Skin reflects our general state of health, so it follows that healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits will result in an attractive complexion. There are a number of nutrients that are critical to the health, growth, and immunity of skin cells. Hydration is also critical, as dehydration is often reflected by a lifeless or lined complexion. In general, healthy nutrition is balanced and includes avoidance of overindulgence in toxins, including some ingredients found in processed foods and alcohol. Although a healthy and balanced diet is the best source of vitamins and minerals for skin health, it’s an ideal that many of us fail to achieve. A few vitamins and minerals are particularly important for maintenance of a healthy complexion.
Vitamin A promotes cell turnover in the skin and has long been recognized as an effective treatment for many problematic skin conditions. Vitamin A promotes the growth and differentiation of new skin cells, improving cell turnover to maintain a youthful glow to the complexion. The body continually produces skin cells within the dermal layer of skin, which migrate upwards to the surface as they mature. As they die, the cells are sloughed as new skin cells surface to replace them. As an infant, skin cell turnover typically occurs every 2 weeks, but this slows with aging. By the age of thirty, skin cell turnover may occur only every thirty to forty days, and after the age of 50, it may occur as infrequently as every 45 to 90 days. This results in accumulation of a layer of dead skin cells that clog pores and lead to a dull and uneven complexion. Vitamin A deficiency can slow the process even more, leading to rough or scaly skin. Use of topical vitamin A products, or retinoids, speeds cell turnover and improves the appearance of aging skin.
In addition to increasing differentiation and proliferation of new skin cells, Vitamin A suppresses the activity of sebaceous glands in the skin. Sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance into hair skin, but overproduction of sebum can exacerbate conditions like acne. Topical retinoids, vitamin A derivatives, have been used successfully for many years as a treatment for acne.
Vitamin A is found in in foods like liver and cod liver oil, egg yolks, butter and cream. If you are considering a supplement, cod liver oil provides both vitamin A and vitamin D.
Vitamin B3 increases production of fatty acids and ceramides, two elements of the skin’s outer protective barrier that are necessary for retention of moisture and protection against environmental irritants. Although vitamin B3 is important in the diet, maximum benefit from this vitamin may be achieved by topical application. Nicotinamide, a form of B3, has been shown to improve flushing and redness and also reduces the transfer of pigment to skin cells, promoting an even complexion. Another study recently showed that nicotinamide significantly reduces the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers in individuals who have previous had a squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma of the skin. In this study, individuals who took a vitamin B3 supplement twice a day reduced their risk of new skin cancer by 23 percent.
Vitamin C is important for regulation of structural collagen proteins in the skin. Deficiencies of vitamin C cause problems that range from rough skin, corkscrew hair growth, and development of small, hard bumps on the skin, usually beginning on the upper arms, buttocks, and thighs. Low vitamin C levels have been associated with cardiovascular diseases and macular degeneration, in addition to skin wrinkling. Vitamin C supplementation in addition to consumption of at least fie servings of fruits and vegetables daily will improve wound healing and immunity and the appearance of skin. When used topically, vitamin C acts as a scavenger of harmful free radicals on the skin surface, reducing wrinkles, improving firmness, and reducing discoloration and brown spots.
Vitamin E is found in nuts, poultry, eggs, certain oils, and fruits. It is also available as a supplement and it is necessary for many cellular functions. It is an important antioxidant that helps prevent damage from free radicals that are found in cigarette smoke or occur as a result of ultraviolet radiation. Topical vitamin E is found in many moisturizers, allowing greater absorption into the skin cells. It helps strengthen the capillary walls in the skin, in addition to improving moisture retention, elasticity, and reducing inflammation.
Zinc is a mineral that is an essential structural element in many proteins and enzymes, with an important role in synthesis of proteins, immune function, and wound healing. It also has anti-inflammatory effects in the skin and is used topically for protection against ultraviolet radiation. Zinc is also essential for transportation of vitamin A in the blood, and studies have shown that dietary zinc may improve acne, possibly as a result of interaction with vitamin A. Dietary sources include organ meats like kidney and liver, red meat, and shellfish. Although zinc is also found in plant foods, it is less bioavailable. Dark chocolate is also a source of dietary zinc.
It’s often difficult to obtain optimal amounts of all nutrients even with a fairly balanced diet. When taking vitamins or supplements, be sure to read the label and understand the dosage, as toxicity can occur in the case of fat-soluble vitamins that are stored in the body. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins that can cause potentially dangerous problems if they build up over time from overconsumption of supplements. Vitamins B and C are water soluble vitamins, which are eliminated in urine, but can still result in problems when taken excess.