Retinol Facts, what you need to know.

There is not one client that comes into my clinic without hearing about Vitamin A. It is one of the most important active ingredients in skin care and everyone should be using it, topically. Without doubt it is the gold standard skincare ingredient that is important for any skin condition. It has the ability to tell the skin cell how to work more efficiently, thereby creating a healthier more youthful skin cell. It will treat acne, lines and wrinkles, aging, rosacea, even psoriasis and eczema.

Vitamin A belongs to a family of chemicals called ’retinoids’, this is where some confusion can lie, as there are different forms that are used in skin care, some more powerful than others.

With so many skin care companies claiming that their retinol product is the superior one,  it is difficult to know who or what  to believe. Most skin care companies have a cream that contains one of these forms of vitamin A, but it won’t be called vitamin A on the bottle, as that is not allowed. The names that you need to look for are as follows:

Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, retinaldehyde (retinal), retinoic acid (retin A)

Retinoic acid itself has a number of variants, each of which has a special function. It is the most active form of vitamin A and is the only form that can be used in the skin cell. When applied to the skin it can cause irritation. There are way around that though, more on that later.

Retinyl palmitate, acetate and propionate are the more stable ester forms of vitamin A that are milder and more gentle on the skin. These need to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to be effective. For example, it takes two to three conversions for retinyl  palmitate to convert to retinoic acid. It starts as retinyl palmitate, converts first to retinol, then retinaldehyde, then retinoic acid.

In order for meaningful results to be seen from retinoic acid in the skin, the relative dose of retinyl palmitate must be applied to the skin to see the effects.

Other factors to take into account are how the product is stored and how it is delivered into the skin. With new technology constantly emerging we can now time release the delivery of stronger more active forms of vitamin A, leading to less irritation. The storage of the product is important as vitamin A is destroyed by light, and oxidises once it is exposed to air. If your product is not in an airtight container that has an airless dispenser, then you are not getting the most active form.

Skin cells have receptors that carry the vitamin A into the cell, think of it like a circle with docking stations. When you initially start to use vitamin A there are not many of these receptors, however because the cell likes vitamin A, it starts to create more receptors so that it can carry more vitamin A into the cell. The longer you use vitamin A the more receptors the skin cell will have and therefore the more vitamin A the cell can accept and work with. When there are fewer receptors the excess vitamin A that is not carried into the cell remains outside, which is what can cause a reaction in the skin. This is why starting with a low dose of vitamin A is recommended, to gradually build the amount of receptors thereby avoiding any irritation that might occur.

In short, it really doesn’t matter what type of vitamin A is used. With the milder, less active forms you need more, whereas with the more aggressive forms you need less. As always talking to us here at the clinic about what will work best for you is what is recommended.