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Question Monday: What is the truth about Vit A containing products and how do I know what is safe to use?

Let me introduce you to Vitamin A and tell you a little more about this potent molecule. 

Vitamin A is a fat soluble, essential nutrient that supports skin, eye, reproductive health and immune function.  It is also a vital component in cell division. There are two categories of Vitamin A: Retinoids and Carotenoids (pre-cursers of Vitamin A). 

The skin is a ‘retinoid- responsive’ organ that is readily able to absorb and convert Vitamin A when it is applied topically.  Retinoids assist in the production of new skin cells and many forms of Vitamin A are effective in stimulating collagen production, thereby improving signs of ageing. Carotenoid forms such as Beta-Carotene are not only potent antioxidants but can assist with the prevention of cellular damage and premature skin ageing.  

Within skin cells, all retinoids (Retinyl, Retinol, Retinaldehyde) go through a step-by-step conversion process to make the most active and potent form called Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin).  This form has the ability to change how the cell behaves by influencing the cell’s DNA.  The least potent form of Vitamin A is the Retinyl ester family or ‘storage-form’, they too will go through a conversion process to become Retinoic Acid within the skin cell.  Any form of unused Vitamin A is then converted back to the storage form within the skin. 

There is another potent type of Vitamin A called Isotretinoin (A form of Retinoic Acid) – often prescribed orally for acne, namely: Roaccutane/Oratane, however, our focus in this blog will be more on the topical versions. 

Retinoids are successfully used in the treatment of acne, sun damage, irregular texture and signs of ageing. 

8 things to consider before using Vit A containing products:

  1. Your skin can get worse before it gets better

This may happen in an acne prone skin and doctors will often warn their patients that there may be an initial flare-up of acne when starting with a Retinoid, both orally or topically.  The reason for this is that Retinoids stimulate skin cell turnover, thereby facilitating the removal of dead skin cells that could be clogging follicles and attracting acne-causing bacteria. Although this is ideal in the long run, the initial stimulation may bring about a bit of inflammation in the skin which leads to the flare-up. The treatment of acne may require a multi-faceted approach by including oral supplementation or medication and in-clinic treatments such as LED light therapy or chemical peels – although guidance will be required from your therapist for this.

  1. It takes time to see results

As with all topical products, long-lasting results are never achieved instantly.  Retinoids assist with increasing cell turnover (exfoliation) and therefore you may see an improvement in surface texture within the first month of use.  Long term benefits such as improvement of pore size, sun damage and fine lines will occur over a period of 3-6 months depending on the frequency and type of Retinoid used. 
Vitamin A assists in the remodelling of the collagen fibres within the dermis of the skin and is a pivotal ingredient in the reversal of sun-induced damage within the skin.  With regular use of a good quality Retinoid, continued for a longer period of time, the better the benefits and results. 

  1. Sunlight sensitivity and the use of appropriate sunblock

Due to the fact that Retinoids increase cell turnover, this may lead to sun sensitivity and therefore it is always recommended that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day.  Retinoids are also best applied at night. Should you lead a very active outdoor lifestyle or work outdoors, it may be recommended to use the ester forms of Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate or Acetate) as these do not cause sun sensitivity. 

  1. What time of year is best to start using Vit A containing products?

There is no specific time of year that is recommended as the best time to start using topical Retinoids, as the benefits outweigh the side effects, especially if introduced correctly. Should you however spend a lot of time in the sun, it may be recommended to start using Vitamin A in the cooler, winter months to allow for your skin to adapt to Retinoid usage without the added concern of sun sensitivity. Our MASC laser therapists can best advise you on the correct type and use of Retinoid products for your lifestyle and skin concerns. 

  1. When is the best time of day to apply vit A containing products?

The ester forms of Vitamin A can be used both morning and evening as there is no sun sensitivity associated with this type of Retinoid.  Your more ‘aggressive’ forms such as Retinol and Retinoic Acid should always be used at night unless the product formulation has been adapted to allow for a slower release of the ingredient and then combined with a good broad-spectrum Spf.   The standard protocol is to use Vitamin A at night.  

  1. Some products containing Vit A do not go well with other skin care products

There are ingredients that should not be used with your more potent forms of Vitamin A.  Fruit acids such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic and Lactic Acid) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (Salicylic Acid) also increase cell turnover and may cause a higher penetration of topical Vitamin A leading to increased sensitivity.  Due to this fact, it is also recommended that you stop Retinoid usage at least 3 days prior to and 5 days post chemical peel, laser or medical needling treatments, unless specified by your therapist.

  1. Start low go slow

This is the best way to describe the commencement of Retinoid usage.  A lower dose and slow frequency of use will allow your skin to build receptors to convert the Vitamin A within your skin cells.  This will allow you to easily introduce topical Vitamin A with minimal to no side effects.  A high dose introduced too quickly may lead to a Retinoid response which could present as redness, dryness/flakiness, heat sensitivity, and irritation.  

  1. Seek the advice of a trusted MASC laser clinic therapist 

Our therapists are well educated in the types, applications, and benefits of topical Retinoid products.  They will determine, according to your skin condition, skin concern and lifestyle as to what type of Retinoid is best suited to you and further advise you on how to correctly introduce the products.  Should you have any side effects associated with the ingredient, they will easily advise you on what to do and how to correct the response. 

Vitamin A is a gold-standard, FDA recognised, potent ingredient that can provide you with many benefits in most skin types.  Used correctly, you will in time, start to see a more refined, revitalised and healthier skin. The earlier you can start to use this skin-changing ingredient the better your skin will be in the future.  Prevention is always better than cure however it is also never too late to start either.  

– Sally-Anne –

Masc Laser
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