Serious vitamin A deficiencies are rare in developed countries. However, even mild Vitamin A deficiency may aggravate seborrheic dermatitis. A deficiency can cause scaly skin, itching and dryness. Fortunately, Vitmain A deficiency is easily corrected.
Let’s take a deep dive:
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for humans and other animals. It is a precursor to other lipids and proteins, and is needed for vision, growth, reproduction, and a healthy immune system.
You may know Vitamin A in one of its many forms – retinol, retinoic acid, or retinal. Vitamin A (retinol) can be found in animal products and in some fruits and vegetables in the form of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A. This means it gets converted to Vitamin A in the body.
Skin benefits of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is vital to skin health and is important for:
- slowing skin aging
- fighting free radical damage
- reducing sun damage (photoprotective)
- improving skin tone. In fact, the warm hue of healthy color imparted by beta-carotene on your skin increases your attractiveness.
Signs of vitamin A deficiency
A lack of vitamin A can cause significant health problems. There are many warning signs that you may be deficient in this important nutrient. One big sign is a change in eyesight, which can include blurred vision, difficulty seeing in the dark, and a sensitivity to light (Read about my carrot experiment to improve my eyesight).
Another common indicator is abnormal hair growth or loss. You may notice your hair becoming dry and brittle, or falling out more than usual. Skin problems are also common, including dryness, scaling, and cracking of the skin. In severe cases, xerosis (a condition characterized by extreme dryness) can develop.
Some experts agree that skin conditions like acne, dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis can be exacerbated by retinol deficiency. This correlation makes sense to me but admittedly, there are no studies proving the link between Vitamin A deficiency and seborrheic dermatitis.
Other symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include fatigue, general weakness, poor appetite, and nausea. You may check your Vitamin A levels as the doctors but another simple way is to up your intake of beta-carotene rich foods or take a supplement.
How does taking Vitamin A improve seborrheic dermatitis?
There is no scientific evidence linking Vitamin A deficiency directly to seborrheic dermatitis. However, due to retinol’s beneficial effects on the skin, especially its ability to fight free radical damage and regulate sebum production, adequate levels of Vitamin A will help improve your skin health, reduce inflammation and promote skin healing. While it will not cure seborrheic dermatitis, it may help to improve symptoms and reduce the severity of flares.
Blood anti-oxidant levels were foung to be significantly lower in patients with seborrheic dermatitis whereas oxidative stress levels were higher. This finding suggests taking anti-oxidants like Vitamin A, C and E may help improve the inflammation in SD.
Whilst not a direct correlation with SD, studies have also found lower levels of Vitamin A in patients with acne. As acne and SD often coincide, maybe treating one with Vitamin A will improve the other.
Even though oral vitamin A may be helpful for SD, topical vitamin A in the form of retinol, retinoic acid and the like, is a different kettle of fish. Retinols can be irritative at the best of times. On sensitive skin and in people prone to SD, I’ve found retinol to cause more inflammation, redness and itch.
What are the best sources of vitamin A?
Vitamin A (retinol) can be found in animal-based products such as liver, milk, cheese and egg yolk. Its precursor, beta-carotene, can be obtained from orange and red vegetable sources such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers.
Vitamin absorption is complex. It’s best to get your vitamin A from natural sources where it coexist with a multitude of other enzymes, vitamins and minerals that may help its absorption. However, I for one, have supplemented vitamin A on plenty of occassions when my vitamin A needs were just too high for my diet to sustain. In this case, make sure you choose a reputable brand. I learnt this this the hard way by going with a cheaper brand and found no effect whatsoever.
Vitamin A can be toxic in high doses. That’s why most supplements are in the form of beta-carotene. Your body then makes as much vitamin A as it needs from beta-carotene and the rest is excreted.
What are the risks of taking too much vitamin A?
If you’re supplementing, it’s important to have the right amount of vitamin A. Most people know that retinol is important for good health, but many don’t realize that it can also cause some adverse side effects if taken in large quantities. Some of the most common side effects include headaches, irritability, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, side effects are rare when you take beta carotene supplements as per the recommended dose.
To wrap up
Vitamin A may help improve seborrheic dermatitis when used in conjunction with other treatments. While supplementation may be helpful, there is nothing better than getting your retinols and beta-carotene as part of a healthy, balanced diet.