Acne and Retinol: Is Vitamin A an Acne Cure?

It’s well known that Vitamin A affects growth and development and vision. It powers up the immune system and last but not least it is essential for optimal functioning of the skin and for regulating the production of sebum. And since sebum is the oil produced in excess during an acne breakout, there is good reason to expect that vitamin A is useful in treating acne.

In May 2006 some interesting research was published in the Journal for Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Researchers tested blood levels of vitamin A of 100 acne patients and found they were very significantly below those of healthy age matched individuals.

They also found that ” Administration of vitamin A and E to patients with acne was shown to improve their acne condition.”

Vitamin A occurs in 2 forms – retinol and provitamin A usually available as beta carotene. Simply put Retinol is found mostly in organ meat, liver and fish oil and beta carotene in vegetables. Since the body can convert beta carotene into retinol whenever it needs it there is no particular reason to consume retinol because the vegetable form of vitamin A, beta carotene, is sufficient.

Dermatologists started to use very high doses of vitamin A as far back as the 1930s to treat patients with a wide variety of skin problems. The normal intake of vitamin A is around 5,000 to 10,000 units but the dermatologists were using doses of around 300,000 units in most conditions and more than a 1,000, 000 units for others. Such high doses run a risk of toxicity. In normal conditions a patient who takes a normal dose of 5,000 units a day has no such risk.

In addition the vegetable sources of vitamin A are even safer. One important tip about safety concerns pregnancy. Retinol supplements are best avoided in pregnancy because high doses may harm the foetus.

So is vitamin A an acne cure? The evidence so far indicates that vitamin A is missing in the diet of acne patients and that providing them with vitamin A is helpful. In some cases acne scars faded away. What seems to be unclear is the dosage and form of vitamin A needed for a cure.

Until further research is published on these questions acne patients should ensure that either their diet includes a wide variety and amount of vegetables to give them a safe dose of provitamin A or that they take a supplement that gives them safe amounts of retinol. In case of any doubt on dosage especially during pregnancy a health professional with experience and expertise in this area should be consulted.