For many of us, the new year marks a time when we focus on diet and nutrition. After a holiday season's worth of indulgence, healthy eating is a great way to get back on track. First and foremost, we should all be taking our vitamins. You can get your fill with healthy fruit, veggies and fish and see the effects of a good diet on your skin. Topical vitamins are also effective in natural anti-aging skin care products — in fact, they are among the most effective ingredients we know of. So get to know your ABCs (D & E, too) of vitamins, what they do, the right ones for you and some of the best anti-aging, vitamin-based potions and lotions.
What vitamin A does for skin
In skin care, vitamin A appears as retinol (vitamin A in its whole molecular form) or hundreds of other variations, the most common of which are retinoic acid (tretinoin) and retinyl palmitate. Retinol is considered a thorough exfoliator, and this repeated shedding of the upper dermal layer forces the skin to produce new cells and stimulate collagen production.
Is vitamin A right for you?
Retinol is a controversial ingredient. Although it is an antioxidant and cell communicator that encourages new cell turnover, vitamin A in skin care also has side effects. It can be very irritating and drying and those with sensitive, dry skin should approach with caution. Overuse can lead to thinner-looking and more fragile skin. All retinols will make skin more sensitive to the sun and so are best used at night or followed with a sunscreen. Retinyl palmitate has been found to be carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight. Having said all that, if you don’t have sensitive skin and are prepared to use them carefully, retinols can improve the appearance of lined and dull skin.
Anti-aging skin care products with vitamin A
Due to the issues outlined above, I prefer to recommend vitamin A/retinol products that are counterbalancing with good antioxidants.
Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream. Retinol is in this eye cream — at a 3.8% concentration, no less — but I did not find it at all drying or irritating thanks to a well-balanced formula that includes glycerin and argan oil. Eyconic also contains epidermal growth factor (EGF) that is nano-encapsulated, which likely makes the EGF more stable and efficient at penetrating the skin.
Arcona Vitamin A Complex ($68). There is retinol, a vitamin A derivative that exfoliates the skin and helps to diminish wrinkles, plus retinyl palmitate, which is gentler for sensitive skins than retinol, making this a good combination. The exfoliating force of these retinoids is given a further boost by glycolic acid.
Sciote Omni Phyto-Cell Face Creme ($115 in the shop). This is a powerful formula that uses ocean-based retinols along with active ingredients such as Matrixyl 3000, glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid to target and repair deep wrinkles and stimulate the production of new collagen.
What vitamin B does for skin
Vitamin B variations that you will find in skin care and haircare include biotin (vitamin B7), panthenol (vitamin B5 and ubiquitous in hair products because it acts as a lubricant) and niacin or niacinamide (vitamin B3). Of these, the Dr Oz-endorsed vitamin B3/niacinamide is the one to look out for in anti-aging skin care. Niacinamide suppresses melanin from reaching the surface of the skin and protects the skin from further UV damage. It is also supposed to help the skin retain moisture increase by increasing ceramide and free fatty acid levels in skin.
Is Vitamin B right for you?
If you want to repair and prevent sun damage, niacinamide is a good anti-aging skin care active to look out for. The anti-inflammatory effects of niacinamide are also thought to be good for acne and rosacea. Vitamin B is essential for healthy skin and deficiencies in it can lead to eczema or acne. A paucity of vitamin B2 can cause skin to be oily. In general, oily sensitive skin seems to find vitamin B helpful.
Check out vitamin B3/niacinamide if you have the following skin concerns: melasma and hyperpigmentation, acne, rosacea and wrinkles. Read more on vitamin B3/niacinamide.
Anti-aging skin care products with vitamin B3 (niacinamide)
Medik8 Beta Gel On-the-Spot Exfoliator ($68 in the shop). Niacinamide is one of the main ingredients in this spot treatment, and together with salicylic acid and azelaic acid, it helps to reduce acne-causing bacteria and ease skin congestion and inflammation.
Your Best Face Hydrate B ($45 in the shop). This is a light soothing serum that firms and hydrates, and is designed to help other products perform better. It contains no less than three forms of B vitamins, including niacinamide, along with hydrating sodium hyaluronate.
