If you are prone to acne or even frequent breakouts, vitamin A is often prescribed in the form of a retinoid cream. And with good reason, it works. But if, like me, you have sensitive skin then a retinol can be a terrible idea as it will simply fan the flames causing profound discomfort with irritation, redness and rashes. Those of us with oily, sensitive skin can feel that we are permanently between a rock and a hard place. However, there may be a solution. Instead of vitamin A, think vitamin B.

Vitamin B is essential for healthy skin and deficiencies in it can lead to eczema or acne. There is a whole family of B vitamins with different jobs to do, so it pays to get to know them. For example, a paucity of vitamin B2 can cause skin to be oily. I have even read that it can take only a very slight deficiency. Dr L H Leung of Hong Kong University advocates high doses of vitamin B5 for acne sufferers.

Leung links vitamin B5 to sebum in this way. If the body has a shortage of coenzyme-A it will allow lipids to accumulate in the sebaceous glands, sebum excretion is increased, and acne begins to appear. And how does the coenzyme-A deficiency come about? A shortage of pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5.

It should be said that the high B5 doses recommended by Dr L have unpleasant side effects (such as diarrhea). So it is preferable to look at your diet. B vitamins are easily found in meat, eggs and dairy. And there is yet another good reason to take flax oil (as a supplement or a teaspoon of seeds sprinkled on food): it contains generous amounts of vitamin B (plus clinical trials show it to be effective at repairing age damaged skin).

In addition to B2 and 5, B3 is useful in the spotty skin dept and niacinamide, a water soluble form of vitamin B, is gaining a reputation in the fight against acne. B3 is also called niacin and this is increasingly turning up as an anti-aging cosmetic ingredient. NIA 24 is a skincare brand that is big on niacin and beloved by Kate (although I must say there many ingredients in its formulations that I wouldn't cheer about). I must say that it would be worth checking out Olay's Professional Pro-X range, the Wrinkle Smoothing cream has niacinamide and panthenol.

Pevonia's De-Aging Body Lotion also contains niacinamide and, in my experience, chest and shoulder breakouts were definitely kept under control. Glotherapeutics GloPeptide + Defense is a TIA recommended serum that has niacinamide and vitamin B complex. In researching this post, I got tempted to try out Epicuren's Milk Cleanser with vitamin B and kukui nut oil. Another interesting brand from Korea, Biolee Acnique, puts pine pollen (rich in vitamin B and E) center stage as a cure for most skin ailments and an antioxidant.