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  • Greta Ryan

A Closer Look: Vitamin A

Updated: May 27, 2019

Retinaldehyde, Retinol, Retin-A, Isotretinoin, ReTrieve, Accutane... Vitamin A crops up under various names, and is arguably the most popular active ingredients used in skincare today.


"What does Vitamin A actually do?" is a common question from our clients - and it's a question I often have difficulty answering, because Vitamin A actually does a whole host of things within the skin. So, I decided to write this article to hopefully clear up some of the confusion surrounding this ingredient, and give you an in-depth overview of how it works within the skin.



What It Is

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient that supports not only skin health, but eye health, reproductive health, and immune function. It acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body, and is involved in reducing inflammation. It's also the active ingredient in most prescription acne medications, including ReTrieve, Atralin, Adapalene, Accutane, Isotretinoin, and Tazarotene.


Our skin is a major retinoid-responsive organ, meaning it is readily able to absorb Vitamin A when applied topically. The ability of Vitamin A to actually influence and change cell behaviour within the skin, allows it to make significant changes to our skin health and functions.


What It Does

Vitamin A metabolites have been used for decades in the treatment of various skin conditions, particularly acne and photo-ageing (damage caused to the skin over time by exposure to UV rays). Vitamin A works by normalising skin function, which means it can be used in the correction of all skin conditions.



For Ageing

Vitamin A works in the deepest layer of the skin, the dermis. This is where our blood supply, sebaceous glands (oil production) and collagen production cells are found. It strengthens and thickens this layer of skin which normally thins as we age (by around 1% per year from the age of 25), increases blood circulation to the skin, and stimulates our Fibroblast cells which are responsible for collagen and elastin production (the proteins in our skin that keep it firm, and bouncy). It regulates our oil production, and speeds up the rate at which our skin cells proliferate (divide to produce new healthy cells). As we age, the rate of our skin cell proliferation AKA "cell turnover" decreases steadily, meaning old skin cells are sitting on the surface for longer leading to congestion, rougher skin texture, uneven skin tone, and dull or "tired" looking skin.


For Acne + Breakouts

Vitamin A normalises oil production, making it incredibly effective in treating oil-dependent skin conditions like acne. Its ability to regulate the activity of our sebaceous glands reduces the occurrence of blackheads and congestion in the skin. Increasing blood circulation, increases the speed at which our skin heals, meaning breakouts will heal faster. Additionally, Vitamin A supports the skin's immune function, making it less vulnerable to bacteria.


For Pigmentation

Vitamin A regulates tyrosinase behaviour (Tyrosinase is the enzyme responsible for our melanin production), thus managing pigmentation formation. It also decreases the clustering of melanin granules in the skin, preventing the formation of age spots.



Different Forms - Retinaldehyde VS Retinol

These two forms of Vitamin A are the most commonly used in skincare. Retinaldehyde is typically less irritating and more tolerable to the skin, while Retinol is considered to be stronger and more likely to cause irritation or retinoid reactions.


One of the reasons Retinaldehyde is less likely to irritate the skin, is because it is closer to Retinoic Acid, the active form of vitamin A. When the skin absorbs vitamin A, it goes through a retinoid metabolism process to convert the vitamin A into retinoic acid. The less processing the skin has to do to convert that vitamin A into its active form, the less likely it is to experience irritation.