Nutrition for Healthy Skin: Vitamin E, Pantothenic Acid, and Selenium

In this series, we’ve covered a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are important for skin health. Part 1 discussed how vitamin A improves the rate of skin turnover, zinc aids in wound healing, and vitamin C promotes collagen growth. Part 2 explained how omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, biotin improves skin moisture, and sulfur has anti-aging qualities.

These vitamins and minerals are crucial for the proper formation and function of skin cells, and are beneficial in treating conditions such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and may even prevent sun damage and wrinkles. Many of my patients have experienced significant improvements in their skin health when addressing the nutrient quality of their daily diet.

It’s amazing what a few months of a nutrient-dense diet can do for the appearance and health of your skin. Tweet This

This week I’ll be addressing three more nutrients that are beneficial for skin health: vitamin E, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and selenium. These nutrients are particularly important for antioxidant defense of the skin, which is crucial in slowing the aging process as well as protecting the skin from sun damage, pollutants, and other environmental toxins. They are also beneficial for treating acne, which is characterized by sebum overproduction, follicular hyperkeratinization, oxidative stress and inflammation. (1) By consuming foods rich in these vitamins and minerals, your skin will look clearer, brighter, and more youthful than ever before.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant found in the skin. It is secreted on the skin surface through the sebum, an oily substance that coats the outer layer of the skin. (2) This secretion happens roughly 7 days after consumption of vitamin E-rich foods, and is an important protective factor on the skin’s surface. Our bodies store vitamin E in our fat cells, and we depend on adequate dietary intake to keep these levels optimum.

Vitamin E is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, defending the skin against free radicals and reactive oxygen species that would otherwise cause damage. (3) Vitamin E may also play a synergistic role with selenium in improving glutathione levels in the body, further increasing antioxidant activity. (4) Adequate levels of this vitamin in the skin may prevent inflammatory damage from sun exposure, helping to reduce the aging and skin cancer risk from excessive UV radiation.

Vitamin E is also involved in immune function and cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes. (5) It even suppresses the formation of arachidonic acid, which could help improve inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. (67)

Good sources of vitamin E that are Paleo-friendly can sometimes be difficult to find; most Americans get the majority of their vitamin E from polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, and other vegetable oils. (8) Whole food sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Olive oil contains a moderate amount of vitamin E as well. It is important to eat these foods with plenty of fat to boost the absorption of vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble vitamin. While grass-fed meat may be higher in vitamin E than conventional meat, animal foods are generally a poor source of this antioxidant, so be sure to consume plenty of leafy greens as part of your healthy skin diet. (9)

I do not recommend supplementing with vitamin E in most cases. Studies have shown that long-term supplementation with alpha-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in most multivitamins, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. (10) This should serve as a reminder that supplementing with isolated, synthetic nutrients affects the body differently than obtaining the same nutrients from whole-food sources.

Pantothenic acid (B5)

Pantothenic acid, also called vitamin B5, is a water-soluble vitamin named after the Greek word pantos, meaning “everywhere.” This is due to the vitamin’s presence in virtually all types of food, and its requirement by nearly every type of organism for proper growth and metabolic function. Pantothenic acid plays a role in a wide variety of biological activities, including energy production and protein and fat synthesis, and is needed by many different types of skin cells for proper regeneration and growth.

Pantothenic acid has been shown to support wound healing, especially when applied topically, by improving the regrowth of those cells that are responsible for generating connective tissue after injury. (11) This vitamin may also promote the growth and differentiation of keratinocytes, which are essential for maintaining a healthy barrier function in the skin. (12) Keratosis pilaris, or “chicken skin”, is a common skin condition caused by impaired keratinocyte growth, which may benefit from increased pantothenic acid consumption.

Pantothenic acid also significantly increases levels of glutathione in the cells, which acts as a potent antioxidant in the skin. (1314) As I mentioned in the second article of this series, increased levels of glutathione in the skin protects against oxidative damage of cell membranes, reducing the effects of sun damage, pollutants, and other stressors. This can help reduce the signs of aging, prevent wrinkles, and even defend against skin cancer.

