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Keeping your skin looking and feeling young, healthy, and acne free can be extremely difficult. Exposure to sunlight, heat and cold, air pollution and other irritating factors can encourage premature aging and make your skin seem rough or damaged. There’s no sure cure for this process, but there are several things you can do to improve the look and feel of your skin, and minimize the chance of acne blemishes. These include eating a balanced diet, getting regular moderate exercise, staying out of the sun and choosing the right vitamins and minerals.

The basic building blocks of nutrition also work to counteract the effects of aging. Over time, a process called oxidation can damage your skin cells. Several vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants, absorbing the free radicals that cause this damage and keeping your skin in better condition. Here’s a look at some of the most important antioxidant nutrients available.

Vitamin A

This vitamin is essential to the production of healthy skin cells and having too much or too little in your system could produce significant damage. Vitamin A comes from many different foods, including carrots, broccoli and its relatives, liver, eggs and cheese. In the form of retinol, vitamin A helps keep immune cells functioning properly and ensures the correct growth of several different kinds of skin cells.

Vitamin A can benefit your skin both internally and externally. Many skin care preparations use retinoic acid, a special form of this vitamin that can reduce the size and activity of sebaceous glands, which are responsible for oily skin and acne. Products containing retinoids can also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, but may cause irritation or redness in some very sensitive people. For internal use, take at least 700 micrograms daily, but no more than 3,000 mcg, as vitamin A can be toxic at very high dosages.

Vitamin B

The B vitamins are essential for the production of all kinds of cells, including skin and hair. Foods rich in B vitamins, such as milk, eggs and fortified grains, encourage the growth of soft, healthy skin, while too little of these vitamins can produce dryness or itching. If you want to get vitamin B through your diet, choose whole foods over processed ones. Alternatively, take a B-complex vitamin for an overall contribution to healthy skin.

You can also apply vitamin B topically. Several types of skin care treatments use antioxidants derived from vitamin B6 to protect against damage from the sun. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, helps hold moisture into the skin, as does vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid. These treatments may also reduce wrinkles when used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes. B vitamins also work as effective exfoliants, removing dull, dead skin cells without discomfort.

Vitamin C

Commonly associated with oranges, vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. In the body, this vitamin works in concert with vitamin E to bind and break down free radicals, preventing them from causing skin damage. Most people who have inflammatory conditions show lower levels of vitamin C in the blood than healthy people, as their bodies need more of this vitamin. When used topically as vitamin C ester, or ascorbyl palmitate, vitamin C can also soothe sunburn and reverse existing sun damage.

Everyone should consume at least 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day, but more can improve the overall health of your skin. A noted dermatologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine recommends between 1,000 and 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C for ideal skin health, which you can get through supplements or by consuming fruits, vegetables and vitamin rich meats such as liver. Eating too much sugar at the same time can slow down absorption, so avoid heavy sweets when you take your vitamin C. Since this nutrient is water-soluble, it doesn’t build up in the body and is difficult to overdose on.

Vitamin D

We all know how important Vitamin D is to our health. It is critical to a healthy functioning body because deficiencies are linked to a host of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, breast cancer, colon cancer, and ovarian cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiency. Seems simple enough right? However, what about those of us who live in the Midwest where the sun seems to disappear around Thanksgiving and not reappear until after Memorial Day?! How can we ensure we are getting adequate Vitamin D throughout the year? According to an article in US News, in the winter it is impossible to produce Vitamin D from the sun if you live north of Atlanta because the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. Simple additions to our daily diet can ensure we are getting our daily dose of Vitamin D. Cow’s milk and soy milk are often fortified with Vitamin D, so drink up!! Salmon and eggs are also a great way to add a little Vitamin D to your day!

Vitamin E

Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is found in a wide range of foods, including safflower, sunflower and what germ oils. This vitamin binds free radicals in the body, forming tocopheryl radicals, which the body can then break down using a hydrogen donor material, such as vitamin C. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, making it easy for the body to incorporate it in cell membranes. Any free radicals contact the vitamin E before they can damage the cell.

Taking up to 400 iu, or international units, of vitamin E per day could improve your skin’s health and appearance. This does can come from foods like sweet potatoes and seed oils, or from supplements. Don’t be tempted to take more than 1,500 iu per day, however. Since this vitamin is fat-soluble, it tends to build up in the body over time. An overdose could make you feel weak and dizzy or cause blurred eyesight and other problems.

Vitamin E is a popular ingredient in topical skin care produces like lip balms and lotions, since it moisturizes effectively. Just make sure you watch for irritation or redness; some sensitive people can develop an uncomfortable allergic reaction called contact dermatitis when they use vitamin E topically.

Selenium

Not a true vitamin, selenium is actually a mineral. However, it is capable of protecting your skin against sun damage. This mineral is required by the body in relatively small amounts to prevent cellular damage from free radicals and regulate thyroid hormones. Selenium is found primarily in eggs, mushrooms, fish, meat and nuts. You can also take it as a supplement to reduce oxidative stress from sun exposure. Take 100 to 200 micrograms of selenium per day, but do not exceed 400 micrograms per day, as it can result in a toxic reaction.

Vitamins aren’t a magic bullet to make you younger, but they can do a lot for your skin. Choosing the right products and combining them with a healthy lifestyle can help you keep your skin smooth, supple and beautiful. If you’re starting to feel the effects of aging, you don’t have to live with them. Prevent and heal skin damage with carefully targeted vitamin treatments.