The 'R' word, a type of Vitamin A, probably is one of the most asked questions and searched word on search engines in the skincare world.
What Is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. It can be derived from plants or animals as well as synthesized in labs.
It has the ability trigger faster cell turnover and collagen production. It also regulates between high speed stimulating and slow down modes in the cells. When things grow too fast, Vitamin A slows it down. If it grows too slow, Vitamin A speeds things up (It’s like you put an intelligence inside your body to help you balance out the cells).
Retinoids are the uncontested superstars of skincare ingredients. In fact, in the worlds of both dermatologic pharmacy and conclusive research, these Vitamin A derivatives, along with Vitamin C, are the only skincare ingredients that have definitively and repeatedly been confirmed to have skin-healing and anti-aging benefits.
- Ben Fuchs , Pharmacist, Nutritionist, and Skincare Formulator
Image : Pinterest
The TWO Main Types Of Vitamin A
It's a phytonutrient, Beta-Carotene (β-Carotene) is what's most used in natural skincare world.
Red-orange pigments typically found in fruits and vegetables. There are about 600 types of carotenoids but only a small amount of them can be used by body. The plant itself carries two Vitamin A molecules and combine them together as Vitamin-A-Like nutrient, it carries some retinol property.
[ Retinoids ]
It’s an umbrella name of Retinoid family, all Vitamin A derivatives. There are three generations of retinoids, we pull out the most asked types (for topical use) and bring some clarity here.
1. Tretinoin (Known as Retin-A, a metabolite of Vitamin A) FDA approved and only available by prescription from Doctors. It’s derived from retinal, a powerful skin repair agent, to make sure skin cells behave healthy and normal.
- Commonly used for prescribed Acne treatment.
- Often mixed with harsh chemicals, side effects include skin irritation, redness, dryness, etc.
| 2. Retinol Found in animal tissue as retinyl ester, with long chain fatty acids. It is one of the first generation vitamin A molecules. It probably is the most proven and widely used anti-aging ingredient available over the counter.
- It’s not a direct acne treatment but quite helpful to normalize the pores and sebum production.
- Side effects are possible, but tend to be less likely / severe compared to Tretinoin.
3. Retinyl Palmitate An ester form of Vitamin A, combining Retinol + Palmitic Acid. Which means formulator takes retinoic acid stick a fatty molecule onto it, The palmitate protects the retinyl and makes it less aggressive. It's more a moirsturizing, gentle, and mild version of retinol.
4. Retinaldehyde is also known as Retinal, it's a new star in the R Family world . It is a retinoic acid precursor (one metabolic step away from becoming retinoic acid). This derivative may approach retinoic acid in effectiveness without side effects like Tretinoin.
5. Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) Also known as Retinoic Acid Ester,
it binds directly to the retinoid receptors of the skin cells to work its magic. However, It’s very new and not many significant studies about it yet.
What Do They Really Do
Vitamin A is one of the only two active ingredients (the other one is Vitamin C) in skincare products that would go through the top surface (Keratinocytes of Stratum Corneum, Epidermis layer) and migrate into lower levels of the skin. Once Vitamin A is applied to the skin, it binds with specific receptor proteins in target tissue. Vitamin A has its own binding protein, of which would attach to the Vitamin A molecule and leads the way to approach the fibroblasts, going into the nucleus and activate gene.
Beta-Carotene is not within Retinoid family. Though it will be partially converted into retinol, it doesn’t have as much strength when compared to true Retinoids family.
Retinoic Acid is the active ingredient in Tretinoin, the magic ingredient that fights aging, treats problematic skin, and can even be used for severe cases like skin cancer.
Image : Pinterest
Due to conversion in the body, Retinol is much weaker (probably 50 - 100 times) than Tretinoin, so that means it’s more gentle and less of an irritant for a starter. (Retinol would be converted and metabolized into retinal first, then into retinoic acid in the skin, in order to help you make your own tretinoin.) If you are looking into stronger over-the-counter Retinol, you want seek for a dosages equivalent to Tretinoin.
