All hail this multitasking, anti-ageing, balancing ingredient.
An essential beauty hero that deserves its gold standard status.
It’s the most effective wrinkle-fighting, complexion-perfecter money can buy.
But somehow, this most celebrated superstar ingredient is also the most complicated.
Coupled with a sometimes awkward first few weeks of use.
Plus, there can be confusion around names — is Vitamin A for skin the same as Tretinoin?
And when the heck are you supposed to use it, anyway?
So join us as we peel back the layers on this little beauty hero.
What is Vitamin A?
It is a vitamin, but okay, less obvious; it encourages cellular turnover and is essential for the regular activity of skin cells.
Our skin cells shed around every 30 days; however, this study (1) found that when you use Vitamin A, this increases to 14 to 21 days — helping regenerate new skin cells is essential for the growth and maintenance of hair, nails, and teeth.
Often referred to as the “normalising” vitamin for its ability to convert skin cells back to normal cells, it treats acne and oily and ageing skin.
What the Heck is with All the Names?
Vitamin A and its derivatives are called the family of Retinoids. It is a chemical compound related to vitamin A and retinoids and has been a significant player in the skincare world since the 1950s when Tretinoin first hit the market.
Within this family, there are several subsets: ‘Retinoids’ is the general term when referring to prescription-strength topicals such as Tretinoin or Retin-A, Tazarotene (referred to as Tazorac), or Adapalene (referred to as Differin).
Retinol vitamin A, Retinyl Palmitate, and Retinyl Acetate can be found in anything over the counter, meaning they’re not quite as strong as their retinoid brethren.
Still unclear? No problem, we have you covered – with our article, Retinol is the holy grail for lines and wrinkles, which gives you a comprehensive breakdown of retinoids and their role on the skin.
Which Vitamin A do I Use?
It’s pretty simple. If you’re struggling with acne or require more aggressive treatment to lessen the appearance of hyper-pigmentation or premature ageing,
it might be worth getting a prescription. However, an over-the-counter product is all you need to get started, and A+ retinoid complex is a great place to start.
What are the Benefits?
Once inside the cell itself, vitamin A produces the following changes by stimulating the retinoid receptors in the DNA:
Reduces large pores Improves skin texture Improves hyperpigmentation Encourages cells to turn over rapidly Facilitates the flow of oil through sebaceous glands to your skin’s surface It also means that the collagen those cells create can be newly stimulated.
You can read about more benefits in our article is retinol the holy grail for lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin A is often called the great cellular regulator or normaliser because it controls cell growth and regulates cellular turnover.
Within the cell’s nucleus are receptors that bind specifically to vitamin A. When retinoid binds to these receptors, the DNA is programmed to increase the differentiation of keratinocytes and normalise the turnover of our skin cells.
It also increases the activity in the growth layer of skin cells, compacting the epidermis – the outer layer of skin – which could be the predominant reason for skin thickening.
In a nutshell, it encourages your dull, stubborn skin cells to slough off, leaving room for your beautiful new skin below.
Balances Oily, Combination Skin
Retinoids are one of the most effective treatments for overactive oil production in the sebaceous glands, which are extra busy in those with oily skin and acne sufferers.
When vitamin A binds to a receptor on the cell’s surface, a cascade of events is initiated to normalise the growth pattern of the cells; this causes the oil glands to decrease in size and dramatically decrease oil production.
Vitamin A for Acne
If you suffer from whiteheads, blackheads, and acne grades 1 and 2, then the A+ retinoid complex will have you covered.
However, if you have deeper-rooted cystic acne, then there are three retinoids you need to be aware of: Tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene.
All these three require a prescription to help get to the root of your cystic acne problems and prevent them from forming; they speed up cell turnover and help to keep your pores free of debris and skin clear. You will have to wait around six to twelve weeks to see results, which aligns with your cellular turnover.
This study (2) found that vitamin A was also extremely helpful in the early treatment of acne inflammation.
Prevents Premature Ageing
Vitamin A has a remarkable effect on fibroblasts, the most critical cells in the dermis for inducing the genes that produce collagen, which keeps your skin plump and firm. Healthy collagen is formed, and unhealthy collagen is removed by enzymatic activity, helping to reduce fine lines.
The improved collagen production and elasticity in your skin truly give vitamin A the ability to reverse those signs of ageing.
Hydrates and Moisturises
Your natural moisturising factor (NMF) is boosted, allowing your skin to retain more water and plump out wrinkles.
Vitamin A actively reduces the activity of tyrosinase; this is a vital enzyme that is critical for melanin production within your skin. It also reduces the clumping of pigments in the base of the epidermis, making the pigment particles melanosomes smaller and less visible.
Because cells have more efficient turnover, the pigments trapped in the outer cells are also effectively removed. If you want more help with your dark spots, this article discusses melanin and its role in pigmentation.
Repairs Ultraviolet Damage
When UV light hits your skin, it increases the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which break down collagen fibres.
Vitamin A inhibits these MMPS and, as a result, helps to preserve your collagen’s health.
How to Use Vitamin A
Vitamin A is measured in international units (IU) per gram; the recommended effective dose lies between 500 IU and 50,000 IU per gram; anything less than 500 IU is considered useless unless combined with a penetration enhancer.
Here at NC, we always use clinically proven adequate vitamin A levels, so we are sure of the effects at even the lowest doses.
The Retinol Uglies
Although vitamin A has genuinely evolved to have more stable, elegant, and improved delivery systems with minimal risk of irritation in most cases, too much vitamin A does get a bad rap.
Prescription Tretinoin and even some traditional retinol forms face the problem of the molecule binding to undesired receptors that are not involved in the expected effects of vitamin A. This causes the “retinol uglies” undesirable side effects such as irritation, redness, and flaking. This is because the level of ceramides in your skin has decreased, impairing your barrier function.
Ideally, you want to build your base and strengthen your foundation; if you…
To conclude. The naked truth
Beauty marketing is a blood sport. It’s never enough to sell something tried and tested; it has to be the latest, most excellent, most innovative skin solution.
Yet when it comes to your skin frustrations, vitamin A is the one evidence-based ingredient with a ton of research behind it.
When applied to your skin, retinoids encourage cells to turn over rapidly, and your cells slough off, revealing beautiful new skin below, boosting collagen and elastin fibroblasts. Vitamin A also helps to stem the flow of oil to the surface of your skin, which is why it is often called the normalising vitamin.
So with regular use, vitamin A improves skin texture, lines and wrinkles, lightens dark spots, minimises pores, prevents breakouts and clears up acne. Phew, with results like that, you must admit it is the holy grail skincare ingredient.
When starting down your retinoid road, you may experience some redness and dryness that may lead to surface-level peeling, referred to as the ‘retinol uglies’.
So build up slowly by applying once every few days, only at night and remember that vitamin A takes an average of 12 weeks to produce noticeable changes in the skin.
So, stick with it for at least that long to see the excellent skin-healing benefits of this essential skin-loving vitamin.
- Khalil S, Bardawil T, Stephan C, et al. Retinoids: a journey from the molecular structures and mechanisms of action to clinical uses in dermatology and adverse effects. J Dermatolog Treat. 2017;28:684–96. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
- Tsai H.H., Lee W.R., Wang P.H., Cheng K.T., Chen Y.C., Shen S.C. Propionibacterium acnes-induced iNOS and COX-2 protein expression via ROS-dependent NF-kappaB and AP-1 activation in macrophages. J. Dermatol. Sci. 2013;69:122–131. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2012.10.009. – DOI – PubMed