Vitamin A a fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for a wide range of biological functions. It is necessary for normal growth and development, a healthy immune system, eyesight and much more. It is found in many foods, especially green, leafy vegetables. Vitamin A supplementation is frequently used as a Naturopathic treatment for acne.
Vitamin A plays and important role in regulating the development of skin cells and the sebaceous glands. Vitamin A was widely researched in the mid-20th century as a treatment for acne. Overall, these studies found that normal dosages of oral Vitamin A supplements were largely ineffective as acne treatments. Topical application of Vitamin A was also found to mildly effective, at best. However, oral supplementation with high-dose Vitamin A was reported to significantly reduce acne symptoms in some people.
The observation that high doses of Vitamin A could cause reduction of sebum production and an improvement in acne symptoms helped to spur the development of a class of Vitiman A derivatives called Retinoids. Retinoids are a group of of Pharmaceutical Medications that are widely used for the treatment of acne, and other skin conditions. Retinoids are structurally similar to Vitamin A and include medications like Isotretinoin (Accutane), Tretinoin (Retin-A), Adapalene (Differin) and Tazarotene Tazorac). These medications work by decreasing the growth and activity of sebaceous glands and the production of sebum. Because Retinoids tend to be more effective and require lower dosages than Vitamin A, direct supplementation with high-dose Vitamin A is not a common acne treatment. Retinoids are available in forms that can be consumed orally (eg. Accutane) or applied topically (eg. Retin-A).
Because Vitamin A is fat-soluble the body cannot easily remove excess Vitamin A and consuming very large amounts of Vitamin A can be toxic. There are some disagreements about specific toxicities and overall risk associated with high-dose Vitamin A treatments. But some side effects of Vitamin A toxicitiy include hair loss, dry skin and (potentially) liver damage. Overall, it appears that consuming normal dosages of Vitamin A is unlikely to dramatically improve acne symptoms for most people. Most people are not Vitamin A deficient, although there have been reports that individuals with moderate to severe acne symptoms tend to have lower concentrations of Vitamin A in their blood. High-dose Vitamin A therapy may be a useful acne treatment, but it might be unsafe. Pharmaceutical Retinoids are a viable alternative to high-dose Vitamin A therapy and may be more effective and have lower risk of side effects.
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Vitamin A @ Wikipedia
Effects of oral zinc and vitamin A in acne. Michaelsson, et al. 1977.
Topical vitamin A acid in acne vulgaris. Kligman, et al. 1969.
Oral vitamin A in acne vulgaris Preliminary report. Kligman, et al. 1981.
Studies on the mechanism of action of topical benzoyl peroxide and vitamin A acid in acne vulgaris. Fulton, et al. 1974.
Acne vulgaris: oral therapy with tetracycline and topical therapy with vitamin A. Mills, et al. 1972.
High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. Adebamowo, et al. 2005.
Vitamin A in skin and serum—studies of acne vulgaris, atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis vulgaris and lichen planus. Rollman, et al. 1985.
Propionibacterium acnes induces an IL-17 response in acne vulgaris that is regulated by vitamin A and vitamin D. Agak, et al. 2014.
Topical tretinoin, vitamin A acid (Airol®) in acne vulgaris. Christiansen, et al. 1974.
Isotretinoin treatment of severe acne affects the endogenous concentration of vitamin A in sebaceous glands. Vahlquist, et al. 1990.
Ultrastructure of human sebaceous follicles and comedones following treatment with vitamin A acid. Wolff, et al. 1974.
Topical vitamins. Burgess. 2008.
Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition? El‐akawi, et al. 2006.
The acute and chronic toxic effects of vitamin A. Penniston, et al. 2006.