What Is Vitamin A?
“The terminology is so confusing and there’s a ton of misinformation out there, but, according to the National Institute of Health, vitamin A is the name of a group of retinoids,” explains Gmyrek. (So, for our purposes, let’s use the two names synonymously). That being said, the term “retinoid” refers to three different states of vitamin A: retinol, retinal (or retinaldehyde), and retinoic acid, she adds. Ultimately, they all have the same types of skincare benefits; the difference lies in the conversion process they do or don’t have to undergo in the skin to be effective, and subsequently how potent they are, she explains. Retinoic acid, which is what prescription-strength products contain, is the strongest, retinols are the weakest, and retinaldehyde falls in the middle.
Benefits of Vitamin A for Skin
It’s an impressive list, for sure. “Vitamin A as a skincare ingredient has been more extensively studied than any other ingredient on the market today,” says Gmyrek. “Retinoids were first used in dermatology in 1943.” The point being, this is one tried-and-true ingredient with a long list of proven benefits and is effective both as a preventative and anti-aging option. More of its benefits include:
- Boosts skin cell turnover: “Vitamin A promotes the shedding of old skin cells and stimulates the regeneration of newer, healthier, and smoother cells,” says Chen.
- Improves skin texture and tone: Essentially, vitamin A acts as an exfoliant, improving both the tone (it’s great for combating hyperpigmentation) and texture of the surface of the skin.2
- Stimulates collagen production: Along with working on the epidermis (aka the top layer of the skin), vitamin A is unique in that it also works in the dermis, the deeper layer, where it stimulates the production of collagen.3
- Reduces fine lines and wrinkles: Vitamin A helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles and also improves and thickens the skin, explains Gmyrek. As if that weren’t enough, it simultaneously minimizes the destruction of existing collagen and elastin, she adds, giving you even more bang for your buck.
- Is an effective acne treatment: There’s good reason(s) why prescription-strength vitamin A (or retinoic acid) was first FDA-approved as an acne treatment: It helps normalize oil production and its exfoliating properties help prevent clogged pores, points out Chen.
- Treats post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: Prescription-strength vitamin A can also minimize the look of post-blemish discoloration if pimples do pop up, and Gmyrek adds that it also has an anti-inflammatory effect that eliminates redness.
Side Effects of Vitamin A
The bad news is that all of these aforementioned potent effects come with some pretty problematic potential pitfalls. “Side effects include irritation, dryness, and photosensitivity, and in some cases even blistering and peeling,” notes Petrillo. It is worth noting, however, that the less potent, over-the-counter retinoids also come with a reduced likelihood and intensity of side effects (at least for most people). And the good news is that these effects usually will resolve once your skin acclimates to the ingredient, a process technically known as retinization.
How to Use It
Above all else, start slowly. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” warns Gmyrek. “More vitamin A isn’t better, and it will increase your chances of irritation, causing you to stop using it.” Try using it every third night for a week or two, then increasing to every other night, and finally to nightly use. You only need a tiny amount—about a pea-size—for your entire face. Apply it onto clean skin, and make sure that you’re using gentle and mild products in the rest of your routine to not overwhelm your skin, suggests Chen, at least until your skin is used to the vitamin A.
Keep in mind that patience is a virtue. According to Gmyrek, it will take a minimum of eight to 12 weeks to start to see improvements in your skin.
#1 ingredient for anti-ageing
Topical application of vitamin A has been proven to improve fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen synthesis. Collagen is the substance that gives our skin strength and structure. As we age our collagen fibres begin to break down, we lose this structure and lines and wrinkles begin to form on the skin.
#1 ingredient for Acne
Usually when we think of acne and ageing, they are at opposite ends of the ageing scale. Acne is thought of being more commonly experienced in younger skins (which we know is not accurate) and ageing in an older skin, so it may be hard to believe we use the same ingredient to treat both. Vitamin A has been prescribed to treat severe cases of acne for decades, the vitamin A drug Roaccutane, though very effective for acne has a lot of dangerous side effects and is also very harsh on the body. Applying a topical vitamin A in combination with other acne fighting ingredients like mandelic acid delivers results in a safer, controlled environment.
Vitamin A can also play a role in helping to reduce pigmentation and uneven skin tone by blocking an enzyme that is needed for melanin (pigment) production. It also speeds up the skins cell turnover which means your skin sloughs off the dead skin cells faster and leaves you with newer healthier skin cells visible on the surface of the skin.
Strengthens the skins immunity
Your skin is an organ and it is your bodies first line of defence against bacteria, its sole job is to keep anything external from entering the body and preventing internal things from exiting. Vitamin A works to promote a healthy strong epidermis which is the first layer of skin and our main barrier. By stimulating collagen, the skin is thickened and stronger, because as we age our skin thins and becomes more susceptible to damage.
How can I get some Vitamin A into my skin?
Not all types of Vitamin A are created equally. There are 5 main forms of Vitamin A, Retinol being the strongest formula available without a prescription. It is worth noting that how the product is formulated is also extremely important. Vitamin A is an extremely unstable ingredient and must be stabilized to be able to delivered into the skin. Also, the delivery system of Vitamin A plays a huge part in the results seen from this ingredient. Simply put, if this highly unstable ingredient cannot be delivered safely inside the skin, the Vitamin A is practically ineffective.
Some over the counter products may list Vitamin A as an ingredient but if not stabilized or delivered properly will not have any benefit on the skin, so choose your product wisely.
We recommend Ultraceuticals A Perfecting serum
Years of research has gone into the Ultraceuticals formulas. “Developed by in-house expert research chemists, Ultraceuticals takes great pride in its pure Vitamin A products powered by Ultra-RETI™ microparticle technology for effective stabilisation and delivery of Retinol to the skin. Ultra-Reti™ microparticles are formed by encapsulating pure Vitamin A (Retinol) into a soft wax base which is readily absorbed into the skin.
This incredible system means more particles than ever before are able to be delivered faster and more effectively thanks to a higher loading capacity. With empowered Retinol technology, this star performing range can work even harder for your skin to deliver real visible results.”
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Retinoid
MAIN BENEFITS: Stimulates the production of collagen to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, stimulates cell turnover, decreases oil production, has an anti-inflammatory effect.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: According to Gmyrek, everyone starting in their mid-20s (and even earlier if you’re battling acne), except for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Depending on the formulation, vitamin A can potentially be too irritating for those with sensitive skin.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Daily, or more specifically, nightly, once your skin has acclimated to the ingredient.
WORKS WELL WITH: Always pair vitamin A with sunscreen, as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.1 Many formulas incorporate soothing ingredients such as chamomile, or hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid with vitamin A, to help increase the tolerability of a product, says Petrillo.
DON’T USE WITH: Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, complement vitamin A’s anti-aging effects nicely, though using the two in tandem can increase the likelihood of irritation so proceed with caution, says Gmyrek.
Why is vitamin A so good for skin?
Vitamin A helps to speed up healing, prevent breakouts and support the skin's immune system and it promotes natural moisturising - which means it helps to hydrate the skin effectively, giving it a radiant glow. It assists in promoting and maintaining a healthy dermis and epidermis; the top two layers of your skin.
Why is this vitamin A important?
Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, reproduction, and growth and development. Vitamin A also helps your heart, lungs, and other organs work properly. Carotenoids are pigments that give yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables their color.