Vitamin A is already touted for its amazing benefits when used topically — for reference, retinol is pure vitamin A, and using it can result in a host of skin benefits, including smoothing fine lines, minimizing the appearance of pores, and warding off acne. According to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology, vitamin A may also hold benefits for the skin when consumed internally, as part of a healthy diet. Per the study, consuming increased amounts of vitamin A in your diet can lower your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common form of skin cancer.
The study itself examined a lot of people over a long period of time; more than 48,000 men and 75,000 women over 26 years. After controlling the study to account for other health indicators, such as basic lifestyle factors and skin cancer risk, researchers found that increased vitamin A intake (from diet) was associated with a lower risk for developing SCC. Specifically, dividing all of the study participants into fifths ranging from lowest to highest vitamin A intake, they found that those in the highest one-fifth were 17 percent less likely to develop SCC than those in the lowest one-fifth.
This study is incredibly promising, considering its implications for treating and preventing skin cancer, but the findings aren't shocking. "The study findings are not entirely surprising, as we've known there is a relationship between skin cancers and retinoids," explains board-certified New York City dermatologist Marisa Garshick. "This study looks at vitamin A intake over a longer period of time in a general population and supports a protective role of vitamin A against squamous cell carcinoma.”
Further research is needed to help determine "who would benefit the most, in what quantity, and in what form would it be most helpful," Garshick says, particularly because excess vitamin A intake can actually be toxic. The study didn't examine vitamin A supplements, either — but rather, pure dietary intake. For reference, the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for adults is 900mcg for men and 700mcg for women. Exceeding this dosage "can lead to visual changes, bone pain, lethargy, and other issues," explains board-certified New York City-based dermatologist Doris Day.
A better route to safely up your vitamin A intake is to consume foods that contain carotenoids, such as beta carotene (which is what gives carrots its bright orange hue). "Carotenoids, like beta carotene…are found in foods like carrots and other darkly colored fruits and vegetables. They only convert to vitamin A as your body needs, which makes it harder to reach toxicity levels," Day explains.
Other foods that contain high levels of vitamin A, from either plant or animal sources, include fish, dairy, tomatoes, leafy greens like kale, sweet potatoes and fruit including mango and grapefruit. Vitamin A isn't likely the only antioxidant that helps keep skin healthy, either. "Eating a diet high in [all] antioxidants, including vitamin A, is helpful in preventing skin cancer," says Day.
Squamous cell carcinoma itself, as mentioned, is the second most common form of skin cancer — it is generally slow-growing, but the earlier it is detected the easier it is to treat. "It's called squamous cell because that is the layer of the skin from which it is derived, which is the mid-layer of the skin where skin cells mature before moving up to the outer layers and then sloughing off," Day explains. "It is most common on the head, neck, back, and hands, but it can occur on any part of the skin.”
In addition to these internal benefits, vitamin A can also help mitigate the effects of skin cancer externally, when applied to the skin. Retinol, after all, helps increase skin cell turnover rate and also "helps skin cells mature in a more appropriate way," Day says.
Dermatologists also already prescribe supplementary vitamin A to patients with weakened immune systems, who are thus more prone to developing skin cancer. "We sometimes use an oral prescription form of vitamin A called Acitretin to help suppress the formation of SCC in those who are more susceptible to it, such as kidney transplant recipients and others with specific immunosuppressed states," Day explains.
Before you go reaching for vitamin A supplements, though, first consult with your physician or dermatologist who can determine whether or not it is fully safe to do so. The best approach, as confirmed by this study, is to simply eat a healthy, balanced diet full of antioxidants — easier said than done, we know.
More on skin cancer awareness:
- Skin Cancer: A Visual Guide to Identifying Warning Signs on Your Body
- The American Cancer Society's Annual Report Reveals Melanoma Cases Continue to Rise
- Skin Cancer Is on the Rise — Even Though We All Know About Sunscreen
Now, see how skin care has evolved within the last 100 years:
Originally Appeared on Allure