies.
Using pure aloe vera topically
You may get the results that you’re looking for by using aloe vera all by itself. We knowTrusted Source that aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. It’s been used for centuries to cleanse wounds, kill pain, and heal burns. Very few people are allergic to it, and applying it topically poses an extremely low riskTrusted Source (as long as you’re not allergic to it).
By purchasing pure aloe vera and applying it generously to your face in place of a cleanser, you’ll be boosting the blood flow in your skin and killing off harmful bacteria. You can also spot-treat your acne breakout areas, leave the aloe on overnight, and wash it off in the morning to reduce redness and irritation.
Shop online for pure aloe vera gel.
Aloe vera, honey, and cinnamon face mask
Aloe vera has antibacterial properties that can help control and reduce acne-causing bacteria. Two other ingredients that have been studiedTrusted Source and found to have this same effect are cinnamon and honey. By combining all three for an at-home spa treatment, you’ll be upping your chances at smooth skin that’s acne-free.
Start with 2 tablespoons of pure honey and mix in 1 tablespoon of pure aloe vera. The mixture should be easy to spread, but not runny. Mix in 1/4 tablespoon of ground cinnamon before applying the mask to your face, and relax while the mask does its magic for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly after application.
Shop online for pure honey.
Aloe vera and lemon juice face mask
A face mask with aloe vera and lemon juice will give your face a refreshed and invigorated look while it cleans your pores and kills some of the bacteria that might be causing your acne. Some clinical trialsTrusted Source have shown fruit acids, like those contained in lemon juice, are effective cleansers for treating acne.
For this mask, use pure aloe vera as the base, adding about 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice to 2 tablespoons of aloe vera. If you need more to apply this mask evenly across your skin, make sure you maintain a lemon juice to aloe ratio of about 8 to 1 so that you don’t irritate or overwhelm your skin with the acidity of the citrus. Leave the mixture on your skin for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing off completely.
Aloe vera antibacterial spray
Since aloe vera can stimulate healthy skin cell growthTrusted Source, it might be worth it to purchase or make your own cleansing aloe spray. This mist will hydrate your face without causing shine or overproduction of oils, which can clog your pores.
Using a 2-oz. spray bottle, combine 1 1/4 oz. of purified water, 1/2 oz. of aloe vera, and a drop or two of your favorite nontoxic essential oil. Be careful to avoid your eyes when you spritz this cooling, acne-fighting mist on your face, and shake well before every use.
Shop online for essential oils.
Aloe vera, sugar, and coconut oil scrub
If you’re interested in natural remedies for acne, you might want to combine aloe vera with coconut oil and sugar for a DIY exfoliator. Exfoliating your skin gets rid of dead skin cells that can block pores. Raw or white cane sugar can gently brush these old cells away, clearing a path for aloe vera to penetrate your skin and stimulate healthy skin growth. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties of its own, and it also works as a natural emollient. The main acid in coconut oil has been studied Trusted Source and found to be a promising acne treatment. Mixing all three together could leave skin feeling smooth and refreshed.
Use coconut oil as your base, adding about 1/2 cup of coconut oil to 1/2 cup of raw or white sugar and mixing well. Pour in 1/4 cup of pure aloe vera gel for an exfoliating blend you can keep in the fridge. To use, gently scrub the mixture over your face and avoid your eye area. Rinse well with water after using.
Shop online for coconut oil.
Aloe vera and tea tree oil cleanser
Since tea tree oil is a proven antibacterialTrusted Source and acne-fighting ingredient, mixing it with aloe vera has the potential to produce a visible benefit. This isn’t a mixture you should leave on your face, as tea tree oil is extremely potent and acidic.
Use aloe vera as your base, add purified water and 2 to 3 drops of tea tree oil before carefully applying the mixture to your face. Rinse off after about a minute and pat your face dry.
Shop online for tea tree oil.
Aloe vera creams
Many acne creams and over-the-counter acne treatment products include aloe vera. If you aren’t using products with aloe vera in them, you might consider seeking some out to add to your routine. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory capabilitiesTrusted Source that make it a popular ingredient in commercial acne treatments. Check out the ingredient listings in the drugstore acne treatment section to see how you might add more aloe vera to your skin care regimen.
Risks and complications of using aloe vera for acne
Some people advocate using aloe teas and aloe juice to treat acne, but so far there’s not much evidence that it works. There’s also some evidence Trusted Source that ingesting high levels of aloe vera could hurt your body and put you more at risk for certain types of cancer. Avoid drinking aloe in significant quantities until more is known about the risks it might pose.
Aloe vera might also have interactions with other drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Make your provider aware that you’re taking aloe vera for acne if you do decide to try it internally.
Before you use any new substance on your face, do a patch test on your wrist, behind your ear, or on your upper arm to test your skin. If you have any sort of reaction or redness after using aloe on your skin, don’t try to use aloe to treat your acne.
There are plenty of ways to try aloe vera as an at-home treatment for your acne. If your acne is mild or moderate, the research is on your side. Aloe vera has been found to be an effective bacteria killer and acne treatment. With very little risk and a high possibility for success, most people should feel optimistic about using aloe vera as a part of their skin care routine.