The Complete Guide To Vitamins In Skincare

by Gio
complete guide to vitamins in skincare

Are you eating your vitamins?

No, I’m not talking to you. I know you’re a good girl who’s eating her veggies, RIGHT?

I’m talking to your skin. It needs its own daily fix of vitamins to stay beautiful and young. But, which ones should it eat, and when?

I know, it can be confusing. That’s why I’ve put together this little guide to make sense of the ABC’s of vitamins:

Vitamin A

What Is It?

A fat-soluble vitamin that goes by many names:

  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Retinol
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinyl Retinoate
  • Tretinoin (retinoic acid – prescription only)

Basically, if there’s a “retin” in there, it’s a form of vitamin A.

What Does It Do?

Lots of things, my beautiful smart friend:

Are There Any Side Effects?

Sadly, yes:

  1. Irritation: if you’ve never used it before, vitamin A can irritate and dry out your skin. Start with a small concentration once or twice a week and build up both frequency and concentration gradually.
  2. Sun-sensitivity: retinol makes skin more susceptible to sun damage, so use it only at night.

Which Type Should You Use?

Almost all forms of vitamin A (hydroxypinacolone retinoate is the exception here) need to be converted into retinoic acid into the skin. It works like this:

Retinyl palmitate > Retinol > Retinaldehyde > Retinoic acid

Usually, the further away a form of Vitamin A is from retinoic acid, the less effective it is. So, I’d go with retinyl palmitate only if I had super sensitive skin.

So, to recap:

  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate: no conversion needed!
  • Retinaldehyde: 1 step
  • Retinol: 2 steps
  • Retinyl Palmitate: 3 steps
  • Retinyl Retinoate: 1 step

Who Should Use It?

  • Anyone who’s serious about antiaging
  • Anyone with oily and acne-prone skin (unless you’re on benzoyl peroxide)

Who Shouldn’t Use It?

  • Anyone who’s on benzoyl peroxide
  • Women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or are breastfeeding
  • People with very sensitive skin

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin A?

Related: Which Strength Of Retinol Do You Really Need?

Vitamin B1

What Is It?

A water-soluble vitamin in the B family. On ingredient lists, it goes by the name Thiamine HCL.

What Does It Do?

Thiamine helps convert food into energy and plays a major role in nerve functions.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Well, it’s not dangerous and you don’t want to be without it. That can cause weakness, chronic fatigue and nerve damage.

But, it doesn’t do anything when you put it on the skin. So, if you were considering buying that expensive moisturizer because it has vitamin B1, don’t. Your wallet will thank you.

Who Should Use It?

  • No one (in skincare, obvs – you still need to eat it!)

Vitamin B2

What Is It?

Vitamin B2 is a micronutrient. You probably know it as riboflavin.

What Does It Do?

It plays a big role in cellular growth and respiration and helps your body metabolize what you eat.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Well, this is another vitamin that’s useless when you topically apply it to the skin.

Who Should Use It?

  • No one (again, I’m only talking about skincare, folks!)

Vitamin B3

What Is It?

It’s the most multi-tasking member of the vitamin B family. Its superhero name is niacinamide.

What Does It Do?

Let me count the ways it helps skin:

Are There Any Side Effects?

Nope. That’s the best part. It’s totally safe to use. For everyone.

Who Should Use It?

  • Everyone!

What Are The Best Products With Niacinamide?

Related: Spotlight On Niacinamide

Vitamin B5

What Is It?

It’s the alcohol form of vitamin V panthotenic acid. Can you guess its common name? Yep, it’s panthenol.

By the way, don’t let the word “alcohol” scare you. Panthenol is the good kind of alcohol.

What Does It Do?

This is another multitasker, my friend:

  • Helps repair skin
  • Hydrates skin
  • Keeps oil production under control
  • Soothes skin

Are There Any Side Effects?

Nope, this one is safe for everyone, too.

Who Should Use It?

  • Everyone, but is particularly good for sensitive skin

What Are The Best Products With Panthenol?

  • Nia24 Sun Damage Prevention UVA/UVB Sunscreen SPF30 PA+++ ($49.00): available at Dermstore
  • Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Toner Normal To Oily ($21.00): available at Paula’s Choice 

Vitamin C

What Is It?