Pantothenic acid is available in a variety of foods, but the richest sources are liver and kidney, egg yolk, and broccoli. Fish, shellfish, chicken, dairy products, mushrooms, avocado, and sweet potatoes are also good sources. Most healthy people have no problem meeting their pantothenic acid requirements, but factors such as stress, pregnancy, and a diet high in processed foods can increase one’s needs for this vitamin. (15) High heat, canning, and other processing methods may reduce the amount of pantothenic acid in food by up to 75%, so it’s important to consider cooking and preparation of these foods when trying to maximize your intake of pantothenic acid. (16)

Selenium

Selenium is an incredibly important trace mineral with numerous health benefits, yet many people may be at risk for deficiencies of this important element. (17) Poor levels of selenium in the soil, inadequate intake, and intestinal disorders that affect absorption can all lead to minor deficiencies, and this can have consequences for general health as well as the health of the skin. (1819)

One of the most important functions of selenium is as a component of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme necessary for the antioxidant function of glutathione. As I’ve mentioned before, glutathione is one of the major antioxidants in the body that protects against cellular damage from the free radicals that cause inflammation, aging, and promote skin cancer. In fact, many scientists support the theory that selenium in the diet is protective against skin cancer: epidemiological evidence suggests that death rates from cancer are significantly lower in areas of the world where selenium levels in the soil are high, and some clinical trials have shown benefits of dietary selenium in cancer prevention. (2021)

Selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase and its effects on glutathione activity may also have a significant role in acne severity. Patients with acne have been shown to have low levels of blood selenium, as well as low levels of selenium-dependent glutathione activity. (2223) Clinical research has shown that selenium supplementation, along with vitamin E, improves the appearance of acne while simultaneously increasing glutathione activity in those patients with lower levels. (24) In addition, selenium and vitamin E likely play complementary roles in increasing glutathione activity and reducing overall oxidative stress in the body. Therefore, a diet high in selenium is likely to improve acne, specifically in those with low levels of glutathione.

It’s best to get your selenium from food, and the richest sources of this trace element are organ meats and seafood, followed by muscle meats. Fish such as cod, tuna, halibut, sardines, and salmon are excellent sources, along with liver and meats like beef, turkey, and lamb. Brazil nuts are also a rich in selenium, and just two brazil nuts a day will give you the 200 micrograms necessary for an adequate intake. The selenium content of food depends heavily on soil conditions, so eating a range of selenium-rich foods on a regular basis will ensure that you’re getting enough – no need to worry about eating too much. (25)

That said, while the above study indicates that there may be no upper limit for selenium in the diet, other studies have shown that selenium is potentially toxic in high doses. 400 mcg per day and/or blood levels of 1,000 ng/mL are currently recognized as the safe upper limit. (26) Therefore, if you are eating selenium-rich foods I do not recommend taking more than 200 mcg/d in supplemental form.

In the coming weeks, I’ll publish my fourth and final article in this series on nutrition for skin health, so stay tuned!

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  1. William says

    Avocados are also a good source of Vitamin E… and while I know you are recently not a fan, red palm oil is probably the “Best” source.

        • Chris Kresser says

          Frankly, I don’t know. I haven’t investigated it enough to have an informed opinion. If you learn anything in your research, please let us know.

      • Samantha says

        Look for palm oil products that contain the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) or CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) certification. Palm oil is not going away, but the RSPO is growing and has a mission convert the world’s use of palm oil to that from a sustainable source. This is probably the most legitimate certification process. http://www.rspo.org/

    • ReneeAnn says

      I was just going to suggest red palm oil. It is my favorite oil by far. I think many people who think it tastes strong, are actually just put off by the color. Though, I think the color is lovely and adds an nice warm color to any food. I’ve only tasted Wilderness Family Naturals, so maybe their rpo is just more mild tasting than others. I go through about three gallons per year and that is mostly just me eating it. Butter has a stronger taste than WFN’s rpo. I use it in place of coconut oil and butter, which I do not tolerate well. I do drink some coconut oil lattes everyday, so I also get my share of that. But, I’m not fond of the flavor of coconut oil in cooking savory foods.

      • nopavement says

        If you get the “refined” coconut oil as opposed to the extra virgin coconut oil, it does not have any flavor, and works well in cooking.

        • ReneeAnn says

          I could not give up the great taste of rpo. I’m addicted to it! And, I need to get my vitamin E from it. I get enough coconut oil in my daily coconut oil lattes.

  2. nopavement says

    Chris,

    In the past you have cautioned against eating Brazil nuts for Selenium content, due to the high Omega 6 content. I noticed in a previous article, you mentioned that consuming Omega 6 from whole foods is not something to worry about. Am I understanding this correctly? Are you changing your stance on being careful of Omega 6 content of food and shooting for a 2:1 or 1:1 n6 to N3 ratio?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • Wayne says

      I have to believe that eating two Brazil nuts a day is not going to throw your 3 to 6 out of wack. Especially if you are watching your intakes in all the other areas that contain high omega 6. I eat two Brazil nuts a day, and have for the past year or so. Not worried.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Hi Jeff,

      I’m coming to believe that the n-6/n-3 ratio may be less significant than I originally thought, and it’s the overall intake of long-chain n-3 that is the most significant factor. There’s a lot of controversy on this issue, and I am still exploring, which is why I haven’t issued an update.

