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Easy As ABC – Topical Vitamins For Your Skin

main1Taking vitamins and minerals orally has been shown to provide a vast number of health benefits.

However if we want to have optimum results for the skin – think acne or anti ageing effects, it is time to consider alternate methods of delivery by applying some vitamins and minerals directly on to the skin.

On occasion oral ingestion is not as effective at increasing skin concentrations of vitamins and mineral as their absorption is limited by the active transport mechanisms in the gut.

Topical antioxidants produce much higher concentrations in the skin than nutritional supplements. For example applying vitamin C to the skin is 20 times more effective than oral ingestion.

Applying vitamin C daily for three days can achieve optimal levels in the skin. It is also known that once a topical antioxidant is absorbed into the skin, it cannot be washed or rubbed off.

So, even after stopping application, significant amounts of vitamin C will remain in the skin for up to three days.


Vitamin A (Retinol/ Retinoids)

Acne and Other Skin Conditions 

Topical vitamin A (known also as retinol or retinoids) are effective treatments for mild to moderately severe acne. There are reports of positive results in as little as a few weeks but it appears that 6 or more weeks  may be needed for improvement to occur.

Vitamin A works by assisting in the rapid reproduction of skin cells as well as reducing the excessive keratinisation (hardening) of skin cells.

In patients with acne, sebum fills with pro-inflammatory lipids, creating a superb growth medium for bacteria, therefore using a topical vitamin A alongside an anti-bacterial may be of benefit.

Retinoids unclog pores, boost collagen to reduce fine lines and speed cell turnover to even out discoloration and smooth the skin—sometimes in as little as four weeks.


Potential Side Effects

Retinoids can irritate the skin, especially when they are first used. This is more likely in those with sensitive skin, resulting in a stinging sensation. Excessive use can result in redness, dryness, flaking, swelling, peeling and blistering in treated areas. It may cause or aggravate eczema, particularly atopic dermatitis.

By peeling off the top layer of skin, vitamin A application  may increase the chance of sunburn. Irritation may also be aggravated by exposure to wind or cold, use of soaps and cleansers, astringents, peeling agents and certain cosmetics.

Some people have reported a flare of acne in the first few weeks of treatment as the follicular epithelium is loosening. This usually settles with continued use.

Retinoids are sensitive to sunlight, which is why it should be applied before bed at night. Some researchers claim that a  retinoid shouldn’t make your skin any more vulnerable to UV rays than it would be after buffing away dead skin with a face scrub. Summer is actually a good time to start a retinoid; humidity makes your skin less likely to dry out as it adjusts. Of course, apply sunscreen (SPF 30, at least) as diligently as you always do.

Due to potential side effects, especially initially, it is important to ease into its use. For the first two weeks, apply a retinoid every third night.

If your skin isn’t irritated, increase the application to every other night for two weeks. If after this time the skin is not dry or flaky increase the application to every night.

Wait 15 minutes after washing your face before you apply a retinoid, and use one pea-size dab to cover your whole face. After a few minutes, apply a basic moisturiser to prevent dryness.

Vitamin A is contra indicated in pregnancy, therefore do not use a retinoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


Vitamin B3

Application of vitamin B3, known also as niacinamide (which is the water-soluble form of vitamin B3) and  nicotinamide (the amide form of the vitamin) has been proven to increase skin softness, suppleness, increase the elasticity of the skin, enhance the skin barrier function, erase discolorations and improve the skin’s tone and texture and skin hydration.

Acne and Rosacea

Vitamin B3 is known to reduce the impact of inflammed cystic acne and acne vulgaris- the classic form of acne. In a 1995 clinical trial, 82% of acne patients treated with a 4% niacinamide gel showed improvement in 8 weeks.

Studies have shown that topical applications of vitamin B3 have been shown to increase creamed (waxy lipid molecules found in the skin) and free fatty acid levels in skin.

One study found that niacinamide reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, redness, yellowing of the skin and blotchy marks on the face. Most importantly, the study concluded that vitamin B3 lotion is tolerated well by all skin types, meaning that the vitamin will work equally as well for individuals with oily and dry skin.

Because topical application of niacinamide can help preserve levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydride (NADH) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate hydrogen (NADPH) (see below), it contributes to the support of the skin’s barrier against pollutants and other irritants.

As a result, many skin conditions, such as acne, the redness associated with rosacea, and other inflammatory signs can be actively managed. Also, vitamin B3 has shown to be useful for encouraging the production of natural emollients (softening agents) that can help the skin remain hydrated.

How Topical Vitamin B3 works

Vitamin B3 has been clinically shown to reduce inflammation. According to the inflammation theory, free radical formation plays a crucial role in acne-prone and ageing skin. Inflammation is often the first step to acne formation; once we are exposed to sources of inflammation: sun damage, poor diet and poor quality cosmetic products, the body consequently stimulates the over production of acne- producing hormones in the body.