It’s a water-soluble vitamin that disguises itself under many names:

  • Ascorbic acid polypeptide
  • Ascorbyl glucosamine
  • Ascorbyl glucoside
  • Ascorbyl palmitate
  • Ester-C
  • Ethyl ascorbic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid (pure form)
  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
  • Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

Basically, if it has “ascorb” somewhere in the name, it’s a form of vitamin C.

What Does It Do?

It makes your skin look awesome:

Are There Any Side Effects?

A couple:

  1. Irritation: if your skin is sensitive, vitamin C may irritate it.
  2. Sun-sensitivity: it can make skin more susceptible to sun damage, so use it with sunscreen or, better, at night.

Which Type Should You Use?

L-ascorbic acid is the most effective. But also the most unstable. That means it won’t stay effective for long.

I’d go with magnesium ascorbyl phosphate because it’s fairly stable, is effective at low doses and fairly gentle.

Who Should Use It?

  • Anyone who is serious about antiaging
  • People with light discolourations

Who Shouldn’t Use It?

  • Be careful with it if you have sensitive skin

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin C?

Related: Types Of Vitamin C In Skincare Products

Vitamin D

What Is It?

It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that’s formed in your skin by sunlight. That’s why lots of folks are telling you to skip the sunscreen.

Don’t listen to them. You don’t need to get wrinkles (or, worse, skin cancer) to get your vitamin D fix. Just gobble on fortified food or pop a supplement.

What Does It Do?

A couple of important things:

Are There Any Side Effects?

Nahhh. This is another safe vitamin.

Who Should Use It?

  • People with sensitive skin
  • Folks affected by acne

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin D?

  • One Love Organics Vitamin D Moisture Mist ($39.00): available at The Detox Market
  • Sanitas Skincare VitaRich Serum ($58.00): available at Dermstore

Related: Vitamin D: How To Get Your Dose Without Skipping Sunscreen

Vitamin E

What Is It?

It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in many forms:

  • D-alpha-tocopherol
  • D-alpha-tocopherol acetate
  • Dl-alpha tocopherol
  • Dl-alpha tocopherol acetate
  • Tocopherol
  • Tocopheryl acetate
  • Tocotrienols

Basically, if “tocopher” is there, you’re dealing with vitamin E.

P.S. The “d” prefix means vitamin E is derived from a natural source, such as wheat germ; the prefix “dl” means it’s synthetic.

What Does It Do?

Wonders for your skin, baby:

Are There Any Side Effects?

Not really. Unless you buy a huge jar cos you think it can heal scars. That may hurt your wallet cos it ain’t true.

Who Should Use It?

  • Everyone.

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin E?

Related: Vitamin E In Cosmetics

Vitamin F

What Is It?

A fake vitamin. It’s how you call fatty acids that your body doesn’t create. For example:

  • Arachidonic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Linolenic acid

What Does It Do?

A few things:

  • Hydrates skin
  • Helps repair skin’s protective barrier
  • Fights the free radicals that cause premature aging

Are There Any Side Effects?

Not, really. You can use it safely.

Who Should Use It?

  • Everyone can use it, but it’s best suitable for dry skin

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin F?

Vitamin H

What Is It?

This is tricky. Vitamin H is considered part of the vitamin B family. That’s why it also goes by the name vitamin B7. Confused much?

You probably know it under another name: biotin. It’s the water-soluble vitamin produced by the body you’re meant to take for healthy hair and nails. But what does it do for the skin?

What Does It Do?

Mmmm. Here’s what I know. It has moisturizing properties.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Well, it’s not dangerous, but…

Biotin can’t penetrate the skin, so there’s no point putting it there.

Who Should Use It?

  • Noone (I’m only talking about topical application on the skin here, folks).

Vitamin K

What Is It?

A fat-soluble vitamin produced in the liver. Its other name is phytonadione.

What Does It Do?

It plays a part in the coagulation process. That’s why some folks are suggesting it may help with dark circles.

One study confirms that. But, there’s a catch. Vitamin K was used together with retinol and vitamins C and E, so we don’t know how (or even if!) effective it is on its own.

Are There Any Side Effects?

For your wallet, if it doesn’t turn out to be the miracle cure for your dark circles you hoped it to be. Otherwise, nope.

Who Should Use It?

  • Those of you with serious dark circles to treat and enough money not to care if it doesn’t deliver

What Are The Best Products With Vitamin K?

  • Donell K-Derm Cream ($49.00): available atDermstore.
    Peter Thomas Roth Power K Eye Rescue Dark Circle Eye Treatment ($100.00): available atSkinstore and Look Fantastic.