Prana SpaCeuticals Firming Body Emulsion ($28 in the shop). This well-rounded formula contains niacinamide (which may improve skin elasticity), phospholipids (an antioxidant that retains moisture), and red, green and white tea extracts. It also features the anti-cellulite ingredient glaucine along with hydrating ingredients such as grape seed oil, aloe juice, shea butter and sunflower oil.
What vitamin C does for skin
There have been huge advances in the formulation of vitamin C and its derivatives. The good news is that these new forms of vitamin C are stable, powerful and relatively gentle – certainly when compared to plain vanilla ascorbic acid. Although prized for its antioxidant qualities and its well-known role in boosting the immune system and synthesizing collagen, it is a tricky ingredient that can be unstable and drying. Get it right though, and it repairs DNA damage, fades hyperpigmentation and corrects rosacea.
Is Vitamin C right for you
If you have sensitive skin, plain ascorbic acid is not a good choice. Ditto for very dry skin, as vitamin C can try it out further. Look for slow release forms of vitamin C as they are less irritating. Tetrahexydecyl ascorbate is effective at low concentrations and ideal for those with sensitive skin. MAP (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate) is also a good choice and is specifically good for the suppression of melanin and hyperpigmentation. Acne-prone skins should look for sodium ascorbyl phosphate, also known as Stay C 50. Read more on how to choose the right vitamin C.
Anti-aging skin care products with vitamin C
Medik8 CE-Thione Rechargeable Vitamin C Serum ($150 in the shop). This serum takes a clever approach by using glutathione — a super antioxidant — to “recharge” vitamin C and vitamin E. The glutathione regulates the vitamins so that they are more stable and renders them more potent, ultimately helping protect the skin against free radicals.
Sciote Vitamin C Eye Treatment ($65). Sciote's interesting formula has a complex of amino acids, which are great for improving skin quality, and a 5% concentration of vitamin C in the form of sodium ascorbyl phosphate. This form of vitamin C is considered stable and gentle and waits to convert into ascorbic acid once it is absorbed.
Kat Burki Vitamin C Intensive Day Cream ($90). This natural formula combines an ocean mineral complex and 15% vitamin C to brighten and even out skin tone. It also repairs and prevents UV-related damage, boosts collagen production and reduces hyperpigmentation.
You won't come across vitamin D very often as it is hard to get it to absorb topically. One of our rare finds is Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics Active Moisture Time Release Vitamin D Moisture Mist ($39). This spray-on moisturizer uses shitake mushroom extract, which is a good source of ergocalciferol or vitamin D2 that soothes irritation and redness. Calming and hydrating alpine rose extract helps to increase skin's resistance to environmental stressors and dryness.
What vitamin E does for skin
Often appearing as “tocopherol’ or “tocopheryl acetate”, vitamin E is an antioxidant superstar. Benefits include enhancing the efficacy of active sunscreen ingredients, reducing the formation of free radicals from exposure to UV rays, promoting the healing process, strengthening the skin's barrier function, protecting the skin barrier's lipid balance, and reducing transepidermal water loss. Beware of tocopherol residing at the end of the ingredients list in a skin care product as its purpose is primarily as a preservative.
Is Vitamin E right for you
Generally well tolerated, vitamin E is, however, documented as a skin sensitizer. Because vitamin E can boost the efficacy of a sunscreen, it is a good ingredient for those that want a little extra sun protection. For all of us, it is a powerful, all-round anti-aging ingredient.
Anti-aging skin care products with vitamin E
Kat Burki Rose Hip Revitalizing Serum ($165). This light and fast-absorbing serum uses an antioxidant-packed formula of rose hip, vitamin C and vitamin E to increase cell regeneration and overall health of the skin.
Kenneth Mark MD Antioxidant Hydrating Cream ($120). While vitamin E has center stage (tocopherol acetate is the third ingredient), there’s also the potent antioxidant, astaxanthin, as well as vitamin C (in two forms), copper and other mineral peptides and superoxide dismutase.
Your Best Face Private Reserve Antioxidant Oil ($75 in the shop). This facial oil absorbs easily and delivers its actives more efficiently than a cream, improving skin's suppleness and speeding healing. It contains vitamin E succinate, a specialized form of vitamin E that helps improve skin's elasticity, in an already antioxidant-packed formula.