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what does vitamin A do

Why your skin loves vitamin A

11 Aug 2021 • 2 min read


Vitamin A’s known to do a lot for the skin – from, helping to prevent breakouts to promoting natural moisturising, it’s responsible for a lot.1

In fact, this essential nutrient plays such a big role in enabling our bodies to function and boosting skin health, that we actually happen to have it down as being one of the essentials for healthy skin.

The science bit - how Vitamin A works…

Vitamin A comes from two sources, retinoids, such as retinol (which comes from animal sources, i.e. Vitamin A rich foods, such as liver, eggs and dairy products) and carotenoids (such as beta carotene that’s present in dark green veg and carrots). 

The body uses the carotenoids to create retinol meanwhile, the liver stores vitamin A and helps maintain vitamin levels in the blood.

Vitamin A helps transfer light into our nerve signals, which is needed for vision. This mighty vitamin’s also required for cell growth, as well as the process of making stem cells into various kinds of cells, bone growth and reproduction. In turn, this can help maintain a normal skin.2

Pre-formed or pro-formed, what’s the difference?

  • Pre-formed Vitamin A (AKA previtamin A) is found in: meat, fish, poultry and dairy products
  • ProA (AKA provitamin A) is found in: fruit, vegetables and other plant-based products3

An additional bit of info for you - the most common type of provitamin A that’s present in most foods and multivitamins is something known as beta-carotene. This is responsible for giving red, yellow and orange fruit and veg their bright and distinctive colours.4

And if you think beta-carotene sounds a lot like carrot, then you’re spot on with the connection, as it’s actually where the name stems from (beta-carotene means carrot in Latin).

So, now you’re most probably wondering why there’s such a link to carrots? It’s because orange carrots contain the highest level of total carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A.5

Vitamin A foods

Pre-formed Vitamin A, also known as retinoids/retinol can be found in animal products, such as:6

  • Salmon
  • Beef liver and liver pate
  • Dairy products, think milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Cod liver oil
  • Shrimp

Pro-formed Vitamin A, also known as carotenoids, can be found in plant products, such as:5

  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, cabbage and spinach
  • Fruit, including mangoes, apricots and plums

How much Vitamin A do we need a day?

Vitamin A’s responsible for a lot in our bodies, so how much of it do we actually need to make sure it does all of those things (and more) that we mentioned above?

According to NHS guidance, men need 0.7mg of Vitamin A a day and women need slightly less, 0.6mg, a day.

Ideally, we should be able to get all of the Vitamin A that’s required from our diet. Interestingly, any Vitamin A that’s not immediately used by the body doesn’t go to waste. It’s simply stored in our Vitamin A reserves for another day.

What happens if we don’t get enough Vitamin A?

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to dry skin and dry eyes, and breakouts, among many other things.

On the other hand, too much Vitamin A can result in too much of it being stored in the liver. This can lead to toxicity and problematic symptoms, such as vision changes, swelling of the bones, dry and rough skin, mouth ulcers and confusion.7

Advice for choosing Vitamin A skincare products

Vitamin A is said to single-handedly do a lot for the skin. For instance, retinoid/retinol products alone are responsible for:

  • Smoothing fine lines and wrinkles and help minimising the appearance if new lines and wrinkles8
  • Exfoliating skin cells9
  • Help preventing pores from clogging10

For more information on the impact of retinol on the skin, take a look at this article, ‘Is retinol safe?

There are all sorts of different Vitamin A skincare products to choose from. For instance, within the Vitaskin Vitamin A range alone, you can take your pick between Vitamin A cream, cell renewal oil, and a daily SPF moisturiser and resurfacing mask. The choice is yours and the options are widespread!

How to apply Vitamin A to your skin

Vitamin A creams are available in different strengths, i.e. some have higher levels of retinol properties in than others, and the higher the levels, the higher the potential to impact the skin.

Over-the-counter products are a weaker version, which means the retinol they contain isn’t as potent as their prescription-strength counterparts.

However, due to the very nature of how retinol works, it reportedly can cause the skin to become red, sensitive, dry and flaky in the early days until your skin gets used to it.11 

This is one of the main reasons why it’s extremely important you follow the less is more rule to applying it, especially if you’ve never used it before or are trying out a new product for the first time.

The dos and don’ts of applying Vitamin A

  • Do – apply a thin layer.
  • Don’t – use more than a pea-sized amount.
  • Do – gradually increase how much you use it (e.g. every three nights for three weeks, every two nights for three weeks).
  • Don’t – use perfumed products – they may aggravate the skin.
  • Do – make sure you moisturise, especially if it looks as though it’s drying your skin out.
  • Don’t – forget it can take time for retinols to work their magic. Results can usually start to be seen after three months onwards.12
  • Do – use an SPF30+ every day, as retinols can make your skin more sensitive and can break down in sunlight.9

Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, we’re hoping any initial questions you may have had at the start have been answered and you’re feeling one step closer to testing out the power of Vitamin A for yourself.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 11 August 2021



Author: Doaa Al MosawiInternational Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Mar 2019

BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science

After completing her BSc in Biomedical Science, Doaa worked in Research and laboratory for 3 years. Doaa was also a member of a product development team in a manufacturing company specialising in sun care and personal care products, researching and providing regulatory advice regarding international regulations.

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