APRIL 20, 2021

Written by Jess Mathison

There are a wide number of factors to consider when it comes to maintaining radiant skin, but arguably the most important molecule, the one which is responsible for both optimal function and repairs to our DNA, is Vitamin A, otherwise known as retinol. This complex molecule occurs naturally in the skin and acts as a defense against UV damage and other environmental aggressors, but also breaks down in the light, so we must replace it daily in our skincare routines.

     Vitamin A is the MVP of any reputable skincare routine (other than SPF, which is nonegtioable), and there are many different types of topical vitamin A, such as retinoids, retinols, retinals, tretinioin, retinoic acid, and adapalene. These derivatives of vitamin A are extremely effective at slowing the aging process, among other things. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that has several important functions in the body:

  • It helps cells reproduce normally, a process called cellular differentiation
  • it is essential for good vision. The first sign of vitamin A deficiency is often poor sight at night.
  • It is needed for the proper development of an embryo and fetus.

   Vitamin A helps keep skin and mucus membranes that line the nose, sinuses, and mouth healthy. It also plays a role in:

  • Immune system function
  • Growth
  • Bone formation
  • Reproduction
  • Wound healing

   Vitamin A comes from two sources.

One group called retinoids, which comes from animal sources and includes retinol, the other group is known as caretnoids, which come from plants and includes beta ceratene. The body converts beta ceratene into Vitamin A. Retinol penetrates the stratum corneum, and then slightly penetrates into the dermis. When retinol reaches a keratinocyte, it enters its interior and binds to one of the appropriate receptors. Retinol stimulates the cellular activity of keratinocytes, fibroblasts, melanocytes, and Langerhans cells. This then promotes the proliferation of keratinocytes, strengthens the epidermal protective function, reduces transepidermal water loss, and protects collagen against degradation- in layman’s terms, the daily application of Vitamin A can reverse wrinkles, prevent and accelerate the healing of acne, prevent skin cancer, and more! Vitamin A is without a doubt crucial to your skincare routine, and if you aren’t using topical Vitamin A at a minimum of 3x a week, you are missing out on optimizing a legitimate skincare routine. 

     There is certainly an art to treating skin with Vitamin A, and although many have yet to hear of the benefits of the ester-form of vitamin A that is used, almost everyone would recognize the prescription form, Retin-A, the acid form of vitamin A, or retinoic acid. This form will also yield results but comes with harsh but mostly temporary side effects such as redness, irritation, and skin peeling that often makes patients quit using their Vitamin A before they get to really reap any benefits. Vitamin A may reduce oil in the skin, and this may be one reason people experience dryness while using Vitamin A and its derivatives.

      Although using a retinol is crucial to your regimen, if you use it without other key supporting skincare ingredients, aka a medical grade spf and ceramide rich moisturizer, there may be issues that arise, and this is how retinol has gained a bad reputation and many people struggle with compliance through the retinization process. If you are using a medium strength retinol from ZO, Skinceuticals, Jan Marini or a prescription strength retinoid like tretinoin, it is advised to use a full medical grade routine to keep your acid mantle in-tact and skin barrier strong, especially through the adjustment period, otherwise known as retinization. This is just another reason why working with a professional is so important.

     The fat-soluble vitamin A form, retinyl palmitate, breaks down into retinoic acid in the body in small percentages. That is how clinical trials on this more tolerable form of vitamin A started. It turns out that retinyl palmitate provides just as good of (if not better) results while yielding no harsh side effects, and it also contributes to the skin’s ability to prevent the effects of UV damage. Never forget: the need for sunscreen is always present.

The thing is, one does require high doses daily of either retinols esters, retinyl palmitate or retinol propionate, to yield these visible results, and applying just a drop or two of Environ’s Body Oil, for example, once in the morning and at night is a gentle and effective way to get more vitamin A into the skin. It has been observed that our skin can store up to 91% of retinol palmitate and other esters whereas only 3% of retinol and tretinioin is stored in the skin. As a professional, I favor using multiple forms of Vitamin A to yield the best results.

     There are also many benefits to supplementing orally with Vitamin A, especially before and after exposure to sunlight or after sunburn, like Skinade Derma Defense A&D Boost along with a daily hydrolyzed marine collagen supplement. Not all collagen supplements are created equally, and the same goes for skincare, so make sure the brand you’re using has published clinical trails demonstrating efficacy.

   Skincare is incredibly nuanced, so it is extremely important to work with a professional to help you navigate the intricacies in order to achieve a glowing and healthy complexion.

  Here’s the takeaway: Aging is a biological process that can be minimized and even reversed through the art of Vitamin A.

   It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this vital and versatile molecule and I love sharing everything I’ve learned with my clients and skincare community. There’s always more to learn! Follow me @jessthetica on IG and @sapienskin for more tips and cool skin science.



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