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From A to K - Vitamin dictionary focussing on skin care


Besides minerals and omega-3- and omega-6-fatty acids, the vitamins are a group of vital substances for the human metabolism that can only be orally ingested or topically absorbed. Dr Lautenschläger, chemist, has compiled a list of the most important vitamins for the skin care.


In company with enzymes that are endogenously produced, the vitamins control biochemical reactions in the body. While enzymes work as catalysts and can regularly be substituted by new formation, the vitamins use up and cannot be synthesised although they usually are incorporated into endogenous cycles in which they are recycled to a certain extent. Just to mention an example: after their antioxidative effects, most but not all of the abreacted vitamin E molecules are regenerated with the help of vitamin C. After a certain time, however, there is need for exogenous replenishment.
On the skin surface and depending from the applied dose, the vitamins have completely different effects than in the intra-physiological context. Vitamin C can be mentioned here as a significant example which in its form as free ascorbic acid in high concentration has keratolytic effects outside the body analogous to an alpha hydroxy acid.
Vitamin B12 cannot be topically absorbed and only has a slight antioxidant effect on the skin surface due to its high molecular mass.
Besides its genuine functions, provitamin B5 has additional effects on the skin that are not allowed for in physiological respect - such as for instance the increased skin hydration or the penetration-enhancing effects for exogenous active agents.

In their campaigns for cosmetic skin care products sales promotion departments freely use information on the effects of vitamins as known from technical literature for vitamin deficiency. However, these effects will never materialise with a balanced way of life. In the following survey only the cosmetic effects and the resulting applications are compiled.

Chemical name or aliasCosmetic purpose2)Synergien & BeschränkungenCarrier3) and processingCosmetic stabilisationDerivatves4), provitamins5) and substitutes6)
Vitamin A

Occurrence: herbal oils (carotenoids); synthetic

Regeneration: stimulation of cell growth and collagen formation

Blemished (acne) skin

Aging skin

Scars and cornification disorders

Oxidises into vitamin A acid (INN: Tretinoin) in the skin which has been banned as a cosmetic ingredient

Irritation threshold (erythema) and tolerance increase with continued application

Begin with low doses! Receptors multiply

Not to be used during sun exposure!

BfR7) (31.1.14): not to be used in lip- and body care preparations; only for facial and hand care

Regeneration: combination with vitamin B3

Oil phase of emulsions

Nanodispersions (carrier) with carrier oils

Retinoids are oxygen- and photosensitive.

Combination with vitamin C and/or vitamin E

Light-tight containers

Derivatives (esters): retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate and retinyl palmitate are more frequently used than free vitamin A; cleavage by dermal esterases

Retinal (aldehyde): pre-stage of vitamin A acid

Provitamins: β-carotene and other carotenoids

3-Dehydroretinol (Vitamin A2)

Vitamin B1

Alias: aneurin

Occurrence: yeast extract; synthetic

Blemished skin

Accompanied by other B-vitamins in yeast extract

Heat-induced degradation and slow degradation in water generates a meat-like flavour. Storage-induced losses when contained in aqueous cosmetic preparations.

Due to its characteristic flavour it is rarely added to cosmetic products.

Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

Instable in aqueous medium; the thus generated flavour and also the flavour of yeast extracts is rarely accepted.

Alternative: used as a solid matter in food supplements
Vitamin B2


Occurrence: yeast extract; biotechnological

Yellow food colour (E 101)

Participating in the formation of oxidoreductases (enzymes)

Rarely used as a pure substance due to its colour and low solubilityWater phase of emulsions Cosmetically stableAlternative: food supplement
Vitamin B3

Niacin (nicotinic acid or
Niacinamide (nicotinamide); standard form in cosmetic products

Occurrence: yeast extract; synthetic


Skin regeneration (incl. barrier)


Inhibition of melanin formation

Reduction of sebum production


Synergy with tranexamic acid (effective against hyperpigmentation)

Regeneration: combination with vitamin A


Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

Nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are cosmetically stable


Depending on the alcohol component, nicotinic acid esters have more or less vaso-dilating effects (hyperaemic effects).

Tocopheryl nicotinate (ester with vitamin E) stimulates dermal microcirculation

Nicotinic acid benzyl ester is a component of warming anti-rheumatic ointments

Vitamin B5

Pantothenic acid

Occurrence: yeast extract; synthetic; D-panthenol usually is used as a provitamin




Cell formation



Pre-treatment with D-panthenol before the application of cosmetic masks. Due to the toning the skin easily integrates the active agents contained in masks.


