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

by Chris Kresser

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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 nutrient 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!

  1. I am very curious about Jessica’s questions regarding her niece and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I have wondered the same thing about the potential supplements that could be taken, how diet could affect symptoms, etc. My cousin was just diagnosed with EDS, so I’d love to hear some thoughts about it.

  2. Hi Chris –

    I know this was posted a couple of years ago, but hopefully someone from your team is still checking the posts. I’m writing out of concern for my niece. She was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome a few years ago, a genetic degenerative connective tissue disorder. At this time, treatment is management of symptoms, as it’s understood to be incurable.

    I’m curious to know if you think that it would help *at all* for her to supplement with hydrolyzed collagen, vitamin C, and/or other supplements, and/or if you think a paleo diet would protect the collagen that she has. Do you have any research around any supplements and/or paleo and connective tissue repair? Research is a bit limited at this time on EDS simply because of its rarity, but I’m hoping you can offer some insight.

    She’s only 12 and has a lifetime ahead of her…any thoughts would be much appreciated!

    Thank you,
    Jessica

    • Hi Jessica,

      I have seen your comment by absolute chance – I was looking into Vitamin B5 injections for my hair :). Like your niece, I have been also diagnosed with EDS (the joint hybermobility type). My situation, health wise, has been bad at times (and sometimes really bad), but, mostly, and now that I am 29 year old, I would say that things have been mostly under control, and I would generally say that I live a happy, full, and a very active life.

      There is no cure for EDS just yet, true, so for me the way to go was trying as much as possible to manage the situation. It took a lot of trials and errors, but one does learn more about one’s body, and what triggers and exacerbate EDS-related symptoms (sometimes really weird things, smoke, alcohol… etc), as well as what eases things up, and things do improve.

      I do not know what is the particular type of your niece’s EDS, for me, one of my big problems was the joint dislocations. For this, I try to keep this delicate balance between exercising enough to keep my muscles surrounding the joints strong in order to stabilise my joints, but doing this whilst considering the limitations EDS has on my muscles (I have learned where to stop to avoid pouts of muscle fatigue/muscle pain). I think more or less, I become more successful in managing this as I grew older. I definitely use to get way more joint dislocations while I was a kid (including while exercising of course, as well as while sedentary). If your niece has this particular joint problem, let me know, and I will give you more details about how I manage this through exercises and activity level. At one point two years ago I was literally unable to straighten my back, and I had to take daily physical therapy session for one month, but with the help of physical therapy (and a lot of optimism of course), I am now doing very well, and I exercise from 1 to 2 hours per day (as a result of EDS I became more active than most people without EDS), so really even if the situation deteriorate for a bit, it CAN and DOES improve.

      And when I do get joint dislocations, I have found that Turmeric pills does wonders as a replacement for anti-inflammatory pills that is commonly prescribed for long durations following the joint dislocation (tried and tested method). Of course physical therapy is needed at this point too, but Turmeric really works magic!

      – Diet wise, I do not eat gluten at all (I also have celiac disease). Some people link celiac with EDS, so get your niece tested. When I was diagnosed with Celiac and started following a gluten-free diet I witnessed a remarkable improvement in my EDS symptoms. Do not know if they are connected, but this is my case.

      – I also do not eat red meat or poultry. Generally makes me feel better. Again, only my observations. Nothing scientific.

      – For the dermatological/skin manifestations of EDS, I take Biosil, and a lot of Vitamin C. I feel it helps with the cigarette paper scaring that is common in EDS. Also makes my skin looks good 🙂 I also have to be very kind to my skin in general (only use products for sensitive skin…etc)

      – For the bruising, and for the blood vessels, I take a Rutin + Vit. C supplement. It works.

      – And lastly, stress seems to be a major trigger of EDS symptoms. I learned that I had to take it easy on myself, and treat myself kindly. This helps, a lot.

