Not all Vitamin A derivatives are created equal.
Any skincare company promising to stamp out wrinkles, eliminate brown spots or pigmentation or even clear up acne, will (or should) have some form of Vitamin A derivative included in the skincare range of products.
Choosing the right Vitamin A derivative for your skin can be confusing as not all Vitamin A derivatives for the skin are created equal.
There’s a variety to choose from, and skincare companies don’t always choose the most effective. I’ve written briefly about the importance of vitamin A as an essential part of any good skincare regimen here. But today we are going a little bit deeper!
Where it all began?
It was the first of all the vitamins to be named, hence the very creative title of Vitamin A. The derivatives of vitamin A are known as retinoids (found in animal-based foods) and Carotenoids (found in plant-based foods). Vitamin A is essential for the health of, not just your skin (a necessary element in the production of enzymes that build your collagen) but also your vision, your immunity and an important antioxidant.
Back in the ’60s the forward-thinking (although at times unscrupulous) dermatologist Dr Albert Kligman M.D. PhD began experimenting with a form of Vitamin A (now known as tretinoin) as a topical application for the treatment of acne. Dr Kligman was indeed on to something, and tretinoin or Retin-A (the brand name) continues to be essential for the treatment of acne to this day.
But there was something else going on. Dr Kligman began to notice his acne patients had fewer lines and wrinkles compared with his other patients and so, with this finding came the birth and subsequent patent for Retin-A as the cure-all for many unwanted skin conditions.
Vitamin A does not discriminate.
Regardless of the skin issues or concerns you have, Vitamin A has a place in your skincare regimen. Vitamin A treats skin conditions such as acne, wrinkles, brown spots and hyperpigmentation with exceptional results.
This clever nutrient can communicate with damaged cells to function normally again. Often referred to as DNA repair.
Your skin will have far better cell turnover, and your youth enzymes will be switched on; essential for collagen synthesis.
But, despite all this good news, choosing the best formulation can become a little tricky.
But first, how does Vitamin A work?
When it comes to Vitamin A, there is a conversion that must take place if your skin cells are to accept Vitamin A beyond the cell wall.
It looks something like the diagram below. Once inside the cell, the retinoic acid will repair the cell structure. How cool is that?
With all this in mind; an effective anti-aging skincare product will contain some form of Vitamin A.
The perfect introduction to Vitamin A is the ester derivatives; Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl propionate. Once your skin is ready, you can add Retinol or Retinaldehyde.
They differ in their strength and effectiveness but also in their conversion within the skin to Retinoic Acid; the only form of Vitamin A recognised by your skin cell receptors. When this happens successfully, all is well with the world. Happy skin cells!!
What to look for in vitamin A for your skin?
Also known by the generic term of tretinoin, is only available in Australia with a medical prescription. When applied topically, it’s accepted directly into the skin cell without any conversion, which makes it a highly effective ingredient for the treatment of lines, wrinkles, hyper-pigmentation and acne.
However, there is a downside. It can irritate the skin. You may experience redness, irritation and peeling of the skin. With time and adjustments to the dose, this usually settles down, but you will need to exercise caution, and you must wear sunscreen.
When it comes to retinoids like tretinoin, it could be said; If a little is good, more must be better. Right? No. Not really, a pea size amount for the whole face is all you need.
If the skin continues to be irritated, then you really should consider taking a break or switching to a less irritating form of Vitamin A.
The alcohol form of vitamin A is an OTC alternative. Many cosmeceutical skincare companies will opt for the use of retinol. The conversion to retinoic acid is a two-step process which inhibits the effectiveness. However, despite this, retinol still packs enough of a punch, and I have seen exceptional results using retinol in my skin and others.
Although there may be some mild irritation initially, this usually subsides once the skin becomes accustomed. Retinol is an excellent alternative to retinoic acid for long-term use.
The Ester of Vitamin A is a combination of retinol and palmitic acid, which converts to retinoic acid. You’ll need a high concentration of retinyl palmitate for it to be effective.
It’s not enough to add a sprinkling of a derivative so that it can be added to the ingredient list and marketed as an anti-ageing solution!!
If Retinyl Palmitate appears so far down the list of ingredients, it renders it almost useless.
Having said all that, the Vitamin A Esters are a great introduction to the more potent forms and offer the skin the Vitamin A it needs for environment protection and skin health. Once combined with other derivatives such as a Retinol Serum, you’ll find you have a potent arsenal of Vitamin A in your bathroom cabinet and hopefully on your face.
Lastly, but by no means, the least.
A short conversion to retinoic acid with very little irritation to the skin makes this worth considering. As you can see by the diagram above, it only requires a one-step conversion and is seen by many as the closest to retinoic acid without all the irritating side effects or need for a prescription.
But again, you’ll need to take note of where it appears in the ingredient list. For retinaldehyde to be effective, it needs to be in a concentration of 0.05% to 0.1%, which is equivalent to a 0.025% tretinoin topical cream.
Unfortunately, retinaldehyde is an expensive ingredient so you’ll probably find most skincare formulations will be more costly than other Vitamin A esters. Unless they’ve only included the tiniest amount, in which case it wouldn’t be as effective and could be a waste of money.
What else to look for when choosing vitamin A for your skin?
Like most nutrients, Vitamin A is not stable and can lose its potency when interacting with sunlight, which is why you’ll need a daily topical dose both morning and night to ensure your skin does not become deficient.
There is no benefit to a cleanser with retinoids. To achieve the full advantage, and because of the protective properties retinoids provide, they need to remain on your skin, not washed away.
Look for packaging that protects the stability of the ingredients where there is minimal exposure to air and light.
Where to now? Getting advice.
The best place to start is with a skincare professional who can recommend the best option for you. Sure, you could skip this and head to your local supermarket, but, it’s doubtful you’ll find any brand with enough of what you need to do anything more than (at best) provide you with antioxidant protection.
Your skincare professional will go through any precautions you should take before commencing on a Vitamin A regimen.
Naturally, you’re staying out of the sun?
You may think if you’re using Vitamin A every day you’re going to become sun-sensitive. That’s not true. However, if you’re having a retinoid reaction, you should take cover. Why compromise results with sun exposure.
As with any skincare regimen where the goal is to minimise and fight the signs of ageing, you really should be considering a well-formulated sunscreen.
No point going to all this effort to ruin it with more sun damage. Right?
And now you?
So that’s it for now. If vitamin A is not in your skincare routine, then I highly recommend commencing soon. No matter what your age when it comes to skin health and the prevention of dysfunctional skin conditions like premature ageing, wrinkles and pigmentation, the sooner, the better.
If you liked this article on vitamin A for the skin then why not share it around Or, if you’ve got a question you can always drop me an email over here.
See you next time,