Whether you started as a Flintstones® gummies devotee at age five or just recently got into the supplements game, you have heard that vitamins are good for you. And if you’ve shopped for skincare recently, you know that vitamins are a popular choice for topical treatments, too. Product labels are riddled with letters like A, C, and E, touting the benefits that each can bring in a skincare formula.
Here, Dr. Ted Lain and Miami-based derm Dr. Roberta Del Campo break down how to use topical vitamins the right way, and spills on which pricey serums are actually worth investing in.
Benefits: Anti-aging, collagen stimulation, fights breakouts
Dermatologists recommend: Retinol (over-the-counter)
Think of vitamin A — or as you might recognize it on the skincare shelves, retinol — as your secret weapon to smoother, healthier-looking skin. "It stimulates collagen, and it helps improve fine lines and wrinkles. It also increases cell turnover so it gives your skin a more radiant glow or kind of a sheen — a more healthy appearance of the skin,” says Dr. del Campo, who adds that it also effectively improves rough texture. Fewer fine lines and wrinkles and more collagen could translate to a firmer, younger-looking complexion.
[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.].
The same cellular turnover process that helps iron out wrinkles can also help with acne. “I personally call it ‘Drano® for the pores,’” quips Dr. Del Campo. Vitamin A works to prevent oil and grease from clogging your pores and reduce blemishes, for clearer skin. Basically, it’s a mini-facial in a bottle. Be sure to wear sunscreen during the day and moisturize aggressively to avoid dry skin. Discover our primer on retinol here.
Benefits: skin softening, healing, improves tone and texture
Dermatologists recommend: SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel®
B vitamins don’t necessarily get as much glory as the other letters of the alphabet, but they can be particularly helpful for getting angry, inflamed skin to chill out. "Vitamin B5 in particular is a great calming [product],” explains Dr. Lain. It often comes in a gel form (like our doctors’ pick!), which can be used as a lightweight moisturizer in the morning or throughout the day for anyone dealing with dry skin.
Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, collagen stimulation
Dermatologists recommend: NIA24® Intensive Recovery Complex ($118)
Another B vitamin worth making room for on your vanity is B3, otherwise known as niacinamide. "It’s amazing for its anti-inflammatory effect,” explains Dr. Del Campo, noting that it works wonderfully for people with rosacea or sensitive skin, but can also help stimulate collagen in regular skin types. This specific formula is also rich in peptides, which according to Dr. Del Campo “help plump the skin and give the skin more of a radiant appearance.”
Benefits: Brightening, sun, and environmental protection
Dermatologists recommend: SkinCeuticals® C E Ferulic ($166)
The average skincare devotee likely already has at least one vitamin C product in their arsenal (you might see it on the ingredient list as ascorbic acid). Lately, it’s become the trendiest supplement of the beauty world, and for good reason. “The primary benefit of vitamin C is really the antioxidant effect,” says Dr. del Campo. “It protects against free radicals, it protects from damage from the ozone, pollution, UV rays, and it helps to promote healthy, minimal damage to skin.”
Because of its powers against UV rays, Dr. Lain recommends slathering on a vitamin C formula every morning under a hefty layer of SPF. “Think of vitamin C as internal sunscreen for your skin cells,” he says. Your SPF will help prevent the sun’s rays from reaching your skin cells, but vitamin C acts as backup defense. It works to repair damage to your skin’s DNA caused by UV rays. Bonus: It also has a brightening effect on skin, making it helpful for anyone managing discoloration of any kind, especially melasma or hyperpigmentation (which is often exacerbated by sun exposure).
What it’s good for: Hydration, environmental protection
Dermatologists recommend: Puritan's Pride® Vitamin E 1000 IU Soft Gels ($10)
Vitamin E works double-duty as an antioxidant and a hardcore moisturizer, and can be a game-changer for hydrating your skin. "The difference between vitamin E and vitamin C is that vitamin E doesn’t have any sort of acid component, so it’s purely just an antioxidant,” explains Dr. Del Campo. "It tends to be more in oil form, so it’s good for soothing and hydrating the skin.” In fact, that’s why these two vitamins are so often combined in formulas — because vitamin C is a bit more drying, and vitamin E can balance it out.
For that reason, Dr. Lain suggests looking for products that combine Vitamins C and E (like the aforementioned Skinceuticals C E Ferulic) to get the most bang for your brightening and moisturizing buck. But if you’re looking for an intense dose of hydration and environmental protection, simply grab a vitamin E capsule from your local drugstore. You can squeeze out the oil inside onto your skin as needed.
[Editor’s note: Talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new supplement.]
Dr. Ted Lain is a paid Allergan® consultant.
Some products were gifted to the author for the purpose of writing this article.
Allergan may receive commission for purchases made through links in this article.