Did You Apply Your Vitamins Today?

March 11, 2000 (San Francisco) -- There was a time when fruits, vegetables, and a multivitamin pill were the primary way to get the vitamins you needed for good health and healthy skin. More recently, consumers have found that skin care products containing vitamins can help them achieve healthier skin, too.

Speaking here today at the American Academy of Dermatology's 2000 Annual Meeting, dermatologist Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, discussed the increased use of vitamins in skin care products -- such as cosmetics, moisturizers, and even hair care products -- and how they can benefit the skin. Draelos is the clinical associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Consumers need to take a step back from the alphabet soup of vitamins found in skin care products and focus on what they want to accomplish -- whether it's improving facial wrinkles or reducing inflammation from acne," Draelos said in a press conference attended by WebMD. "Then they need to understand what vitamins work for what skin conditions and choose skin care products accordingly."

Vitamin A is one of a family of natural and related synthetic compounds collectively known as retinoids -- a popular agent used on the skin for anti-aging purposes. The wide use of retinoids today, Draelos explains, is a result of dermatological research that found topical vitamin A improved wrinkling, brown spots, rough spots, and precancerous skin conditions.

Another popular vitamin being added to skin care products is vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. When applied topically, vitamin C has been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Considered vital in wound healing because it aids in stabilizing collagen, vitamin C may also lessen severity of sunburns.

Scientists have also found that when applied topically, vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. This vitamin, found naturally in vegetables, oils, and nuts, has been thought to improve moisturization, softness, and smoothness. "A great deal of research is being conducted to substantiate the claims of vitamin E," Draelos says. "In the future, we're likely to see vitamin E preparations redesigned to [better penetrate the skin]."

One of the most recent vitamins to join the group is panthenol, the alcohol form of vitamin B5, which is commonly used in hair care products. When used topically in shampoos, hair sprays, and hair styling aids, panthenol leads to increased elasticity by increasing the water content of the hair shaft. The vitamin now has been adapted for use on the skin.

Another newer topical vitamin showing promise is niacinamide, a derivative of niacin -- another B vitamin. "Niacin is one of the vitamins that I think we'll hear more about in the coming years," Draelos says. "Already, topical 4% niacinamide has shown to be beneficial in treating acne, as well as improvements in skin cancer."

But if one vitamin product is good, why not use several? "Right now, we don't fully understand the interactions that result when several skin care products are used together," she tells WebMD. At this time, she doesn't recommend using a variety of vitamin-based skin products.

Future research on the effects of vitamins on the skin will emphasize the importance of careful formulation and clinical testing as the key to developing useful topical vitamin preparations for the skin.