Using Vitamins to Treat Acne

A group of various pills sit on a white background.

Some vitamins should be taken orally in order to fight acne, while others should be applied topically.

Acne vitamins can heal acne-prone skin from the inside out, or, if they are applied in the right form, from the outside in. Not everything that is a vitamin, however, is in the form that can be used by the skin to protect itself from acne and repair acne damage.


  • Some vitamins heal the skin from the inside out, but other vitamins are best used topically.
  • Vitamin A stimulates growth of the skin. Any vitamin A product you apply directly to your skin has to come from a tube that protects it from the air.
  • Vitamin B supplementation may be important if you take Accutane, but overdoses of vitamins B6 and B12 can cause breakouts by themselves.
  • Vitamin C is important for preventing brown spots on Asian skin, but this product is used as the blemish is healing, not afterward.
  • If you always use sunblock, you need supplemental vitamin D.
  • Vitamin E creams help benzoyl peroxide work more completely, and help prevent brown spots on Asian skin.

Vitamin A for Acne

Vitamin A regulates the growth of the skin. Skin cells are typically very short-lived. They form in the basal layers of the skin, and as they mature, they are pushed to the surface. After just 21 days, they die, replaced by the cells that come after them.

The cells lining pores in the skin have a similar life cycle. Instead of being pushed to the top of the skin by newer skin cells, they have to be carried out of the pore with sebum. When too many skin cells die at the bottom of a pore, it can become clogged. But if not enough skin cells die around a pore, its opening can be narrowed.

Vitamin A acts like a key in a lock for certain sequences of DNA that carry the code for proteins that cause skin cells to mature. The kind of vitamin A that interacts with DNA, however, is extremely unstable, so it is not available in an active form from food, supplements, skin care creams, or even from retinoid drugs. And skin care creams that you dip out of a jar lose any vitamin A they contain almost as soon as they are opened, due to oxidation from exposure to the air.

The best ways to get vitamin A for your skin are:

  • Start drinking cod liver oil for breakfast. You’ll get plenty of the vitamin A your skin needs. Or, if that’s not your thing,
  • Eat lots of carrots and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables. They contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A as needed, unless you are overweight, in which case the beta-carotene tends to remain in your fat cells. In that case, you can eat butter, cream, and liver, which aren’t the greatest for weight control diets, or
  • Take vitamin supplements, up to 5,000 IU a day. Women who are or who could become pregnant must be careful not to overdose. Only supplements that are in capsule form deliver vitamin A in a form the body can use.
  • Retinyl palmitate in skin creams provides vitamin A for the skin. These products should packaged in a tube, not a jar.
  • Retinoid drugs such as topical tretinoin deliver an even more stimulating form of vitamin A, but should be used only as directed.

Vitamin B for Acne

The B vitamins are often overlooked in acne care. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People who live in North America almost never have B-vitamin deficiencies, because they eat so many foods that are fortified with B vitamins at the food manufacturing plants. People in Europe, Australia, and most of the rest of the world don’t get as many pre-fortified foods, but they don’t often have deficiency symptoms, either. The time to take a vitamin B supplement is when you take isotretinoin (Accutane).

Isotretinoin can interfere with the body’s absorption of folic acid and vitamin B12. These vitamins are necessary for the body to make enzymes needed for DNA synthesis in red blood cells. Sometimes people who take Accutane develop megaloblastic anemia, which has to be treated by reducing the dose of Accutane and increasing consumption of folic acid and B12.

Taking too much vitamin B12 in a single dose can also make your skin break out. If you are taking Accutane, just to be on the safe side, take a regular complete vitamin B supplement. Make sure your doctor runs blood tests that can give you early warning of anemia, and work with your doctor to get the right dose of the drug.

Vitamin C for Acne

Vitamin C is one of the most important vitamins for treating acne on Asian skin. Vitamin C prevents the formation of the brown pigments that can mar the skin after blemishes have healed. Vitamin C should be applied to the skin as acne is healing, not afterward.

The most useful form of vitamin C for treating acne-prone skin is ascorbyl palmitate. Like all antioxidant vitamins, vitamin C should be applied from a tube, not from pads or a jar, which cannot protect the vitamin from oxidation by the air. If you use vitamin C properly, you will never know it worked. You will just see clear skin.

Vitamin D for Acne

Vitamin D is the vitamin our skin makes when we get up to 20 minutes of strong sunlight on the face and hands every morning. If you always have your skin protected by sunscreen, or you never go out into the sun, you will need supplemental vitamin D for general health.

The best natural supplement for vitamin D is, believe it or not, cod liver oil. Just a teaspoon a day gives you all the vitamin A and vitamin D you need and more. Cod liver oil comes in cherry, lemon, lime, and even chocolate flavors. Otherwise, up to 1,000 IU of vitamin D from supplements is a good idea, especially during the winter.

Vitamin E for Acne

Vitamin E amplifies the effects of benzoyl peroxide, but you don’t get the benefits of vitamin E and benzoyl peroxide from food or supplements. You need to use a skin cream that contains vitamin E alternating with your benzoyl peroxide. The vitamin E not only helps the benzoyl peroxide work better, it also prevents darkening of the skin. Adding vitamin E to your treatment routine can be especially helpful if you have Asian or brown skin. Just use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and the vitamin E product in the evening, or vice versa.

One of the very best products for providing vitamin to Asian skin is C E Ferulic Acid Combination Treatment by SkinCeauticals. The US $138 per 1 oz/28 g tube price tag may seem expensive, but it is easy to spend far more than $138 on skin lighteners after the fact. Another excellent product that works on all types of skin is Moisture Infusion Serum with CoQ10 by Zia. At US $42.95 for half an ounce, it is less expensive than the SkinCeauticals product, but it is important to store the container in a dark place so the vitamin E will not break down with exposure to light.

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