Vitamin A is an essential nutrient found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables as well as other nutrient-dense food sources, like leafy greens.

As an antioxidant, vitamin A can help promote better skin and overall health by fighting free radicals.

Vitamin A may also help ward off inflammation, an underlying factor in acne vulgaris.

When it comes to treating acne with vitamin A, topical formulas show the most promise. These products are also called retinols or retinoids.

Don’t take vitamin A supplements to treat acne without checking with your doctor first, though. They can make sure the supplements won’t interfere with any other medications or supplements you may already be taking.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are known for preventing free radicals that can lead to cell damage. This may help decrease skin aging.

Vitamin A may also help treat acne, but it all depends on the source and how you use it. Eating vitamin A-rich foods can promote better skin health from the inside out, while topical formulas may target acne directly.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), retinol (retinoid), a topical form of vitamin A, can help treat and prevent inflammatory acne lesions.

In fact, the organization recommends using topical retinoids to treat several types of acne.

Retinol may help improve acne by:

  • decreasing inflammation
  • increasing skin cell growth to heal lesions and scars
  • possibly decreasing sebum (oil) production
  • smoothing skin
  • evening skin tone
  • protecting against environmental damage

Retinoids may also work well with antibiotics as needed for clearing up severe acne breakouts.

There’s a lot of research backing up the use of topical vitamin A for acne. But research on oral vitamin A for acne has been mixed.

Older research couldn’t support oral vitamin A as an effective acne treatment, but researchers did say it could possibly prevent acne vulgaris from getting worse.

More recent research concluded oral vitamin A is effective at treating acne, but the study was small and of low quality.

Overall, vitamin A as an acne treatment is most promising as a topical treatment only.

While it’s important to get enough vitamin A in your diet, this isn’t the best acne treatment solution. Taking too much can harm your health.

Vitamin A content on foods and supplements is listed in international units (IU). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states the daily value of vitamin A for people ages 4 and up is 5,000 IU.

You shouldn’t take more vitamin A just for the sake of treating acne. This could lead to severe health consequences, like liver damage.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant, which may help fight inflammation and free radicals in your skin — all which may contribute to acne.

Most people can get enough vitamin A through diet alone. The following foods are rich in vitamin A:

  • orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes
  • cantaloupe
  • apricots
  • mangoes
  • green leafy vegetables
  • salmon
  • beef liver

Overall, though, the AAD says there’s no specific diet proven to treat acne. The only exceptions are to avoid sugar and dairy, which could possibly aggravate breakouts in people who are already prone to acne.

Getting enough vitamin A in your diet can help promote overall skin health, but it’s not likely to treat acne alone. Instead, focus on a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables for healthier skin.

Vitamin A supplements may help improve your overall immune system and your skin health. However, consider taking supplements only if you don’t already get enough vitamin A through diet alone, or if you don’t already take a multivitamin.

Too much vitamin A can lead to adverse health effects, including liver damage. Birth defects are also possible if you take excessive amounts of vitamin A while pregnant.

Side effects from too much vitamin A in supplement form can include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • coma

It’s important to note that these side effects are linked to supplemental forms of vitamin A only. Excessive amounts of beta carotene found in vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables won’t cause life-threatening side effects.

Also keep in mind that the FDA doesn’t monitor the purity or quality of supplements. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin taking any to weigh the benefits and risks for you.

Despite the potential antioxidant benefits of vitamin A, topical formulas show the most promise for acne treatment. These can come in the form of creams and serums.

A 2012 review found concentrations as low as 0.25 percent may provide benefits without side effects. If your dermatologist thinks you’d benefit from a higher concentration, they might order a prescription-strength cream.

When you first start using topical vitamin A, it’s important to begin gradually so your skin gets used to the product. This could mean using it every other day at first before you eventually use it every single day.

Beginning gradually can also reduce the risk of side effects, such as redness and peeling.

Retinoids can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen every single day to prevent sun damage.

Vitamin A is just one potential treatment for acne. Your dermatologist can help you decide what treatment measures are best depending on the severity and history of your skin health.

Good skin care practices can also go a long way for acne-prone skin. In addition to eating a nutritious diet and using topical products, getting enough sleep, water, and exercise can also promote better skin health.