      And on the bright side, I feel that having EDS has made very aware of my body and how it behaves, and it is likely to do the same with your niece. I am very careful about what I eat, how much I workout, and very careful about keeping a balance between my job and my personal life (because things, everything, in general seems to affect those with EDS more), and in general as I grew older, I felt this awareness has given me a better quality of life that what I would have if I did not have EDS, and was not forced to become that much aware of what I do, and of myself.

      And I am very flexible, physically flexible 🙂 People do not know its a symptom of EDS and, in trainings, they seriously assume I have been trained as a ballerina! hehe. The bright side of EDS! 🙂

      Let me know if you you have any further questions, and I will be glad to help with what I know.

      Best, Salma.

      • Hi Salma –

        THANK YOU so very much for all of this information! It must have taken some time to be so comprehensive, and your time and effort is much appreciated:-)

        Her parents are planning to look more into the celiac connection, as well as other possible food triggers. We’re also curious to know more about your exercise program. She was a promising gymnast, but she had to give that up because it was too hard on her joints.

        Thank you so much for your time!

        Best,
        Jessica

        • Hi Jessica –

          No problem at all. You are welcome!

          I gave up competitive sports around the age of 15. I was in the swimming team at the time. It was very hard for me to keep up with the level, and the duration in particular, of training necessary for competition, and I always had the feeling I was somehow weaker than other kids training with me, and I used to get injured a lot, so I decided to stop competing, and I reached a conclusion with myself that competitive sports is not my thing. This was before I got diagnosed.

          Away from competition, I did not stop training, but I did it only because I liked it. Feeling constantly weaker than other people in training explains my choice of sports later in life. I now play boxing, kick boxing, and I experiment with other martial arts. Strength is not my strongest points (EDS), but I worked on other aspects that I could improve in comparing to other people, which in my case were speed, flexibility, and coordination. I train 3 days per week.

          I also dance (I used to train in Jazz) and EDS flexibity works well there. I go to dance training around 3 to 4 days per week.

          And on the weekend, I only do yoga and I walk.

          I also run around twice a week, but I cannot do long distance running. I keep things within my limitations.

          It is important to not over-exercise, so I try to keep things balanced. There were times of course when I did over exercise and ended up in psyiotherapy for a bit before I could get back to sports, but psyiotherapy has become a normal part of my life, that I no longer mind it.

          My experience with EDS and exercising is that it is about maintaining balance, and about making peace with our limitations. Each one of us is different when it comes to his/her physical limits.

          It might be worth noting that due to EDS, I was told to stop certain sports, including boxing (too intense) as well as yoga and dance training (because they increase the flexibility). Training is a big part of my life and I feel that its what keeps me on my feet, so I never stopped. It has been years and I do not regret not stopping. Perhaps, I am scared that if I stop I will get weaker. Perhaps its actually helping… I am not sure. Again, my own experience.

          How old is your niece? And if you feel that it would help her if you put us in touch, feel free to do so.

          Best, Salma

    • The only medical issue I would add is to watch her heart and specifically her Aorta. I have EDS, my five otger siblings have either EDS or Marfans (connective tissue disorders). EDS and Marfans can run together in a family and jury out on overlap, how different they are from eachother etc. But, do have her parents take her to a cardiologist and be vigilant about her heart. Aorta can thin out and death with EDS. Marfans the aorta simply ruptures. Just watch, don’t get crazy over this.
      Oh. Fibromyalgia. There is a connection between people with connective tissue disorders and Fibromyalgia. I have Fibro too and until i found Ultracet (narcotics don’t work on me), the Fibromyalgia pain was insane. That said, take it as it comes and keep niece from overdoing physical activity. Gentle stuff is fine, but heavy weights, running, excessive workouts are just plain bad.
      She’ll be fine. Just watch, don’t treat her as an invalid, but no over crazy activity.

  3. Hi, could you please explain the difference between collagen supplements (types 1+3) and Albumin for saggy skin? I heard of people taking both but couldn’t find a decent explanation about it. Thanks a lot!

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