Vitamin A

Vitamin A was originally developed in the 1980s for treatment of acne.  At that time, it was noted that those people treated with vitamin A creams had an improvement in skin texture and tone with reduced pigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines.  So I am going to go out on a limb here and say….YES!!!!  It is ONE of the answers to a wrinkle –free life.  Other factors that can slow or prevent ageing will be discussed in future blogs.  For now let's concentrate on what I call ‘liquid gold’ or Vitamin A. 

What is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A, or retinoids, are a cluster of compounds that are related, yet different.  Under the umbrella of vitamin A are various compounds including retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl palmitate and others.  If you think of Vitamin A as the “fruit in the basket” and the various compounds being apples, bananas, pears and oranges.  Yes they are all fruit, but each differs from the other.

Vitamin A truly is an anti-ageing skin care product. It is revered by both Cosmetic Physicians and Dermatologists for its anti-ageing properties.  It has the benefits of tackling pigment and fine lines, as well as exfoliating to create a smoother skin texture and natural glow.

Vitamin A is one of the most confusing products on the market due to its many different formulations and strengths.  You can purchase some forms of vitamin A from your local supermarket, beautician, pharmacist or cosmetic doctor.  All the product labels will be touting that they are the best product, but if you read each label carefully they will contain a different form and strength of a retinoid.

Retinoic acid (also called tretinoin) acts directly on the skin.  It is the most powerful form of vitamin A but it can cause skin irritation. This is only available on prescription from your cosmetic doctor, GP or dermatologist.

Retinol is the next most potent form of Vitamin A.  It has to undergo a conversion to retinoic acid to be able to be effective on the skin

Other various forms of Vitamin A that you will see listed on products are derivatives, known as the esters. These are listed on product labels as Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate, Retinyl Palmitate and Retinyl Propionate. These are all less potent forms of Vitamin A and often have little direct effect on the skin.  These derivatives need to undergo several conversions to reach the active retinoic acid form.  These products are known to be ‘unstable’, meaning the conversion rate to retinoic acid can be very low, and results can be poor. 

The key to understanding Vitamin A is to understand that product can be lost in the conversion due to this instability.  The weaker the product (or the further down the line of conversion), the higher percentage of active product it will need to contain  For instance you will see concentrations of 0.05% for retinoic acid compared to 1% for retinol.  This is because you will need more of the weaker product to get the same effect.

Let me show you this conversion:

Retinyl palmitate -  Retinol  - Retinaldehyde (retinal) - Retinoic acid


What is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It is absorbed in to skin and undergoes an enzymatic conversion to retinoic acid. It is the retinoic acid form which is responsible for all of the benefits of retinol.

Retinol is found in many skincare products in varying strengths.  The higher the percentage of retinol in the product the more powerful it is.  It is recommended to start on a lower strength formulation, then gradually increasing the strength over time.

Are all retinol brands the same?

Retinol is an unstable product and this is why different brands of retinol can vary greatly in their effectiveness.  Your retinol product needs a delivery system to ensure its stability and uptake into skin so that it can be converted to retinoic acid.

Buying a good quality, medical grade retinol will ensure that you receive a potent, stable product.

Why is vitamin A a wonder product?

These are the reasons why I LOVE vitamin A:

- Increases collagen and elastin production to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as improve skin tone.

- It evens out skin tones by reducing pigmentation

- It exfoliates the skin by increasing cell turn over, creating a smoother appearance

- Treats acne

- Reduces pore size

What is the difference between retinoic acid and retinol?

Both products work to increase cell turnover and collagen production.  Both will slow and improve the signs of aging.

Retinoic acid is only available on prescription.  In fact it is a very important medication used by both your GP and dermatologist for treating acne.  It is a potent and powerful product that will reduce the effects of sun damage, increase collagen and treat acne. Due to its potency it can cause skin irritation including redness, dryness and peeling.

Retinol is an over the counter product.  Once retinol is absorbed into the skin it is converted to the active form, retinoic acid.  Retinol is a weaker version of retinoic acid.  It has all the pros of retinoic acid with less skin irritation. 

How long does it take to see the results?

With retinol you need to be a little more patient, results are generally seen at around 4-12 weeks.

Can you use retinol during the day?

Most retinols are not stable when exposed to sunlight, which means that the product will break down and not be effective.  For this reason it is best to use at night. 

What age should you start using retinol?

There is no such guideline as to when it is the best time to start using retinol.  By age 30, cellular turnover starts to slow down, so this would be a great time to start with these products.

How to use retinol?

- Start with a low percentage retinol, it is best to ease yourself in to it!

- Wash, cleanse and dry your face

- Use at night, initially twice a week, you can gradually increase this to daily use if your skin can tolerate it

- Apply a pea-size amount of product to face and neck, more if you want to apply to your décolletage and backs of hands

- Wait 5-10 mins then apply your favourite moisturiser over the top

How to use retinol if I have sensitive skin?

If your skin is particularly sensitive or easily irritated, then we would suggest applying a pea-size amount once a week, over your moisturiser.  As your skin becomes used to the retinol, then you would gradually increase the frequency.  If your skin responds well then continue to slowly increase the number of days per week of use.  If you notice any redness or irritation then you would skip that night’s application.

What is my favourite retinol?

My personal favourite, and the one that I use religiously is from the Biopelle range, medical grade skin care line, called Retriderm Serum.  They have three formulations of their retinol - a Mild 0.5%, a Plus 0 .75% and a Max 1%. If you have never used a retinol before, starting at the lowest strength is recommended. 

I have personally used many forms of Vitamin A products and many have caused irritation to my skin.  I have found Retriderm to be the least irritating of all the products.  This is because Retriderm has a delivery system made from a protein-rich, oil-free, aqueous suspension, allowing for maximum absorption, minimal irritation and visible results. The formulations also contain soluble collagen, which reduces fine lines as it increases firmness and elasticity for a radiant, glowing complexion.  In other words, your skin will not dry out from the rapid exfoliation taking place due to the retinol.

Retriderm is a potent retinol product and is only available to purchase through your medical professional. A consultation with one of the qualified Phenotype staff will help determine which strength of retinol is appropriate for you.

Have a great week, everyone! 

Dr Tina

Dr Tina Purdon