      I also feel there’s a significant difference between n-6 from whole foods like nuts and avocados, and n-6 from industrial seed oils which are highly processed and completely devoid of nutrients.

  3. Jenn says

    I was just wondering about possible magnesium deficiencies contributing to skin conditions. I am personally struggling with skin issues that have never been effectively treated by specialists as either acne or folliculitis. I am taking natural multi vit/minerals as well as probiotics and omega threes, but I am having little results. I do frequently have muscle cramps and spasms, as well as struggling with depression and hypothyroidism. I am now using a topical magnesium spray to treat the muscle cramps. Do you have any thoughts on this or any suggestions?

  4. John says

    Hi Chris, is there anything in particular that you’ve found helpful for the erythematelangiectatic (sometimes also called vascular) subtype of rosacea as opposed to the papulopustular kind? It’s somewhat questionable whether the former is a skin problem as it arguably is a vascular problem with excessive vasodilation and angiogenesis that affect the appearance of the skin. The other theory I’ve seen in the research literature is that isn’t primarily a vascular problem, but rather that the vasculature dilates too easily as a result of the connective tissue around it being damaged.

    It seems doubtful to me that the vascular and pp subtypes are actually the same disorder, but suspect they tend to get grouped together as rosacea seems to be a bit of a diagnosis of exclusion for ‘patient has a red face, unknown etiology.’ Would love to see your take on rosacea and the research that has come out about it over the last few years sometime.

    • says

      I was dx with Rosacea 20 years ago. I had the most severe form. Pus filled pimples, swollen face and eyes and very red raised skin with blistering . went to seven dermatologists gave me antibiotics and various other medicines. also had been given cortisone shots in the pimples. nothing worked. I then went to a private vitamin store. the owner is a chemist/ nutritionist. Jack Friedman, Wealth of Health located in Bklyn n.y.. east 13th st. and avenue U. He gave Acidophilus 10 billion live organisms. …within 24 hours, my face looked just like a baby’s bottom. the next day I went to thank him. He said “I know” you would be back shortly.” 20 years have passed and I still do not have any signs of Rosacea. But, when my face begins to itch, I take one capsule. and that’s it. I then wrote to the Rosacea foundation which I belonged to and they discontinued my name and stopped sending me any future information…..How nice. I received no thanks at all. well, I guess they thought they might not have a job if there was a ”’cure’ for Rosacea. Cynthia Graham….

      • Anne says

        Hi Cynthia, thanks for you advice. I am now trying out the Acidophilus, but so far, no obvious results on my Rosacea, so it isn’t a miracle cure for everyone. Did you recommend it to anyone else? Did they also get well? Glad it worked for you though.

    • says

      If my message did not go through, then I will truly know for sure. the doctors are only in for the money and do not care about human beings. and do not want them to seek alternative treatment. because you might not be needed any longer. very soon you all will not be able to stop people from seeking alternative medicine so jump on board and join in and help you will keep your job when patients come to you for dosages and the amount of times it has to be taken. Cynthia Graham. I am so angry I can’t write well…..

  5. Wade says

    Hey Chris,

    I have been loving the series on skin. I am trying to increase the nutrient density of my current diet and also avoid food toxins (gluten = acne, for me). I don’t know if you are going to touch on this, but do you recommend any topical skin care products/practices?

    If you don’t mind me asking, what does your skin care regimen look like? soap? shampoo? deodorant? Just curious… I have heard a lot of debate around these sorts of things, and I am trying to get a ancestral perspective. What do you think?

    • Chris Kresser says

      Skin has always been a non-issue for me. I’m one of those lucky people that doesn’t ever have to think about it much. I do use natural (chemical-free) soap and shampoo, and I do not use deodorant at all (don’t seem to need it). So it’s not something I’ve put a lot of time and energy into exploring. One thing to be aware of is that we have more defenses against absorbing toxins ingested orally than we do against toxins applied to our skin, so I think it makes sense to be cautious.

      • Wade says

        Yeah that makes sense. There is a lot of (scare) info about what and what not to put on our skin. From an evolutionary perspective, I’m not sure soap is all that necessary, although some like it. I remember reading in “The Dirt on Clean,” by Katherine Ashenburg, that all that is truly necessary for hygiene is to wash your hands, and that the most you would be risking is a bacterial/yeast overgrowth. This was coming from two dermatologists who worked in a lab…

        Thank you for getting back to me! I appreciate it.

