What You Need to Know About Vitamin A for Acne

Key Takeaways

Vitamin A is a key player when it comes to cell redevelopment and growth, which is why it’s such a powerful ally when it comes to treating acne. It’s hard enough to remember to take our daily vitamins, so when it comes to knowing what each letter of the alphabet can do for us, it’s even harder.

This guide to vitamin A for acne will break down how it can be consumed, applied, where it can be found naturally, and how it just might change up your skin health for the better.

What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient and antioxidant that naturally occurs in many fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. It’s typically found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables due to the beta carotene found in their colouring. 

There are two types of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. Preformed vitamin A is found mostly in animal products, while provitamin A carotenoid comes from beta-carotene sources (plants). Both forms are metabolized in the liver and converted into vitamin A. 

How does vitamin A promote skin health? 

When it comes to using vitamin A for acne, it promotes skin health by helping to fast-forward the healing process for damaged skin cells, allowing new, healthy cells to come to the surface. This helps prevent future breakouts. It also acts as a natural moisturizer, giving us that smooth, supple skin texture that makes selfies pop. 

It's also known for fighting free radicals, which cause damaged skin cells and are a major culprit for aging the skin. It also regulates oil production, evens out discolouration, and stimulates the skin cells which produce collagen, encouraging firmness and elasticity — need we say more? 

Continuous use of vitamin A for acne treatment will help maintain your results, so many consider it a staple vitamin. 

Sources of vitamin A for acne

Because this form of vitamin can already be found in so many of the healthy foods we eat daily, it’s very rare for someone to be deficient. Our bodies are, however, only capable of absorbing so many carotenoids through foods, so supplementation is something to think about if you feel as though you don’t get enough. A doctor can recommend the best form of vitamin A for acne that would be safe for you to take and won’t interfere with any other acne supplements or oral vitamins you might already be taking. 

While it does seem like a harmless supplement, too much vitamin A can actually become toxic, potentially leading to side effects like liver damage, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness — sometimes even becoming fatal. If you’re diabetic, pregnant, or breast-feeding, check in with your doctor to ensure supplementation is safe for you.

Vitamin A in whole foods

If you’re not taking an oral vitamin A for acne or a supplement on the advice of your doctor, consider adding these foods to your next grocery haul:

  • Sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens, broccoli, spinach 
  • Oranges, mangoes, apricots
  • Oily fish, such as salmon, herring, shrimp
  • Eggs, cheese, milk 
  • Beef liver

Consuming your daily dose of vitamin A from these whole foods will help to heal you from the inside out, boosting not only your immune system, but your skin health, too.

If you’re looking for more rapid results for acne treatment, you may want to consider a topical vitamin ointment like a retinoid

Vitamin A for acne and retinoids

Retinoids have been used to treat acne since the early 1970s. They are considered to be a holy grail topical treatment for acne as they have anti-inflammatory properties that have the ability to treat acne and prevent breakouts.

If you have more mild to moderate acne, it’s best to start with a lower strength first to introduce your skin to the product so that you can gradually increase the strength over time. The lower the strength you begin with, the lower the chances are that your skin could have serious side effects early on. Speak to a doctor or a dermatologist about which strength to start with.

If you have more severe acne, you might want to seek some advice about pairing a retinoid with an oral vitamin or medication/antibiotic. You will want to start low and slow to avoid vitamin A buildup in the liver.

It’s important to note that retinoids are known to make your skin more sensitive, so pairing your treatment with sunscreen will be especially important during treatment. 

What’s in a name?

Chemically derived from vitamin A, retinoids are available in cream or gel formats under the names of tretinoin, retinol, adapalene, and tazarotene to name a few. They are all used to treat acne to different degrees and they all aid in boosting your overall skin health.

Let’s break them down. 


Tretinoin is typically used to treat acne that's mild to moderate, as well as skin that has been damaged by UV rays. Tretinoin boosts the speed at which dead skin cells turn over, preventing new pimples from forming and allows for new, healthy skin cells to replace them. 

For those with sun spots from UV damage, tretinoin can smooth over any rough patches on the outer layer of the skin. Results are usually noticeable within the first month of use, but in order to see improvement of wrinkles, you may have to wait closer to one or two months to allow for collagen to build up within the skin cells. 

You may notice some side effects like your skin becoming drier than normal. You might also have some scaling or flaking of dead skin cells, redness, or you might even have some acne flare up in the early stages of treatment. This is normal, but if these side effects worsen or become unmanageable, it’s time to check in with a professional.


As a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, when applied to the skin, it converts to retinoic acid. There’s an exfoliating effect to retinol that helps unclog pores and prevent blackheads and pimples from rising to the surface.

If you notice too much redness or peeling for your comfort, you may want to consider scaling back the frequency that you’ve incorporated it into your routine. If you previously were using it twice a week nightly, try for once a week to slowly ease back into it.

Many like to start using it between their mid 20s to 30s because it actually manipulates the ways in which our older skin cells behave so that they adopt more youthful tendencies — like Benjamin Button in a bottle.

Remember: it’s best to wait up to 30 minutes to let the product soak into the skin before applying any other serums or moisturizers on top, and never forget your BFF, a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30+ SPF. 


Most commonly known as Differin, adapalene is used to treat acne exclusively. It works to clear acne by getting deep into the follicles where acne first forms and it also has great preventative characteristics to it as well. Every time it’s applied to the skin, it penetrates deeply and is able to remain at a high concentration level — so the treatment is constantly at work. 


Known as Tazorac cream, this can be used either on its own or in combination with a medication to treat acne, psoriasis, and wrinkles. It works to decrease inflammation of skin cells that causes acne and/or psoriasis. It can also help to reduce wrinkles in a way that actually thickens the outer layers of the skin. 

Tazarotene may cause side effects like dryness, peeling, some redness or itching/burning, however if you experience these side effects more intensely, or any swelling or oozing, you should seek support from your doctor.


Want to talk about your options? Chat with a licensed healthcare practitioner through Felix by starting an online visit today.

Medically reviewed by


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