Why you need vitamin A
Your skin is a window into your general inner health and is often one of the first places to indicate a possible vitamin deficiency, which may present in the form of dry, cracked, inflamed or irritated skin. Vitamins are essential for maintaining the health, appearance and function of your skin; however, many vitamins cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore need to be obtained through the food you eat.
There are two main types of vitamin A: retinol and carotenoids. Retinol is derived from animal sources and is known as the “active” form of vitamin A, whereas carotenoids are derived from plant sources and have to be converted during digestion into retinol before they can be utilised by the body.
Vitamin A is essential for many physiological processes and plays an important role in maintaining the integrity and function of all epithelial tissues including the skin, lining of the respiratory tract, digestive tract, bladder, inner ear and eyes.
Vitamin A supports the daily replacement of skin cells, including both the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and dermis (second layer of the skin) and ensures that tissues such as the conjunctiva of the eye are able to produce mucous and provide a barrier to infection.
When applied topically, vitamin A has been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis, improve connective tissue and repair sun-damaged skin. One research study showed an improvement of collagen synthesis and fibroblast growth after just seven days of topical application of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is essential for vision, reproduction, growth and development, and for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Vitamin A has been shown to help reduce acne, which is partly due to the vitamin’s ability to reduce excess sebum (oil) production when applied topically and taken internally as a supplement. You may have heard of Roaccutane, a popular medication for treating acne, comprising a high dose of synthetic vitamin A. Roaccutane is very harsh: it can dry out the skin and increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, heightening the risk of burning and skin damage. It is therefore highly recommended to always wear sunscreen if you are taking this medication or applying any high-dose source of retinol topically.
Vitamin A is also essential for vision, reproduction, growth and development, and for maintaining a healthy immune system. The skin plays a critical role in the body’s immune system as it is the first line of defence against pollutants, bacteria and infection. Vitamin A helps to strengthen the skin’s barrier, protecting you from these unwanted pathogens entering your body.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin A from all sources is 700µg RE (retinol equivalent) for women and 900µg RE for men. If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, do not take vitamin A supplements, medication or topical forms without consulting your doctor, as when taken in excess of 3000µg RE vitamin A can cause birth defects.
It is always best to acquire vitamins through organic fresh food, as this way you are reaping the benefits of all the additional nutrients the particular food has to offer. To enhance absorption of vitamin A from your food include healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts or seeds.
Food sources of vitamin A
Fruits and vegetables
- Dark leafy vegetables such as amaranth, spinach and chard
- Orange sweet potatoes
- Yellow maize
- All animal liver
- Milk, including breast milk, which contains enough vitamin A for children up to six months of age. After six months, complementary foods alongside breast milk should contain small amounts of vitamin A-rich foods
- Goat’s and feta cheese
- Cod liver oil