Cystic acne is a type of acne that tends to form under the skin, and it’s especially common in people with darker skin tones. It’s a serious condition that can leave you feeling self-conscious about your appearance, but there are steps you can take to treat it.
Vitamin A is one of the best natural treatments for cystic acne, because it helps reduce inflammation and balance oil production in your skin. Vitamin A supplements are available over-the-counter (OTC) at drugstores and vitamin stores, so they’re easy to get hold of. They’re also inexpensive—not much more than what you’d spend on an OTC product like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
It’s important to note that Vitamin A supplements should not be taken if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have liver damage or a history of liver disease.
Vitamin A For Cystic Acne
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables as well as other nutrient-dense food sources, like leafy greens.
As an antioxidant, vitamin A can help promote better skin and overall health by fighting free radicals.
Vitamin A may also help ward off inflammation, an underlying factor in acne vulgaris.
When it comes to treating acne with vitamin A, topical formulas show the most promise. These products are also called retinols or retinoids.
Don’t take vitamin A supplements to treat acne without checking with your doctor first, though. They can make sure the supplements won’t interfere with any other medications or supplements you may already be taking.
Benefits of vitamin A for acne
Vitamin A is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are known for preventing free radicals that can lead to cell damage. This may help decrease skin aging.
Vitamin A may also help treat acne, but it all depends on the source and how you use it. Eating vitamin A-rich foods can promote better skin health from the inside out, while topical formulas may target acne directly.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), retinol (retinoid), a topical form of vitamin A, can help treat and prevent inflammatory acne lesions.
In fact, the organization recommends using topical retinoids to treat several types of acne.
Retinol may help improve acne by:
- decreasing inflammation
- increasing skin cell growth to heal lesions and scars
- possibly decreasing sebum (oil) production
- smoothing skin
- evening skin tone
- protecting against environmental damage
Retinoids may also work well with antibiotics as needed for clearing up severe acne breakouts.
What does the research say?
There’s a lot of research backing up the use of topical vitamin A for acne. But research on oral vitamin A for acne has been mixed.
Older researchTrusted Source couldn’t support oral vitamin A as an effective acne treatment, but researchers did say it could possibly prevent acne vulgaris from getting worse.
More recent researchTrusted Source concluded oral vitamin A is effective at treating acne, but the study was small and of low quality.
Overall, vitamin A as an acne treatment is most promising as a topical treatment only.
While it’s important to get enough vitamin A in your diet, this isn’t the best acne treatment solution. Taking too much can harm your health.
How much should you get daily?
Vitamin A content on foods and supplements is listed in international units (IU). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states the daily value of vitamin A for people ages 4 and up is 5,000 IU.
You shouldn’t take more vitamin A just for the sake of treating acne. This could lead to severe health consequences, like liver damage.
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Food sources of vitamin A
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.
Last medically reviewed on December 13, 2018
- What causes it
- How diet affects the skin
- Foods to help your skin
- Bottom line
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.
These holes are called pores. The oil glands produce an oily liquid called sebum. Your oil glands send sebum up to the skin’s surface through a thin channel called a follicle.
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 include Trusted 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 found Trusted 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 DermatologyTrusted 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.
oral vitamin a for skin
Oral vitamin A (retinol) is generally not considered useful in the treatment of acne vulgaris. We conducted a study which showed that retinol was indeed ineffective at the usual doses of 50,000 to 100,000 IU daily. Retinol was highly efficacious in doses of 300,000 units for women and 400,000 to 500,000 units for men, toxicity was slight and limited mainly to skin (xerosis) and mucous membranes (cheilitis). The danger of hypervitaminosis A in this dosage range has been exaggerated. Retinol is a valuable drug for treating stubborn, severely inflammatory acne vulgaris. It is administered until the disease is brought under control, usually within three to four months. Then the dosage is progressively reduced relying on conventional drugs to keep the disease in abeyance.