You're likely already taking some preventative measures against skin cancer, like wearing SPF. But you might not know that there's a vitamin that can reduce your risk of skin cancer, too. A study published in JAMA Dermatology found that vitamin A can lower the risk of the skin cancer cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. And the good news is that you can get plenty of vitamin A from the foods you eat.
"Vitamin A is one of the best vitamins for the skin, whether its ingested or used in topical treatments. It is a group of compounds comprised of retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and several provitamin A carotenoids," Dr. Gretchen Frieling, a board-certified Boston area dermatopathologist, tells Bustle. "These powerful components keep the skin firm, youthful, and radiant. Found in most plants, vitamin A protects the skin from harmful free radicals (UV rays)." And protecting your skin from UV rays is the first line of defense against skin cancer.
While cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is usually not life threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can lead to serious complications. Caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, this type of skin cancer develops on the outer layers of the skin and presents as a sore or visible red nodule. It's most likely to appear on areas of the body you forget to slather with SPF. This includes your hands, ears, scalp and lips, but it can occur anywhere — even on areas of your body not exposed to the sun.
In addition to beginning to apply SPF to these neglected areas of your body, the study, which followed more than 48,000 men and more than 75,000 women over 26 years, found that dietary vitamin A consumption was associated with a reduction in developing this kind of skin cancer.
Vitamin A can also keep your immune system healthy and strong, help you maintain your vision, and support your heart, kidneys, and lungs. So, just which foods contain vitamin A? The National Institutes of Health reported that dairy products, fish, meat — especially liver, leafy green vegetables, and fruit all have high concentrations of vitamin A.
While everyone should eat a vitamin-rich diet, people at high risk for skin cancer can certainly benefit from making sure they are getting enough vitamin A. The Mayo Clinic noted that those who have fair skin, spend a lot of time in the sun, use tanning beds, have a history of sunburns, precancerous lesions or skin cancer, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma than the general population. Hey, if you ever needed a reason to start eating liver, this is it.
But even though vitamin A has myriad benefits, you don't want to take too much. "When taken in the right amounts, vitamin A does wonders for the skin. However, having too little or too much could have adverse effects. [You] should aim to have around 700 to 900 micrograms of vitamin A each day. Vitamin A toxicity is possible (more than 10,000 mcg) and can cause congenital disabilities, nausea, headaches, bone pain, and liver damage," Dr. Frieling says.
What's more, just because vitamin A has been shown to reduce the risk of some skin cancers, that doesn't mean you can stop wearing your SPF. "Vitamin A has been linked to preventing squamous cell carcinoma — and that’s great. However, this does not mean we should change anything about how we protect ourselves from the sun," she says. "Always wear sunscreen of at least 30 SPF when you’re going to be exposed to the sun and protect your skin! Taking vitamin A alone is not enough." Basically, it takes a village to protect your skin, and vitamin is just part of that equation. #TheMoreYouKnow