Conversion Steps from Retinol into Retinoic Acid:
Beta-Carotene > Retinyl Esters > Retinol > Retinal > Retinoic Acid
Conversion / ratio for choosing the strength :
Tretinoin 0.05% = Retinol 5%
Beta-Carotene 1 = ⅙ Retinol
Myth : It peels AF
Fact : If you don’t usually exfoliate or don’t take good care of your skin, you will experience peeling as Retinoids help speeding up the cell turnover, peeling is the process of letting go the dead skin cell on your skin. Vice versa, if you don’t experience peeling that doesn’t mean it’s not working on / in your skin. It means you’ve been taking good care of your skin and it’s still doing its work. If you feel like you haven’t got any benefits from Retinoids (after 12 weeks of observation), you could be under dosing so you might consider (gradually) increasing the dosage.
Myth : I can’t tolerate Retinoids
Fact : You need to look into your diet. If you have fat deficiencies as a result of your current diet, it’s one of the reasons you can have inflamed responses from Retinoids. Fat helps build connective tissue. When the connective tissue is weak, your skin tends to show signs of inflammation response.
The best way to help absorbing Retinoids and minimize the irritation is to supplement with essential fatty acids along with vitamin A and D. Skin glow is a about taking care of External and Internal health at the same time.
The other tip is apply Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to improve skin barrier function in order to tolerate topical Vitamin A better.
Myth : I can get sunburned easily after using Retinoids
Fact : Retinoids don’t cause sunburn, however they tend to have poor stability under UV light. That’s the reason they are often recommended to be part of a night time routine.
‘Retinoids break down in sunlight, so the main reason you should apply your retinoid at night isn’t to avoid sunburn, but to avoid rendering the active ingredients inert.’ - Dr. Dana Sach , Associate Professor of Dermatology at University Of Michigan Medical School
Myth : I can’t use it during pregnancy
Fact : Correct, Retinoid Products are NOT recommended for someone who is planning to get pregnant or during pregnancy due to its potential for causing congenital malformations in fetus development. However, here comes the alternative - Beta-Carotene as they are safe to be used pre, during, and post pregnancy (breastfeeding stage). Vigna Aconitifolia Extract would be the potent Botanical Vitamin A for pre and during pregnancy
When & How To Use
Wait Til Bed Time : As mentioned earlier, apply Retinoids products as part of your evening / night time skincare routine.
Less Is More : A little goes a long way. Around a pea size of product tends to do the job. For starters, you could dilute the product with an equal amount of moisturizer to lessen the chance of irritation.
Go Slow : Introduce Retinoid treatments to your skin gradually, our recommendation is start with every 10 - 14 days. As we need time to let Retinoids stimulate and allow tissue growth during resting period. If the skin tolerates it well enough, you could start to increase every 5 - 7 days for 2 - 4 weeks, repeating the same thing till you work your way up to nightly.
Seek Alternative : If you plan to get pregnant or are currently pregnant, use an alternative such as Beta-Carotene (products that are stated as “Natural Vitamin A”) . It generally doesn’t cause irritation or discomfort. It’s not photosensitive and safe to be used day or night as part of your everyday skincare routine.
What To Expect
Down Time : Starting Retinol or Tretinoin products can cause a few weeks of irritation or breakouts (or purging) before seeing a wonderful baby bottom smooth result.
Be Patient : Depending on the strength and types of vitamin A that you use, the speed of results could be vary.
Generally it takes about 12 weeks to see something really noticeable.
Don't Panic : If dry skin or irritation occurs, you are likely overdosing or it’s during that cell turnover time. Wait about 20 - 30 minutes and apply serum or moisturizer. It’s also a good idea to avoid acne-fighting products such as benzoyl peroxides or salicylic acids as they would increase the chance of irritation and deactivate Retinoids.
The transformative effects depend on different formulations. Not all Vitamin A derivatives starting with the letters “Ret“ are equally effective in achieving smoother, firmer and clearer skin, with far less visible lines and wrinkles.
I was once confused just like you are, as there are so many different types and myths. But once I found the one that worked for me along with my diet and lifestyle changed, it healed my Rosacea, Acne and Sebaceous Hyperplasia.
You don’t want to overwork or underwork the skin, plus every case is unique because it depends on how your skin absorbs and your body converts the ingredients. You need listen to your skin and body, always starting from the lowest dosage while being patient (especially when it comes to sensitive skins). There’s no shortcut so take your time and don’t rush… unless you don’t mind dealing with massive irritation and cell turnover.