      • Rose says

        It’s funny you say no deodorant Chris. I used to battle with terrible BO and sweating all year aroun when I was younger. I was training/playing sport almost daily, had a fit and terrific figure. But it was high carbs, sugar, Maccas, fairy bread etc. The sweat and BO settle down over the years as I gave up processed foods and started eating more veggies. Now I’ve been paleo since Feb and come to think of it my arm pits have been smelling like roses. What a great AHA moment :-)

      • nimmy says

        Can I take biotin5000 along with omega3 oil n amti oxident. 400
        Mg.bcoz my skin get dull,loose,lines,n freckles n pimple.m very much tense

  6. Marisa H says

    Whoohoo! I am glad to know I get almost all of these vitamins in my weekly liver.

    However, I am concerned over Vitamin E. I don’t eat most of those foods, ie, low carb vegetables and nuts, because I cannot digest them. Most of my diet is grass fed/pastured meats, eggs, and organs, raw fermented dairy, starchy tubers covered in coconut oil or pastured butter. Occasionally, dark chocolate, low-fructose fruits (berries and citrus) and wine. Sometimes I ferment veg like cabbage, cucumbers, and beets.

    Where can I obtain a safe (easily digestible) source of Vitamin E?

    • Helissa Penwell says

      As I get older (68 yr) I can’t eat as much, and I worry that I’m not absorbing the nutrients I do eat as well, so I prefer to supplement along with eating a good diet. I like New Chapter brand because it is based in whole foods. I take “New Chapter Complete E Food Complex” full-spectrum E. One tablet is only 50 IU, which is much less than the synthetics, but I feel better about it. It is very easy to digest. You can take it without food.

  7. James says

    Hi Chris.

    I have a dry scalp problem. I don’t use shampoo, I don’t smoke, I very rarely drink alcohol, and I don’t eat processed food or sugar. I read that a dry scalp is linked to poor gut health. What could be causing this?

    Kind regards

  8. TinaMarie says

    Chris, you in your discussion of vitamin E, you only mentioned alpha-tocopherol what about tocotrilenol vitamin E, isn’t that much more heart friendly?

  9. says

    Selenium isn’t “part” of glutathione at all; it’s in selenocysteine (the selenium analogue of the sulfur-amino acid cysteine) which is the active site residue in the glutathione peroxidase enzyme (and in thioredoxin reductase), the former is an enzyme which oxidises glutathione while quenching peroxides. 2xGSH + H2O2 = GSSG + 2xH2O.
    So you need selenium to use glutathione. And to make T3 thyroxine.from T4, something which might also affect the skin.
    You need more vit E the more polyunsaturates are in the diet. Restoring saturated fat in the diet and restricting seed oils, in my experience, produces much the same skin benefits as vitamin E supplements, indeed more.

    • Chris Kresser says

      You’re correct, George. I made a careless mistake and didn’t catch it on my proofread.

      I agree completely about restoring SFA and restricting PUFA.

      • says

        A little n=1; I used to burn myself fairly often, being somewhat onco and trying to run an oven. I thought vitamin E was amazing for burns; bust a cap, put it on the blister and the burn didn’t spread, didn’t get too inflamed, and healed quickly.
        Then I switched from rice bran oil to dripping in my cooking; and I have to admit I went overboard, eating steak fried in dripping (tallow) at every opportunity for a while. I noticed a couple of things after a while; first, the skin on my hands seemed thicker and tougher. And, when I burnt myself, there was no blister. Just a little patch of dead skin that disappeared in no time. It’s very unusual to get a blister now and I’ve no need for vitamin E (which would still be a fantastic thing to put on a serious burn; this is also the proper clinical use for colloidal silver solution BTW).
        Is it a coincidence that fire-walking is practiced in places where coconut is a dietary staple?

  10. Sarah says

    Hi Chris, so if I put topical pantothenoc acid on my keratosis pilarsis it will go away? If ai, where do I find a topical version?

        • Jessica says

          Hi Sarah –

          I’m curious to know if you have tried the topical pantothenic acid. I’ve been getting these arms bumps for a little over a year, which as it turns out, coincides with when I stopped eating eggs (unfortunately, I get a terrible runny nose when I do – must be an intolerance). I do eat plenty of broccoli, sweet potato, avocado, and fish, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick (and I simply can’t stomach the organ meats). I just ordered a B5 supplement, so I’m hoping for good things on the horizon. I have noticed, too, that if I let gluten or dairy sneak into my diet, the bumps come on much stronger…clearly a connection with these offenders (at least for myself).

          Hopefully you had some luck!

