We learn from a young age that the right mix of vitamins and minerals is a crucial component for total body health, but as we grow older, they play an ever-increasing role in helping to fight the signs of aging as well. Vitamin-rich supplements support the body internally, but do their benefits translate when they’re applied to the skin through beauty products? “In general, for healthy skin, vitamins applied topically is the best route,” explains Omaha, NE, dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “But oral vitamins can’t be discounted as they are an important part of the equation. But what are the top five best anti-aging vitamins?
1. Vitamin E, the dry-skin defender
Topically: Vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that protects lipids from oxidizing, which helps skin retain its natural moisturizers. It is incorporated into many creams and oils that claim to help minimize scars, burns and stretch marks.
Internally: Due to its lipid solubility (it does not easily dissolve in water), vitamin E is particularly good at helping to prevent oxidative damage and protect cell membranes. “Vitamin E is important, but don’t overdo it as a supplement,” says New York nutritionist Keri Glassman. “You are probably getting enough of it in your multivitamin.”
2. Vitamin A, the wrinkle reducer
Topically: Topical products that contain retinoids (a synthetic form of vitamin A) can help treat skin disorders like acne and psoriasis while reducing brown spots and wrinkles and smoothing out rough patches by increasing cell turnover. When applied to the skin, vitamin A is known to promote collagen synthesis.
Internally: While vitamin A deficiencies are rare in developed countries, this fat-soluble vitamin helps cells function properly and is essential for proper vision and bone development. Before isotretinoin (Accutane) was available, oral vitamin A was often prescribed as a treatment for acne because of its ability to decrease the size of the sebaceous glands and the amount of oil produced.
3. Vitamin C, the free-radical fighter
Internally: Commonly associated with its ability to strengthen the immune system and ward off the common cold, this water-soluble antioxidant is also needed for tissue growth, collagen formation and wound healing, as well as the maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and gums. “If you could get enough vitamin C orally, it would have additional beauty benefits,” says Dr. Schultz. “But you can’t get enough of it for it to work that way. You would literally need to take a few hundred thousand units of it during the day, and, at some point, your body just flushes it out.”
Topically: Perhaps the best free-radical avenger of all the vitamins, vitamin C smooths rough patches and helps fade brown spots. It also stimulates collagen, making it a popular ingredient in products that target sun-damaged skin. The problem with vitamin C is that its potency decreases significantly when it is exposed to oxygen, and the ingredient can be too harsh for a lot of skin types. “You need a stable form of vitamin C that the skin can absorb to get the benefits,” explains Dr. Schultz. “I recommend looking for formulations that incorporate tetra hexadecyl ascorbate. It’s a good chemical form of vitamin C.”
4. Vitamin K, the dark-circle diminisher
Internally: Fat-soluble vitamin K plays an important role in how the kidneys function and helping to aid in proper bone growth and repair. It is also the main factor behind why blood clots when you get a cut. “This vitamin has been getting a lot of attention recently,” says Glassman. “There’s more research being done with it now, but I would be nervous about taking any more than what is in your multivitamin.”
Topically: Like it does internally, vitamin K can also control blood clotting when applied on the surface of the skin. When used as a topical ingredient, it helps diminish the appearance of spider veins, under-eye circles and broken capillaries, and is also believed to help with bruising post-surgery.
5. Vitamin B3, the hydration booster
Internally: Also referred to as niacin, vitamin B3 is necessary for proper protein and fat metabolization in the body and plays a role in helping the digestive system function properly.
Topically: Vitamin B3 helps the skin retain moisture by boosting the production of fatty acids and ceramides, the two main factors responsible for protecting and fortifying the skin barrier. It is also a milder alternative to exfoliators like glycolic and salicylic acids when used in skin-care products.