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WHAT IS VITAMIN A?
Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for our skin’s health, and, in general, for all our body’s tissues.
The term Vitamin A describes a group of nutritional organic compounds which has multiple functions: it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and for good vision.
It also helps protecting, strengthening and regenerating our skin, one of the most important organs of our body and surely the most exposed to external aggressors like bacteria, air pollution and harsh weather conditions.
There are two forms of Vitamin A:
Retinoids – Active forms of the vitamin, they’re readily absorbed by our organism. There are around 1500 different types, Retinol being the most famous one.
Carotenoids – Also known as Provitamin A. They are found mainly in fruit and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, oranges, spinach and kale amongst others. They are converted to retinol by the liver before being transported throughout our body.
The human body can take Vitamin A orally (via food) and via topical application of cosmetics or medication. Our skin, in fact, has enzymes able to absorb retinoids. This principle promoted the large use of retinoids (and some carotenoids, like the famous beta-carotene) in cosmetology.
When applied topically, Vitamin A is able to contrast damages caused by premature ageing, sun exposure and acne, to name a few.
Retinoids are able to reduce (in some cases eliminate) wrinkles, stains and scars, which are undoubtedly the most common skin blemishes. This is due to Vitamin A stimulating cellular turn-over whilst promoting formation of new elastic fibres and collagen which help keeping the skin firm and young looking.
THE BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A
Vitamin A ability to promote cells regeneration and maintaining healthy body tissues, makes it an extremely important substance for our skin. Its main beneficial functions?
Anti oxidant: Vitamin A contrasts new formation of free radicals, which are the main cause of cells degeneration associated with skin ageing.
Anti age: Vitamin A combats signs of pre mature ageing. Photo-ageing caused by UV rays exposure appears with wrinkles, fine lines and age spots.
Regenerative function: Vitamin A and its compounds promote the natural skin cells’ life cycle which enables the continuous renewal of the skin layer with new, healthy cells.
Anti inflammatory: Vitamin A strengthens the skin barriers which protect us from the daily aggressions caused by germs, bacteria and weather conditions. It also helps against inflammations due to skin conditions like acne.
Vascular function: Retinoids promote the formation of new blood vessels, helping oxygen and nutrients circulation.
VITAMIN A AND SKIN AGEING
Unfortunately we can’t stop time, that’s clear, however there’s a lot we can do to keep our body, and in particular our skin, healthy and young looking.
Ageing causes a series of genetic modifications which show on the outside as:
- Thinned Epidermis
- Discoloured skin patches
- Loss of tone
Vitamin A is one of the most used ingredients in anti-age products because it can reduce dramatically skin alterations. In particular it’s most effective on:
Vitamin A has the ability to stimulate formation of new collagen, a fundamental fibre to maintain skin firm and compact which naturally diminishes as we get older.
Retinoids are able to promote formation of elastin, which -as the name suggests- gives the elasticity typical of a young looking skin.
When we’re young skin cells renew roughly every 20 days, therefore the skin always looks healthy and glowing. As we get older the time our skin cells need to renew increases to 30 days.
Vitamin A acts directly on those cells “reprogramming” their life cycle thus improving external appearance.
VITAMIN A AND PHOTO-AGEING
As we have learned, time passing by is not the only cause of skin ageing.
Numerous factors come into play: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, pollution, genetics, harsh weather conditions cause the formation of ageing signs on our skin, especially over our face, hands and neckline as those areas are most exposed.
UV rays exposure, in particular, involves a higher formation of free radicals which our organism is not able to contrast, causing dryness, dehydration, wrinkles and hyper pigmentation.
In 8 weeks Vitamin A is able to improve the appearance of photo-damaged skin, reducing wrinkles, fine lines and crow feet thanks to the thickening of collagen fibres. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19852122/
And that’s not all…
Vitamin A on topical application stimulates production of hyaluronic acid. These molecules easily bond with water, locking in moisture and keeping the skin hydrated. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31616211/
A very frequent consequence of excessive UV rays exposure is the appearance of sunspots on the skin caused by a higher production of melanin.
Vitamin A, under the form of retinoic acid, reduces the production of melanin and, thanks to the stimulation of cellular turn over, helps the progressive fading of the sunspots present.
VITAMIN A AND ACNE
Retinoids have been considered the most effective therapy to fight Acne Vulgaris for over 40 years. Acne is a skin condition result of obstruction and inflammation of pilosebaceous units (hair follicles and their sebaceous gland)
Vitamin A is able to contrast the main mechanisms causing acne:
- Excessive peeling causing obstruction of the hair follicles;
- Increase of sebum production caused by hormones;
- Development of the bacteria responsible of the inflammation of the follicles;
- Abnormal activity of the immune system
Retinoid most beneficial functions:
Vitamin A based treatments act reducing the inflammation which is at the origin of spots and redness formation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574737/
The high capability of Vitamin to increase blood flow to the skin tissues stimulates healing of acne scars, shortening the time of recovery. As it promotes cells regeneration, it helps with the complete disappearance of acne scars.
Finally vitamin A brings a purifying action as it regulates sebum production.
Side effects caused by topical application of vitamin A are mainly connected to the retinoids’ concentration levels present in the product been used.
Retinol is very effective even in low concentrations which don’t normally bring undesired reactions. A case study in Japan showed the anti-age results even at concentration 0,04% with a high tolerability for sensitive skins too. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20078381/
Having said that, an excessive use of vitamin A, and in particular retinoic acid at high concentration can cause:
The most frequent side effect caused by topical application of vitamin A is “retinoid dermatitis” which causes peeling and moderate redness and is caused by the use of high concentrations of retinoid acid.
To reduce and eliminate side effects is advisable to apply vitamin A gradually, giving the skin time to get used to it.