Retinoids are a family of chemicals derived from Vitamin A. This is a very important Vitamin in regards to your skin, as it has a normalizing effect on skin cells, it’s a potent exfoliator, reverses photo-ageing (sun damage), inhibits Collagen breakdown and makes the skin cells more organized.
Vitamin A is a beneficial Cell Communicating ingredient and an Antioxidant when applied to the skin and is confirmed to improve wrinkles. It can increase Collagen synthesis and Glycosaminoglycans (the substances in your Dermis that hydrate and plump skin, e.g Hyaluronic Acid). Vitamin A in the appropriate strength also has the ability to stimulate the anchoring fibrils at your Dermal Epidermal Junction – this is the area that starts to separate your epidermis from your dermis as we age.
What is confusing, is the various forms of Vitamin A and what strengths they should be to have any noticeable effect on the skin.
Not all forms of Vitamin A are created equal. Some are more easily converted to Retinoic Acid than others. The typical conversion pathway – is as follows – Retinyl Palmitate => Retinol => Retinaldehyde => Retinoic Acid.
Our skin has enzymes which convert the Retinyl esters into Retinol and from that the Retinol is converted into Retinyl (Retinyl Aldehyde) and from there it is converted into Retinoic Acid and this is the form that actually makes the changes in DNA and cellular structures. Only a small amount of Retinoic Acid is normally found in the skin.
- Retinyl Palmitate – This is an ester of Vitamin A and the animal form. It is found in nearly all skincare products that are widely available. As you see from above it is the lowest in the coversion chain, so isn’t as irritating as the other forms. Many products with Retinyl Palmitate are touted as equivalent to Retinoic Acid yet without the side-effects. Many of these products contain too little Retinyl Palmitate to have any noticeable effect and just to have it listed on the ingredients list is not enough. Products with higher concentrations do exist, Environ formulated their whole range around the use of Vitamin A in this form. Some individuals may not be able to convert this effectively into Retioic Acid, while others may see great results.
- Retinol -This is the alcohol form of Vitamin A and Retinol is regarded by some as the “True” Vitamin A or the complete molecule. It is highly effective if in a stable form and helps create better, healthier skin cells and increase the amount of skin support substances. The stability and packaging issues are important as any container or jar that lets in air or sunlight will degrade the Retinol. Effective stable versions of Retinol will have this either near the top of the ingredient list or above half way. I use Afirm TRx systems, it has shown me great results.
- Retinoic Acid – This is the acid form of Vitamin A and is usually only available from prescription from your doctor/dermatologist. It is also known as Tretinoin – its technical name is All-Trans Retinoic Acid and is the ingredient in the following prescription topical drugs – Retin-A, Renova, Tazorac, Avita and Differin. Some of these are prescribed for acne as Vitamin A has shown to clear acne lesions and normalize the skin. It is approved as a treatment for severe Photo-aged skin and helps prevent further damage. The results of using this drug are indisputable, as Tretionoin affects and improves the actual cell production deep in the Dermis. However not every-one’s skin will tolerate the use of Tretinoin without experiencing discomfort and side effects including flaking and a sunburned like skin. Most dermatologists advise starting with the lowest percentage and use once a week, then building up the usage – follow any guidelines given by your doctor.
- Beta Carotene – This is the plant version of Vitamin A and a member of the Carotenoid family – it’s not just Carrots that contain this, many dark leafy veg contains this as well as other fruit and vegetables. Beta-Carotene is a fantastic Antioxidant but also has the ability to convert Retinol into Retinoic Acid, this may not be effective for everyone or very results based.
In summary Vitamin A is the most effective anti-ageing ingredient you can use. Although it is not the only ingredient to look for in a formula, it deserves strong consideration by anyone concerned with keeping their skin in top condition. Vitamin A deficiency is probably the greatest vitamin deficiency of the skin and can lead to DNA damage of the skin cell, to minimize this debt apply a product every day with Retinyl Palmitate (skin friendly form), start this from a young age and use with a reliable sunscreen with antioxidants C and E, as Vitamin A is depleted by daylight. You may choose to try one of the stronger forms of Retinoids as you age, especially if your skin is very strong and resistant.
To get enough Vitamin A inside you, try to eat more Vitamin A rich foods. Animal (especially fish) livers contain a good source, but I prefer the vegetable sources of Beta-Carotene, e.g – Carrots, Sweet Potato, Canteloupe Melon, Goji Berries and loads more. My mum used to tell me to eat all my carrots and I will be able to see in the dark, well it is indeed true as Vitamin A improves night vision!
Recommended Supplements, Skin Vit A by the Advanced Nutrition Programme.