The Bottom Line

Vitamin B3’s a must for everyone. So, don’t cheat and get your daily fix. And if you’re serious about anti-aging and your skin isn’t too sensitive, get a healthy dose of vitamins A and C every few days. If you want to, you can sneak in some of the other vitamins, too. The more, the merrier, right?

What vitamins does your skin swear by? Share them in the comments below.



Ana January 16, 2017 - 3:20 pm

You are the best.

That is all.

Gio January 16, 2017 - 4:05 pm

Ana, aww thank you!

That’s cos I have the best readers. You always inspire me to go the extra mile. 🙂

Suzanne January 17, 2017 - 5:41 pm

Agree! 🙂 and I really loved this post. So informative.
One Question: can you mix the pc antioxidant serum with a niacinamide serum? Layer them?

Gio January 19, 2017 - 1:14 pm

Suzanne, oh thank you!

Yes, you can. According to the latest research, niacinamide and vitamin C aren’t as incompatible as once thought. But you can always wait a few minutes between them if you’re concerned about it.

Bailey January 17, 2017 - 1:34 am

HI, I’ve just discovered your blog and find it incredibly well thought and informative… I’m about to load up on Vitamins for my skin 😉 BUT it would be great to get some kind of cheat-sheet on what to use with what, what products ‘layer’ well and which don’t. For instance, can I use vitamin C serums with retinol products? Is it better to use vitamin B in the morning or the evening? Any advice on the order of product use, or which to combine or not would be greatly appreciated! Thanks 🙂

Gio January 22, 2017 - 7:28 pm

Bailey, hi. So happy you find this blog useful.

I’ve written a post about the ingredients you should never mix and match here:

As the post says, there is a way to use both retinol and vitamin C together so they can work to their full potential. But both ingredients are pretty strong so if you’ve never used them before, I recommend starting with one and when your skin has become used to it, add the other. Or you could use them on alternate days.

Vitamin B can be used both in the morning and at night.

Barbara January 25, 2017 - 1:48 pm

Love this article! I think I myself am a fan of Vitamin E (which I will be getting!), B3 (I got The Ordinary one!), and A (I got The Ordinary one that you recommended!).

Gio January 27, 2017 - 9:01 pm

Barbara, vitamins are awesome, aren’t they? Let me know how you like the serum. 🙂

Despina January 27, 2017 - 8:46 am

Hi Gio, I’m a little confused with all this “C thing”. I’ve read many different opinions. Others say that, you have better sun protection if you use a vitamin c serum UNDER your sunscreen (especially combined with E and ferulic), and …others that you should never use vitamin c during daytime even under sunscreen because it makes skin more sensitive and you get sun spots. What is your opinion? Should I wear a vitamin c serum under sunscreen? Will my skin be more protected? In my country the sun is always extremelly strong even in winter time and I have very white skin, I would not want to cause more damage than good.

Gio January 27, 2017 - 8:24 pm

Despina, vitamin C, when used with vitamin E and ferulic acid, can indeed boost the protection of your sunscreen. I think it’s safe to apply this combination under your sunscreen as long as you keep reapplying it several times throughout the day. If you don’t, the sunscreen will become ineffective and the vitamin C may indeed make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. I guess some people don’t recommend vitamin C at all during the day because they know very few people bother to reapply their sunscreen as often as it is necessary.

So, either use vitamin C under sunscreen and reapply sunscreen regularly (which you should be doing anyway) or use vitamin C at night. Hope this helps.

Suzanne January 27, 2017 - 1:54 pm

Hello again
What are your thoughts about ascorbyl glycoside?
I am looking at the ordinary ascorbyl glycoside solution 12% and their matrixyl 10% + HA. If I should layer this, which should go on first?

Gio January 27, 2017 - 8:32 pm

Suzanne, ascorbyl glucoside isn’t the best form of vitamin C to treat dark spots but if you only want to prevent wrinkles and brighten skin, it works well. As for the order, the one with the lightest texture goes first. That helps enhance the penetration of both.

Lucia June 20, 2017 - 1:44 pm

Gio, I already love you! Thank you for all of your research and for sharing your brains!
Much love from an engineer from Argentina! 🙂

Gio June 24, 2017 - 8:20 am

Lucia, aww thank you so much! Thank you for your support. Hope to see you here often, too. 🙂

Comments are closed.