Vitamin A and its derivatives are prized in the cosmetics industry for their skin benefits -- they fight signs of aging, like wrinkles -- but the vitamin A in your diet benefits your skin, too. Found in a variety of healthy foods including fresh produce, vitamin A in your diet promotes healthy skin cell growth and helps fight sun-related skin damage.
Vitamin A: From Your Plate to Your Skin
The vitamin A from your diet needs to go through a series of changes before it benefits your skin. After you've absorbed the vitamin A from your food, your liver converts it to retinol, which gets transported into your skin. From there, your skin cells convert it into all-trans retinoic acid, or at-RA, and retinaldehyde, or RAL, which are active forms of vitamin A in your skin. These active forms of vitamin A are responsible for its skin benefits.
Benefits for Skin Cell Growth
Vitamin A sends chemical signals between skin cells. Your skin cells have specialized receptors that sense the presence of active vitamin A, and they can change their behavior when they receive the appropriate "signal."
These vitamin A signals control new skin cell growth, ensuring you're growing new cells at the proper rate. That means you'll produce enough new cells to heal any cuts of scrapes -- but not so much that you'll get an unhealthy buildup. Vitamin A also helps you replace old, dead skin cells with new ones, which is essential for maintaining a healthy glow.
Benefits for Sun Protection
Active forms of vitamin A also play a role in protecting your skin from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. Sun exposure triggers inflammation in your skin. That's responsible for the uncomfortable swelling you feel when you get a sunburn, but the exposure also damages collagen, a protein that keeps your skin strong and smooth. As repeated sun exposure destroys more and more collagen, you'll start to develop signs of aging.
Because vitamin A helps relay messages between skin cells, it can disrupt those damaging signals. Vitamin A interrupts signals that would normally destroy your skin's collagen, which helps minimize sun damage.
You should not count on vitamin A-containing foods to act as sunscreens, however. Stick to lotion with SPF 15 or higher, and reapply it throughout the day to avoid sunburn, recommends Brown University.
Meeting Your Vitamin A Needs
If you're eating plenty of produce, it's easy to get the recommended 3,000 international units daily for men and 2,333 international units for women. A single serving of cantaloupe, sweet potato, kale, collards, butternut squash or pumpkin provides your entire daily intake requirement. Eggs, fortified oats and dairy products -- like milk and butter -- also offer ample amounts of vitamin A.
Never take vitamin A supplements without talking to your doctor. While you need vitamin A for healthy skin, too much can cause skin problems as well as liver toxicity.