Vitamin A sure has a long and interesting history. If you're a skin buff like me then you will be happy to know that you can find oodles of information on Vitamin A on the internet and in books (if you still read those)... but be warned!... navigating your way around all the information will be like trying to find your way through a rabbit’s warren.
That’s because Vitamin A comes in and from many different forms and has a multitude of actions and benefits for the human body. Some good, some not good and most life dependent. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision, cell function throughout the body as well as supporting your immune and reproductive systems… without Vitamin A we would cease to exist.
While it’s highly unlikely that in today's developed world, a serious deficiency of Vitamin A would occur; having too much Vitamin A can be toxic both when taking it orally or when applying it to the skin; so make sure you always consult with your doctor or skin therapist before adding Vitamin A to your routine.
“So how does Vitamin A help my skin?”... I hear you say. Well my lovelies… follow me down this rabbit tunnel a little further…
Provitamin A Carotenoids - found in fruit, vegetables and other plant-based products
Remember when your mum would make you eat up all your carrots, explaining that you would go blind if you didn’t eat every last little bit? Oh... wait; that was my mother… LOL. But surely you would have heard that carrots are full of a provitamin carotenoid called ‘beta-carotene’. It’s the red-orange antioxidant pigment that gives carrots its colour and is a precursor to vitamin A.
Once ingested, your body converts beta-carotene into retinol then it’s transported throughout the body and converted further into retinal and then again into retinoic acid. There’s a whole lot of converting going on but eventually it will find its way to your skin cells where it will be utilised to support healthy skin cell production. I’m a true testament to this process (turn left for this quick side note)...
When I was a toddler my mother must have had a real obsession with carrots and her belief in Vitamin A’s necessity for healthy development. There was a period of time during which she fed me so much carrot puree that I actually started turning orange! Needless to say that me looking like an ompa-lumpa forced her to step away from the carrot peeler but it’s a perfect example of how well the body absorbs and utilises vitamins!
Preformed Vitamin A retinol - found in dairy products, fish and meat
Like the carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables, retinol is also a Vitamin A compound found in foods such as eggs, liver, butter and milk. However this version is pretty much ready to go and easily absorbed by the body as is. It’s broken down and stored in the liver as a retinyl ester ready to be packaged and delivered throughout the body as needed… 80-90% of the total amount in our bodies, in fact, is stored in the liver - you know… just in case there is a famine… or shortage of carrots.
Vitamin A in skincare - Retinol or Retinoid?
When it comes to skincare, you may have heard the words, Retinol and Retinoid thrown around and even more confusingly, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinoic Acid and Tretinoin just to name a few. These are all forms of Vitamin A but as ingredients in skincare, some are made available as over the counter products and some are prescription only.
Over the counter Retinols are gentler and slower acting than the potent prescription only Retinoids but that doesn’t mean that they are not as effective in terms of skin rejuvenation. In fact, using prescription Retinoids can often lead to skin irritation and side effects such as dryness, flaking and thinning of the skin and severe sensitivity to sun exposure. Whereas, studies have shown that the gentler, Retinols and its derivatives will achieve similar results after a longer period of use but without the intense sensitivities. In a nutshell, which would you rather... walk around with red, peeling skin for several weeks, or fly under the radar and slowly let your beauty bloom?
And bloom it will because Vitamin A will improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as firm and smooth the skin by enhancing collagen production and boosting hydration. Pigmentation and age spots will fade and, if you suffer from Acne; Vitamin A will actually decrease the oil production that feeds the p-bacteria, reduces blackheads and congestion and increases the rate of wound healing to help with scarring.
Look for Vitamin A serums or creams that contain Retinyl Palmitate and lower doses of pure Retinol for a gentle, controlled approach to skin repair and rejuvenation. Be sure to introduce Vitamin A slowly into your routine. Start with one or twice a week (at night only) and increase up to 3 or 4 times a week as directed by your skin therapist. Do not use Vitamin A if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and make sure to use good quality sunblock during the day.