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 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 skin care 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 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 acne treatment. Dr Kligman was indeed on to something, and tretinoin or Retin-A (the brand name) continues to be essential for treating 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 communicates with damaged cells to function normally as they once did. This action by vitamin A molecules is repairing the skin cells DNA within the nucleus.
Your skin will have far better cell turnover with regular use, 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, a conversion must occur 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’s ready to tolerate more potent products, you can add retinol or retinaldehyde to your nightly routine.
Retinol and retinaldehyde differ in their strength and effectiveness and their conversion within the skin to retinoic acid, which is 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?
Retinoids, also known as the generic tretinoin, are only available in Australia with a medical prescription. When applied topically, it’s accepted directly into the skin cell without any need for conversion, which makes it a highly effective ingredient for treating 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, irritation usually settles down, but you’ll need to exercise caution, and wearing sunscreen is essential.
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 over-the-counter cosmetic alternative. Many cosmeceutical skincare companies will opt for the use of retinol. The conversion to retinoic acid is a two-step process that inhibits the effectiveness. However, despite this, retinol still packs enough of a punch, and I’ve seen exceptional results using retinol in my skin and many of my clients.
Although there may be mild irritation initially, this usually subsides once the skin becomes accustomed to the potency. Retinol is an excellent alternative to retinoic acid for long-term use.
The ester of vitamin A is retinol and palmitic acid combined and converts to retinoic acid. The esters of vitamin A are perfect for addressing and normalising the initial imbalances that can show up in the skin when it’s become deficient in vitamin A.
However, it’s not enough to add a sprinkling of a derivative just so cosmetic brands can add it to their ingredient list and market it as an anti-ageing solution!!
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 environmental protection and overall skin health. Once combined with other derivatives such as a retinol serum, you’ll find you have a whole arsenal of vitamin A in your bathroom cabinet and hopefully on your face to protect, restore and repair your skin.
A short conversion to retinoic acid with very little irritation to the skin makes retinaldehyde worth considering. As you can see by the diagram, it only requires a one-step conversion to reach the cell nucleus. Retinaldehyde is the closest alternative to retinoic acid without irritating side effects.
But again, you’ll need to take note of where it appears in the ingredient list. For retinaldehyde to be effective? You’ll need a concentration of 0.05% to 0.1%, equivalent to a 0.025% tretinoin topical cream.
Retinaldehyde is an expensive ingredient, so you’ll probably find most skincare formulations will have a higher price than vitamin A esters such as retinyl palmitate and acetate.
Of course, the price may reflect how much the cosmetic brand has included in their formulas. If it’s way down the list of ingredients, you’re not getting much, in which case it won’t be as effective and could be a waste of money.
What else to look for when choosing vitamin A for your skin?
Vitamin A has its fair share of beauty myths. And, with so much information flying around, how do you choose the best vitamin A for your skin?
Like most nutrients, vitamin A is not stable when exposed to sunlight. So you’ll need a daily topical dose morning and night to ensure your skin does not become deficient.
Look for packaging that protects the stability of the ingredients where there is minimal exposure to air and light. Airless pumps are an excellent choice.
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 until your skin settles down.
Why compromise results with too much sun exposure? Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. As with any skincare regimen where the goal is to minimise and fight the signs of ageing and sun damage, you really should be considering a well-formulated sunscreen.
There is no point in taking the time and effort only to ruin it with continued sun damage. Right?
Where to now?
The best place to start is with a skincare professional who can recommend the best vitamin A for you. Sure, you could skip this and head to your local supermarket. But you may not find the best on the market in the supermarket aisle, regardless of the hype.
Your skin care professional will go through any precautions you should take before commencing on a Vitamin A regimen. Ensure you’re introducing vitamin A into your routine at a steady pace. And, you’ll also find skincare professionals choose to recommend the best cosmeceutical brands.
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 age you are. A daily dose of vitamin A applied to your skin will improve skin health and reverse troublesome skin conditions.
If you found this article helpful, then why not share it. Or, if you’ve got a question, you can always drop me an email over here.
See you next time,