The Ultimate Skin Nutrient: Vitamin A
Vitamin A can be a tricky ingredient to explain, because it just does so many different things for your skin. It's the most researched, tried and tested nutrient for skin health - there is a substantial body of scientific literature supporting the benefits of vitamin A, and its use in skin care. SO, let's get into the nitty gritty of this skin care superstar.
FIRST OFF, vitamin A comes in a few different forms. In skin care, the most common are: Retinol, Retinaldehyde, and Retinoic Acid.
Retinoic acid is the "active" form of vitamin A - when you apply Retinol or Retinaldehyde, a conversion process happens in the skin to convert them into Retinoic Acid. Now this doesn't mean that Retinoic acid is the superior form - each has its merits, which we'll go through next:
Retinoic Acid (AKA Tretinoin)
Unlike the other two, Retinoic acid does not need to be converted when it reaches the skin - it's already in its active form. This potency makes Retinoic acid the most skin-irritating form of vitamin A, and the most likely to cause a retinoid reaction (flaking, dryness, sensitivity, redness). It's prescription-only, and usually prescribed to treat acne (e.g. ReTrieve).
Retinaldehyde (AKA Retinal)
Retinaldehyde is less common than Retinol - in part because it was discovered later than Retinol (within the last few years). It's also chemically unstable, so it needs to be encapsulated in liposomes in order to keep it stable, making it more expensive to formulate with. However, Retinaldehyde is a favourite of mine, and is being used more and more in skin care - some brands who formulate with Retinal include: Osmosis Skincare, Cosmedix, and Medik8. It's particularly good for treating acne, because unlike the other three forms, Retinaldehyde can kill P.Acnes bacteria, the bacteria present in acne. It's also gentler than Retinoic acid, tends to cause less irritation than Retinol (due to being an Aldehyde as opposed to an Alcohol), and can even be used safely on sensitive, compromised skin. Retinaldehyde is typically used in lower concentrations than Retinol - this is because Retinaldehyde is actually stronger than Retinol, so you can achieve the same results with lower concentrations. For someone using vitamin A for the first time, or someone who has had sensitivity to other forms of vitamin A, Retinaldehyde is a fantastic option.
Retinol is probably the most common non-prescription vitamin A. Fantastic in the treatment of acne and for preventative anti-ageing, this ingredient is tried and tested, and its popularity is well-deserved. It tends to be a bit more irritating to the skin than Retinaldehyde, as it is an alcohol based molecule - but if used correctly on a suitable skin condition, it works wonders. I find Retinol fantastic for treating pigmentation and signs of ageing in the skin - particularly wrinkles/fine lines.
And now for the (numerous) BENEFITS of using vitamin A:
COLLAGEN - vitamin A stimulates fibroblasts, the cells that produce your collagen. This action speeds up collagen production rates and increases the base level of collagen in your skin, preventing formation of wrinkles and fine lines, and softening the appearance of pre-existing wrinkles/fine lines. It also plumps and thickens your skin's base layer (the dermis), firming and strengthening the skin.
CELL TURNOVER - vitamin A increases the speed of your skin cell turnover - the rate at which new skin cells are produced. This means that new, healthy cells are produced faster, pushing off the older, dried out skin cells on the surface through natural exfoliation.
PIGMENTATION - vitamin A fades pigment faster through increasing your skin cell turnover rate.
ACNE + BREAKOUTS + CONGESTION - Vitamin A is the gold standard ingredient for treating these three skin concerns. It regulates oil production, reducing excessive oil flow and eliminating breakouts and acne. Keeping oil production under control also reduces congestion in the skin.
Almost everybody's skin can benefit from the use of vitamin A. It's an incredible multi-tasking skin nutrient and a key part of any good skin care routine. However it IS really important to choose the right one for your skin type, and to choose from a medical-grade skin care brand (click to read about why medical-grade is important!).