What Do Vitamins Actually Do For Our Skin?
Vitamins are some of the most frequently touted ingredients in skincare. Hailed for overhauling tired skin and giving our complexions a much-needed boost, vitamins have infiltrated our face creams and serums. We know they can deliver skin-boosting results, but you wouldn’t be alone if you’re still not entirely au fait with what vitamin A does compared to vitamin C and whether you should always use vitamin E.
“The word vitamin is derived from ‘Vita’ meaning life and ‘Min’ meaning mineral,” says Dr Colette Haydon, founder and formulator of Lixirskin. “Historically it was thought vitamins were minerals, hence the name, but now we know that they are essential molecules for the body that the body cannot produce itself. We have to get these from an outside source.”
Traditionally, we’ve tended to up our intake through food, so if we’re getting them in our diet, do we need to apply them topically, too? Experts say, yes. Our skin is at the bottom of the pecking order, after our organs and vital functions, “the body takes up most, if not all of the goodness it needs first,” says skincare expert and facialist Michaella Bolder. Therefore, the amount left over for our skin afterward is hugely reduced. Add to this the fact that our skin (quite literally) faces a deluge of issues every day – pollution, make-up, incorrect skincare, diet, alcohol – “it’s no wonder a gentle boost from the right vitamins can help,” says Bolder.
So, here’s what each can do:
Vitamin A: Best for smoothing
Found in low doses in beta carotene – the main source of nutrients in carrots – vitamin A is credited with helping to improve eyesight. However, you will most likely know it as the star component of skincare heavyweight, retinol. Widely considered the gold-standard in skin-smoothing and wrinkle reduction, retinol is one of the most studied and proven ingredients on the market.
It has been shown to boost collagen production and plump out fine lines, and it can help with overall skin texture too – encouraging skin cell turnover which helps to lighten pigmentation and scarring. “It’s best used only at night time and can be added into your routine from the age of around 30+ with combination, oily, normal or mature skin types,” says Bolder (very dry or sensitive skin types may find it too powerful).
Because of its potency, it can cause irritation if introduced too quickly, in too high a quantity. So, “start off on a very low percentage and increase slowly to allow your skin’s tolerance levels to settle in,” says Bolder or choose a formula that buffers its intensity with skin soothing ingredients or high-tech delivery systems.
Try: Sarah Chapman Skinesis Icon Night Cream, £98. This silky night cream features revolutionary drone technology, which enables it to deliver its active ingredient (retinol) to the areas that need it without causing irritation. It works by encapsulating the retinol in a protective sphere until it needs to be released.
Vitamin B3: Best for decongesting
There are many different vitamin B’s [for instance B, B3 and B12] but the most commonly used in skincare is vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide. “This is a good vitamin for hydration, pigmentation and sebum control,” says Dr Haydon. It contains anti-inflammatory properties which help to reduce redness and calm spots. It can also moderate sebum levels and reduce the appearance of large pores, making it ideal for blemishes. What’s more, it’s a natural hydrator and has been shown to reduce water loss and boost the amount of elastin and ceramides in skin (essential for giving skin bounce and firmness, respectively).
Finally, it’s able to regulate melanin levels in skin, preventing a build-up (which can lead to dark spots), so is brilliant at tackling pigmentation, too. Effectively it has the ability to soothe breakouts without drying skin out, as well as plumping and evening out skin tone.
Try: Garden of Wisdom Niacinamide Serum, £9. Affordable and highly effective, this lightweight, no-frills serum gets to work on calming blemishes and fighting subsequent pigmentation left behind by scarring.
Vitamin C: Best for brightening
The grand dame of brightening, vitamin C is skincare royalty thanks to its ability to revive dull complexions. “Otherwise known as L-Ascorbic acid, this gives you a magic quick fix of radiance, eliminating dull, grey undertones,” says Dr Haydon. Like niacinamide, it has the ability to regulate melanin and therefore is very effective at fading pigmentation for a more even skin tone. All vitamins are rich in skin-protecting antioxidants, but vitamin C is particularly abundant, making it an excellent shield against damaging free radicals (found in pollution particles and UV rays). This enables it to protect skin from oxidative stress which can lead to the breakdown of collagen and premature ageing.
“It’s best used in the morning on clean dry skin and left alone for a good ten minutes to really get to work,” says Bolder. “It works on most skin types (if not all) and all ages too. Just be mindful of the form and percentages as vitamin C can be too stimulating for some skin types when it is too pure or too strong,” she adds.
Try: LixirSkin Vitamin C Paste, £32. This is a quick morning mask, best applied first thing (before you clean your teeth and scroll through emails), then rinsed off a few minutes later. It may be a bit more faff than your usual cleanse-and-go, but it’s fully worth the effort and gives ultra radiant, healthy-looking skin. Don’t forget to follow-up with SPF though.
Vitamin D: Best for regenerating
Technically, vitamin D is the exception to the rule, since unlike other vitamins, it can be produced by our body, “but we need to be exposed to sunlight for the production to occur,” explains Dr Haydon. As far as vitamin D’s credentials go, it’s absolutely fundamental for growth and repair – “it encourages your cells to rebind and makes them stronger, whilst helping to rebuild the skin’s barrier function [essential for maintaining moisture],” explains Bolder – but in the UK, we often don’t get enough of it.
What’s needed is more time spent in the sun, since vitamin D is absorbed through our skin when exposed to UVA. However, it comes with its own set of problems given we’re now more up to speed than ever with the damaging effects the sun can have on our skin. The answer, is a broad spectrum SPF which blocks harmful rays without inhibiting our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. Even so, “scientists are increasingly finding that vast numbers of the population are deficient in this vitamin simply because of the demands by the body and of course, living in the northern climes means we get less exposure to sunlight,” explains Shabir Daya, Victoria Health’s in-house pharmacist. So it may be worth topping up with a supplement, too.
Try: Coola Face SPF 30 Organic Unscented Sunscreen Moisturizer, £30. This is ultra lightweight, non-greasy and non-offensive. Plus it’s invisible, making it undetectable on skin.
And, try: Solgar Vitamin D3 400 IU (10 mcg) Softgels, £7.25. The NHS recommends that 10 micrograms or 400 International Units (IUs) should be enough of an intake for most people who need a top-up.
Vitamin E: Best for soothing
Another powerhouse of an antioxidant, vitamin E (otherwise known as tocopheral) is fantastic at protecting skin, neutralising free radicals and fighting inflammation. It’s packed full of moisturising essential fatty acids and has the ability to boost collagen and plump skin. Because it’s ultra gentle, it’s a good moisturising option for sensitive skin types and is able to pass into deeper layers of the skin without causing irritation. What’s more, it has wonderful skin-healing benefits. “It’s a great one for stretch marks, scarring, eczema and psoriasis as well as dehydrated, dry and mature skins,” says Bolder. Definitely one to have in the drawer for those needing hydration and some extra TLC.
Try: HealthAid Vitamin E Cream, £7.99. This nourishing non-greasy cream is a great multi-tasker that can be massaged into the face, hands and body.