Vitamins for Sun Damaged Skin

By: Vivacare - Dr. Mark Becker

Do the vitamins touted in skin care products and cosmeceuticals really work? A new study found there is evidence to support the potential role of vitamins A, C, E, and B3 in modifying the photoaging process.

A new study entitled “Vitamins and photoaging: Do scientific data support their use?” was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by dermatologists Jenny Kim, M.D., Jamie Zussman, M.D., and Jennifer Ahdout, M.D. that reviewed the scientific research.

“Numerous companies developing cosmeceuticals base their effectiveness claims on the fact that their formulations contain vitamins proven in laboratories to modify cellular processes thought to contribute to the appearance of photoaged skin. While it’s evident that these vitamins can play a role in fighting sun damage, the question still remains whether these properties are effective when delivered in skin care products,” said Dr. Kim.

Vitamin A: Effective in treating a variety of skin conditions
The two most common forms of vitamin A studied for their role in protecting the skin from UV-induced damage are retinols and carotenoids. Retinol is found in foods such as liver, milk, and eggs, and is the most biologically active form of the vitamin. Carotenoids are found in many fruits and vegetables, and have strong antioxidant capabilities.

Carotenoids are not shown to be beneficial in the treatment of photoaging, but research suggests that they might play a role in photoprotection by preventing UV-induced collagen breakdown.

Unlike carotenoids, there is vast evidence supporting the role of topical retinoids in treating photoaged skin. Dr. Kim noted that both tretinoin cream (0.025% and 0.05%) and tazarotene cream (0.1%) are already FDA-approved for the treatment of fine wrinkles, skin roughness, and mottled hyperpigmentation caused by aging and sun exposure.

Retinoids also are found in over-the-counter cosmeceuticals, but there is less clinical evidence supporting their effectiveness in improving photoaged skin. “An important point to remember with retinoids is that we cannot assume that all retinoids are equal in their ability to fight photoaging,” said Dr. Kim.

Vitamin C: Possible value
Because of its antioxidant properties, it has been theorized that vitamin C may reverse the negative effects of UV radiation in the skin, but there are few clinically controlled studies to confirm this theory. One criticisms of adding vitamin C to cosmeceuticals is that vitamin C is unstable when exposed to light and air and it is not known if any vitamin C remains active when applied to the skin.

Some formulations have modified the vitamin C to preven it from breaking down. However, the vitamin C must be converted to L-ascorbic acid to have any effect as Dr. Kim noted that “many of the stabilized, commercially available (skin care products with vitamin C) have not been examined to determine whether this conversion is possible and if the cosmeceutical containing vitamin C will be effective.”

Vitamin E

While topical vitamin E is available in a variety of products, there is no data which support claims that it improves skin wrinkling, discoloration and texture. “Topical vitamin E has been studied in humans, as in mice, more as a protectant to be used before sun exposure than as an agent to be included in cosmeceuticals to reduce the signs of skin aging,” said Dr. Kim.

Multiple studies suggest that the combination of vitamins E and C as an oral supplement is beneficial for photoprotection. However, Dr. Kim noted that overzealous oral vitamin E supplements may be harmful and two new studies also suggest that a high intake of vitamin E may be associated with an increased risk of basal cell carcinoma.

Vitamin B3: A possible treatment for photoaging
Vitamin B3, one of eight B vitamins, has been examined for its role as an effective treatment for several skin conditions – from acne to photoaging.

Vitamin B3 has been found to increase collagen production in test tubes (in vitro) and to reduce skin dark spots in clinical studies of people.

“There has been one clinical trial conducted in Caucasian women in which 50 women applied 5% niacinamide (topical vitamin B3) to one side of their faces twice per day for 12 weeks, and these women experienced significant reductions in the appearance of hyperpigmented spots, redness, wrinkles, and yellowing, as well as improved skin elasticity,” said Dr. Kim. “While initial studies show promise that topical vitamin B3 may prevent UV-induced skin aging, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm its role as a definitive treatment of photoaging.”


Maintain healthy lifestyle, healthy diet, practice sun protection.

Research has shown a potential role for various vitamins in reducing the damaging effects of sun exposure on the skin. Whether topical or oral formulations containing these vitamins have a protective effect is uncertain.

Given the variety of skin care products that are available, consumers should understand that skin care products with vitamins may not provide clinically meaningful improvement. What is known is that proper sun protection with regular use of sunscreen is critical to the prevention of photoaging.