top of page

When the skin lacks vitamins

Vitamins are vital and control numerous metabolic reactions. The fat-soluble (lipophilic) vitamins are A, D, E, and K (reference: EDEKA), and the water-soluble (hydrophilic) vitamins are those of the B complex and vitamin C. Each vitamin fulfils specific tasks. If there is a vitamin deficiency, it can become visible on the skin. Dermatologists Dr. med. Christine Schrammek-Drusio and Christina Drusio explain the functions of vitamins and point out deficiency symptoms and the cosmetic relevance of even underestimated, lesser-known representatives.

The vitamin requirement depends on many factors such as age, gender, height, weight, physical activity, and stage of life. If there are disruptions in vitamin supply, different clinical pictures can arise. Fortunately, pure vitamin deficiency (hypovitaminosis) is very rare in industrialized nations. On the other hand, overconsumption (hypervitaminosis) of vitamins occurs more frequently due to excessive consumption of dietary supplements. The main causes of vitamin deficiencies are insufficient intake (mainly in less developed countries), impaired intestinal absorption, increased need, or drug interactions. Rarely, genetic defects can be the cause. Almost all vitamins can also contribute to beautiful skin! As a clearly visible indicator of vitamin deficiency symptoms, the skin can also help in making a diagnosis. The trained beautician can provide supportive information here. The vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins are well-known in cosmetics. However, it is also worth taking a look at some "forgotten" vitamins.

Vitamin K1 and K2

Vitamin K, for example, occurs in two natural forms and is a component of various foods. Vitamin K1 is largely absorbed through plant foods, while vitamin K2 is produced by intestinal bacteria such as Escherichia coli. Accordingly, a vitamin K deficiency can occur if, for example, the intestinal flora is disturbed by antibiotic treatment or, as in newborns, is not yet established. The tasks of vitamin K are the formation of blood clotting factors and, in relation to the skin, stabilising the superficial capillary system and tightening it. A deficiency becomes visible, for example, through rapid hematoma formation. Cosmetically, vitamin K is therefore used particularly for capillary weaknesses, for example in products against couperose and rosacea.

Vitamin K is used in products against couperose and rosacea.

Vitamin B group

The vitamins of the B group are found in animal and plant foods; only vitamin B12 is not contained in plant foods but can be stored in the body and is therefore different from all other water-soluble vitamins. In addition to many well-known vitamins of the B complex such as B3, B5, or B12, it is also worth taking a look at the lesser-known ones, as they can influence the skin and its appendages.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) can metabolize carbohydrates from food and convert them into energy. It also supports nerve functions and thus promotes physical and mental performance. It occurs particularly in unmilled grains (wheat, oats). The most well-known deficiency is beriberi disease, which still occurs today where husked rice is the staple food. However, alcoholism, pregnancy, or diabetes mellitus can also be reasons for vitamin B1 deficiency. Edema can be symptomatic of the hands, feet, and face. In combination with other B vitamins, thiamine can have a cosmetic effect on impure skin.

Vitamin B1, together with other B vitamins, can influence cosmetically impure skin. 

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) plays a role in numerous metabolic processes. A deficiency shows up on the skin with symptoms such as scaly redness (similar to seborrheic eczema) or cracked corners of the mouth. However, the skin symptoms of a riboflavin deficiency overlap, for example, with those of nicotinic acid deficiency (vitamin B3), pyridoxine deficiency (vitamin B6), and folic acid deficiency because the metabolic pathways of the vitamins are linked. In cosmetics, vitamin B2 is used as a colorant and skin care agent.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, and for the formation of red blood cells. A deficiency of the vitamin leads, among other things, to seborrheic dermatitis or hair growth disorders. It is therefore used for healthy growth of skin and hair and also has sebum-regulating properties.

Vitamin B7 (biotin) was previously called vitamin H, where the "H" stands for hair and skin. Like all B vitamins, biotin helps the body convert food into energy and is involved in metabolic processes. In particular, it serves to supply the hair root with nutrients and stimulates the formation of keratin, which is why it is very popular in hair and especially scalp care products. But it is also an important building block for vital skin and strong fingernails. Defects are visible, for example, through hair loss or changes in the color of the hair, peeling of the skin, and brittle nails.

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is involved in blood formation, cell division, and growth processes in the body. It is also required for DNA synthesis and can, therefore, support the skin in regeneration. However, it requires sufficient vitamin B12 and vitamin C for normal function. In the event of deficiencies, overlapping symptoms are therefore very likely. There are hardly any known skin symptoms. In cosmetics, vitamin B9 is used for moisture and to improve elasticity.

Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) can almost only be absorbed through animal food and is concentrated in the liver and kidneys. Deficiencies can occur in vegetarians and vegans, but they can counteract this with supplements from non-animal sources (e.g. the algae Spirulina maxima). Vitamin B12 is important for the production of red blood cells, the protection and regeneration of nerve cells, and DNA formation. Pathological skin changes tend to be in the background, but hyperpigmentation can occur, especially in people with dark skin tone. In skin care, B12 is primarily used to restore a damaged barrier and thus, for example, to minimize itching.

The better-known vitamins of the B group include B3 and B5. They are widely used in skin care but can also play a role in skin diseases.

Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) is used in the treatment of everything from acne to anti-aging. It accelerates skin renewal and stimulates collagen production. Niacinamide can also affect redness and excessive sebum production in impure skin and acne. Strengthening the skin barrier and reducing TEWL (transepidermal water loss) are further positive mechanisms, especially for dry skin. In addition, niacinamide inhibits the transport of pigment bodies (melanosomes) into the upper layers of the skin and thereby promotes skin lightening. If there is a deficiency, it is usually combined with other vitamins. Niacin synthesis is only possible with the participation of tryptophan, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and iron. A pathological deficiency of niacin is called pellagra (rough skin). Pellagra is rare these days, especially if the diet consists mainly of corn and millet and does not contain bioavailable niacin due to a lack of pretreatment. A dermatitis with redness and scaling (similar to sunburn with possible blistering) becomes visible on the skin, which can be triggered by UV exposure and pressure. The skin changes often occur in the neck. In the foreground of pellagra are accompanying internal complaints of the intestines and nervous system.

Vitamin B5 (panthenol) is involved in the skin's regenerative metabolic processes and is therefore often used cosmetically and dermatologically in the treatment of skin changes. It has a stimulating effect on new cell formation as part of wound healing, improves the skin's ability to retain moisture, and promotes its elasticity and suppleness.

Vitamins A and derivatives

Retinol (vitamin A) and its derivatives play a major role in healthy and vital skin. The cell division rate is increased, the production of new skin cells is stimulated, and the formation of tissue-supporting elastin and collagen fibers is stimulated. Due to this strong effect, deep wrinkles, decreasing elasticity and hyperpigmentation as well as occasionally impure skin are treated cosmetically. However, the effectiveness proven in many studies also has its downsides. Vitamin A, for example, can cause skin irritation if the skin is not used to the active ingredient. Redness, dry skin, or flaking occurs.

A vitamin A deficiency affects not only the eyes but also the skin and manifests itself as generalized dry skin (xerosis cutis) with keratinization disorders.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is known to be a real multi-active ingredient. Evidence shows, among other things, the activation of collagen synthesis, reduction of skin aging, skin whitening through inhibition of tyrosinase, and a strong antioxidant effect. Vitamin C induces an increase in both elastic fibers and collagen in connective tissue, which contributes to improving skin texture and wrinkle relief. Scurvy is known as a deficiency disease - a disease that was historically particularly widespread among seafarers. Today, scurvy is still common in developing countries due to limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But even in our latitudes, malnutrition or malnutrition can lead to scurvy. Signs on the skin can then be seen as, among other things, follicular hyperkeratosis, bleeding in the area of ​​the hair follicles, and wound healing disorders.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) can either be absorbed through food or, in contrast to most other vitamins, produced by the body itself using UV radiation. Vitamin D is a hormone (the body's biochemical messenger) that regulates the calcium balance, strengthens (mineralizes) bones, and supports the immune system. Vitamin D is banned as an ingredient in cosmetic skin care and does not play a relevant role. It is now known that vitamin D3 has an immune-regulating function in the skin, is important for antimicrobial defense, and is essential for the normal development and proliferation of keratinocytes. This is why it is used, for example, in the topical therapy of psoriasis. Vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, a disease characterized by skeletal changes such as impaired bone calcification and bone deformities. However, due to today's mandatory prophylaxis, rickets are found almost exclusively in developing countries.

dr med Christine Schrammek Drusio The managing director of Dr. medical Christine Schrammek Cosmetics GmbH is a dermatologist and allergist. As an anti-aging expert, she develops treatment methods, including the “Green Peel” herbal peeling treatment and dermatological care products.

Photo: Christina Drusio

Christina Drusio The author is part of the owner's family and a member of the management of Dr. medical Christine Schrammek Cosmetics GmbH. She is a specialist in dermatology and venereology and, as a skin expert, is a valued speaker at international lectures and seminars.


bottom of page