Water phase of emulsions

D-panthenol is a penetration-enhancing substance

D-panthenol and pantothenic acid are cosmetically stable

Provitamin D-panthenol is a frequently used cosmetic component.
Vitamin B6

Pyridoxine (alcohol) or
Pyridoxal (aldehyde) or
Pyridoxamine (amine)

Occurrence: brewer's yeast extract; synthetic

Treatment of seborrhoeic skin

Blemished skin

Yeast extract often is preferred to the pure components:

Pyridoxine hydrochloride

Pyridoxal is the most stable among the three forms of the vitamin

Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

No long-term stability in aqueous cosmetics, hence only rarely used in its pure formAlternative: food supplement
Vitamin B7

German alias: vitamin H

Occurrence: yeast- and wheat germ extract; synthetic

Growth failure of hairs, nails and skin

Low solubility in water

Combination with allantoin (complex)

Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

Cosmetically stableMeaning of the old German term vitamin H (H = "Haut", English translation: skin)

Vitamin B9

Folic acid
Alias: folate
German alias: vitamin M

Occurrence: yeast- and wheat germ extract; synthetic

Due to its instability rarely used in cosmetics

Regenerative effects when used with other B-vitamins (yeast extract)

Yellow colour

Limited storage of aqueous preparations, even when cooled

Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

Oxygen- and photosensitive

Combination with antioxidants

Light-tight containers

Alternative: food supplement

Vitamin B12


Occurrence: yeast extract; biotechnological

Skin care benefits still have to be proved
Red colour

Water phase of emulsions

Liposomes (carrier)

Cobalamin is an antioxidant
Alternative: food supplement
Vitamin CAscorbic acid

Occurrence: herbal extracts; synthetic (main use)


Radical scavenger

Liposomal ascorbyl phosphate (AP) in low concentration:
Tyrosinase inhibition
Collagenase inhibition

Fruit acid analogous keratolysis due to concentrated free acid

In contrast to free acid, liposomal AP penetrates into the skin; low concentrations can suppress melanin formation during laser treatments.

Water phase of emulsions

AP-liposomes (carrier)

Oil phase of emulsions: ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbyl stearate

Combination with vitamin E


Ascorbyl phosphate (AP), water-soluble

Ascorbyl palmitate and ascorbyl stearate, oil-soluble

Vitamin D3 (non essential)

Alias: calciol

Occurrence: minor amounts in avocado oil, wheat germ oil; synthetic production from animal or herbal prestages 

7-Dehydrocholesterol, after dermal conversion into vitamin D3 it has analogous functions, among others:

Influence on the formation of antimicrobial peptides (AMP)

Influence on the keratinocyte differentiation (psoriasis)

Vitamin D3 and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) are not licenced in cosmetics

UV filters are counterproductive for the endogenic synthesis of vitamin D


Oil phase of emulsions

Nanodispersions (carrier) with carrier oils



UV-B radiation transforms provitamin 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3.

Alternative: food supplement

Vitamin E

α-, β-, γ- and δ-Tocopherol (herbal oils)

dl-α-Tocopherol (isomer mixture, synthetic)

Antioxidant, for instance in combination with vitamins A and C


Skin hydration

Radical chain reactions in the case of high dosage and UV radiation

Oil phase of emulsions

Nanodispersions (carrier)

Combination with Vitamin C

Esters only have antioxidative effects after cleavage by dermal esterases.

The derivatives (esters) tocopheryl acetate, tocopheryl palmitate, tocopheryl linoleate are frequently used.
Vitamin K 

K1: phylloquinone (synthetic) or

K2: menaquinone (intestinal flora) 

K1: reduction of erythema (rosacea)

K2: stabilisation of the blood capillaries (rosacea, couperosis)

Since 2009 banned in cosmetics due to the risk of pre-sensitisations (with surgery)

Oil phase of emulsions

Nanodispersions (carrier) with carrier oils


Light-tight containers

Physiological vitamin K epoxide is not banned although in topical- allergological respect it is more critically seen than vitamin K.

Substitutes for the rosacea and erythema treatment: butcher's broom extract, tranexamic acid, echinacea extract, boswellic acids

1) The numerical gaps in the enumeration of vitamins are due to the fact that the formerly assumed vitamin properties of the vitamins B4, B8, B10 and B11 have not been proved.
2) The typical vitamin deficiencies as described in literature have neither been listed in the table nor in the section cosmetic purpose since they will never materialise in the context of a normal European diet. Functions and occurrence have been specified in H. Lautenschläger, Vitamine in der Kosmetik, medical Beauty Forum 2011 (1), 14-16 und (2), 16-18.
3) The carrier function of liposomes and nanodispersions is based on their content in native phosphatidylcholine that fluidises the skin barrier and so improves its permeability for active agents.
4) Derivatives are chemical modifications of the vitamins; they are enzymatically transformed into free vitamins in the skin. By-products of this process are further physiological substances such as acidic acid, propionic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, phosphoric acid or alcohol.
5) Provitamins are naturally occurring physiological compounds that are enzymatically transformed into vitamins in the skin.
6) Substitutes are active agents without structural resemblance to vitamins but with (partially) analogous cosmetic effects.
7) BfR: Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany)

Dr Hans Lautenschläger

Please note: The publication is based on the state of the art at the publishing date of the specialist journal.

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© Copyright Kosmetik Konzept KOKO GmbH & Co. KG, Leichlingen,
Revision: 27.05.2021

published in
Beauty Forum medical
2020 (3), 14-17

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