Niacinamide works in two distinct physiological ways. First, vitamin B3 preserves enzymes that contribute to healthy cell growth. Niacinamide is a structural part of the enzymes nicotinamide dinucleotide phosphate (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP).

Their reduced form, NADH and NADPH, are the two most important coenzymes in hydrogen transfer reactions. The NADH and NADPH enzymes contribute to the production of cellular energy and lipids responsible for cell growth. This process has been shown to reduce the signs of ageing on the skin.

When there is adequate supply of both of these enzymes, the skin creates an effective barrier to external factors that influence the ageing process. However, the levels of both NADH and NADPH decline as we grow older. When applied topically, vitamin B3 seems to reduce this rate of decline.

Vitamin C

Two excellent plant based sources of vitamin C include sea buckthorn and rose hips. Ancient Tibetans were known to have rubbed sea buckthorn on their hands and faces to reduce the signs of ageing; it is the golden-orange berries of the sea buckhorn plant that yield a deep-coloured oil that is a major source of vitamin C.

Rose hips, the berry-like fruits that are left behind after a rose dies, contain more vitamin C (about 20 times) than that of an orange.

Anti-Ageing and Antioxidant 

While vitamin C is an important nutrient for overall health, little reaches the skin when orally ingested.

Modern science has determined that topical vitamin C not only boosts collagen synthesis and slow its degradation, it is an essential component in the body’s production of collagen.

This is important as collagen is a structural support protein essential for firm, youthful looking skin. Overall, the amount of collagen in the skin tends to decline with age which is accelerated by a number of factors like sunlight, smoking, free radicals and inflammation.

Therefore topically applying  vitamin C is one of the most effective ways to boost collagen synthesis and slow its degradation, helping to maintain firm and youthful skin.

In Australia, we are exposed to some of the harshest UV rays in the world.  Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can also accelerate skin ageing by degrading collagen and creating oxidative stress in the skin.

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can help rejuvenate photo damaged skin.

Additionally topical vitamin C limits skin damage from free radicals such as environmental pollutants which triggers oxidative stress in the skin.


Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 12.30.56 pmVitamin E


Vitamin E is the most abundant fat soluble antioxidant found in human skin. In humans, levels of vitamin E in the epidermis are higher than the dermis.

Although the predominant form of vitamin E in skin of unsupplemented individuals is α-tocopherol, skin may also contain measurable amounts of γ-tocopherol and other diet-derived tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Sebum provides a delivery mechanism for vitamin E to the stratum corneum (outermost level of the skin), while topical applications of vitamin E permeate the epidermis and dermis. It is here that vitamin E contributes to antioxidant defences.

Interestingly, vitamin E levels in the dermis increase greatly after topical application, likely accumulating in the sebaceous glands. Although it is increased after topical delivery, the concentration of vitamin E in the dermis is lower than in the stratum corneum.

Skin supplied only with dietary vitamin E primarily contains α- and γ-tocopherol; by contrast, skin supplied with synthetic vitamin E topically can contain a mixture of different tocopherols and/or tocotrienols.

However, much of a topically applied dose of vitamin E alone will be destroyed in the skin following exposure to UV light. This suggests that although vitamin E is working as an antioxidant, it is unstable on its own and easily lost from the skin.

Thus, improving the stability of topical applications with vitamin E is important. Products containing both vitamin C and vitamin E have shown greater efficacy in photo (sun) protection than either antioxidant alone.

Potential Side Effects 

Because vitamin E can absorb UV light to produce free radicals, there is the possibility that heavy sunlight exposure after topical application can cause skin reactions.

However, concentrations of vitamin E between 0.1%-1.0% are generally considered safe and effective to increase vitamin E levels in the skin, but higher levels of α-tocopherol have been used with no apparent side effects.

Some forms of vitamin E, especially ester conjugates (synthetic combinations), have led to adverse reactions in the skin, including allergic contact dermatitis and erythema. Although such reactions may be due to oxidation by-products, the emulsion creams used for topical delivery of compounds may also contribute to the observed side effects.


Magnesium chloride is available in crystal and oil form, it is very stable, and can be stored indefinitely.  Magnesium chloride crystals are suitable for use in baths and foot baths.  The oil can safely be applied diluted or undiluted directly on to the skin.

The benefit of applying magnesium chloride on to the skin as it is rapidly absorbed and utilised by the muscles and other tissues.

Magnesium chloride is safely and easily absorbed via the surface of the skin; the largest organ of the body, and provides a large surface area through which magnesium may be absorbed.

People who are particularly sensitive or have an intolerance (loose bowel, stomach rumbling) to oral magnesium now have an alternative method of getting their magnesium.


Further Reading



  • Gerald says:


    Interesting article about topical vitamins but it would be helpful if the form of each topical vitamin was mentioned. E.g. topical vitamin C was it ascorbic acid or vitamin C palmitate or an ester form etc. ?

    kind regards


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