          Best,
          Jessica

          • says

            Jessica, it could be also that your vitamin A (retinol) levels have dropped (egg yolks are rich in A). Arm bumps (keratosis pilaris) are often due to vitamin A deficiency.
            I get them when my high D3 intake (for autoimmune reasons) isn’t balanced by vitamin A intake- as soon as I add some vit. A back in, the arm bumps are gone within a week or two. They also disappear if I use topical trans-retinol cream, which is another form of vit. A.

            • Jessica says

              Thank you for the info, Erin:)

              I have supplemented with vitamin A in the form of high-vitamin cod liver oil, as well as capsule form. I wish I could just eat eggs! Do you recommend a specific brand of topical retinol cream? I also began supplementing with pantothenic acid capsules and the recurrence of the bumps has greatly decreased; just a couple here and there….

  11. Julia says

    Hi
    My 14 month old has issues with skin rashes and still has a bit of cradle cap. She is still breastfed and eats a paleo diet, and is otherwise very healthy. In a previous article Chris talked about the importance of biotin for healthy skin, and I’ve heard a deficiency of this can cause cradlecap too. My daughter eats liver about once a week, but doesn’t have egg yolks or swiss chard because these cause her skin rashes to flare up. And she doesn’t eat grains. I have just started her on some Green Pastures cod liver oil, does this contain biotin? If not are there any other sources of this vitamin that I could try to include in her diet?
    Thanks for anyone who can help!

  12. Alex says

    Hi Chris, and everyone that’s on this forum. I’m suffering from adult acne for more than a year now. I’m a male, 37 yrs old. I never had real bad skin problems in my teens, most people at my age boys and girls envy my complexion. Back then I will have occassional break-out but nothing serious and most of the time my skin is clear. My skin type is quite normal with the T-zone area tends to be oily by the end of the day at work. I live in a country with hot and humid weather all year round, so I never use any moisturiser.
    It all happened in June 2011 when my girlfriend recommend a skin care product call Mary Kay to me, and after using it( cleanser, moisturizer…etc) for a couple of times, problems occurred. I start breaking out and it went out of control, so I stop using the products. I lost my confident and dare not look at people. I was very depressed. I consulted a dermatologist and he prescribed to me topical defferin gel for application and antibiotic to take orally, but all this didn’t help, so I decided to stop taking the antibiotic. I continue using mu regular face cleanser from avéne + the defferin gel twice a day, but still my skin condition did not improvement.
    Reccently I was looking online for help, and I came across using oral supplement to cure acne, and I thought maybe is a good idea to try out. I start taking ester C 1000mg 2-3times a day, Vitamin E(D-alpha tocopherol) 400IU twice a day and Zinc Gluconate 50mg 1 time a day(before going to bed). With this new found way of getting rid of acne, I could feel my skin is drying up within a week, but I’m still breaking out . I think the recovery rate is too slow, so I decided to add Vitamin B5(Phantothenic Acid). I read only taking high dosage will work, but I think it’s better to start with low dosage, so I take 500mg of B5 tablets twice a day together with my regular vitamin C, E, and Zinc. On the 3rd day, I don’t see any different with my skin, so I thought I should increase my B5 intake. On the 4th day I took vitamin E 400IU, Ester C 1000mg and B5 after breakfast. Then every 6 hourly I will take 1 B5 tablet(500mg), so in 1 day I took 4 B5 tablets(2g), + my regular C,E and Zinc at night. To my shock on the 5th day(today) I woke up with rashes all over my neck and some small parts of my face. I checked online for ways to stop my rashes and decide to cut down on my B5. So today I took 1 B5(500mg), 1 E(400IU), and 1 C(1000mg) after breakfast. Then I took another C in the afternoon. At night I took only E, C and zinc Throughout the whole day I drank alot of water. Now my rashes has gone down a bit, and not so itchy, but I’m wondering what should I do now? Should I continue B5? Is there anything wrong with my skin care routine? Pls I need help desperately!!!!

  13. Pat says

    I see you don’t recommend vitamin E supplements that just contain alpha-tocopherol. What do you think of “complete” Vitamin E supplements that supposedly contain all of the tocopherols and tocotrienols?

  14. Daniel L says

    Hi Chris,

    I’m wondering what you think about the safety of applying vitamin E oil on the skin (to treat stretch marks and a flaky face).

    Thank you.

  15. Renee Lewis says

    My hair is dry and brittle, really bad flaky scalp and I am breaking out. I was told that Pantothenic Acid with Biotin and an Omega 3 Fish Oil, an L-Cysteine supplement would help to cure my acne and my hair loss. I have also read that B5(Pantothenic Acid ) also causes hair loss.

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