Your Retinol and Vitamin A Questions Answered

Vitamin A or Retinoids have long held the title of the best ingredient for anti-aging. This is true, it is extremely effective in treating the aging of the skin caused by both chronological aging and photo-aging. They are also known for causing skin irritation, which has scared many away from using it, despite its vast benefits. We hope to provide more clarity around what product would be best for you.
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During my career in esthetics, it has taken some time and dedication to fully understand Vitamin A and the varying types. I believe by sharing what I know I can others to understand the best way to choose and apply this potent ingredient.

Benefits of Using Retinoid Products

Topical Vitamin A works in the skin to produce and strengthen collagen, which is how it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It speeds up the cellular turnover process which also helps in reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and makes it helpful in treating pigmentation such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as well as spots caused by sun damage. Since it gets rid of the superficial skin cells, it is used for and effective in treating acne.

What are the Different Types of Retinoids?

All retinoids are derived from Vitamin A, retinoid is the umbrella term used to describe the different forms of Vitamin A, and usually refers to prescription-strength Vitamin A. Retinoic acid is what allows a Vitamin A product to be absorbed into the skin by retinoic acid receptors. Prescription Vitamin A is retinoic acid whereas over-the-counter (OTC) Vitamin A converts to retinoic acid. This means that overall, prescription-strength will be stronger and more likely to cause irritation. Listed below are the most common types of Vitamin A both over the counter and prescription strength.

Retinyl Palmitate is the weakest formulation of over the counter Vitamin A. It is common among more affordable Vitamin A skincare products. If you aren’t seeing good results with your Vitamin A it could be this type, results will take time. However, it is the least likely to cause irritation and could be a good formulation to start with if you want to dip your toe in the world of Vitamin A. 

Retinol has been the gold standard form of Vitamin A in skincare products. It is gentler than prescription-strength forms, yet still effective. 

Retinaldehyde (Retinal) is growing in popularity as it only has a one-step process to become the bioavailable form of Vitamin A (retinoic acid). It is said to be more effective, if not more than retinol, yet just as gentle. It does come with a higher price tag than other OTC Vitamin A ingredients.

Bakuchiol derived from the babchi plant it is not actually a form of vitamin a but behaves similarly in the skin. It is used as a natural alternative to retinol in skincare products and is shown to be very gentle on the skin but still provides effective results. 

Adapalene is another common prescription used to treat acne but is less potent in concentration, causing less irritation. Recently Adapalene 0.1% gel was released for over the counter acne treatment.

Tazarotene is another prescription that is said to be the strongest and is normally used to treat acne and sometimes even psoriasis. 

Tretinoin (Retin-A) is a prescription and was originally used in dermatology as an acne treatment, and then was discovered to have anti-aging capabilities. It is the strongest formulation of a prescription Vitamin A still mainly used for treating acne. 

Isotretinoin otherwise known as Accutane, an oral prescription used to treat severe cases of acne. 

Tips for Using a Vitamin A Product

The irritation frequently caused by retinoids is common, but not necessary. Retinoids are known to dry the skin and create flaking, peeling, and redness. These are all signs that the product is working, yet it may be working too quickly. To combat this, the best thing to do is to simply slow down. You can do this by introducing your Vitamin A product once every 1-2 nights, which will acclimate your skin more slowly. You can also apply a smaller amount. If you are using a non-prescription Vitamin A product, I recommend starting with a low concentration and working your way up. For example, if you have never used a Vitamin A product start with a 0.5% concentration every other night, once your skin has acclimated; you can increase to every night usage. Once that product is finished, try a 1% concentration every other night until your skin can handle it every night, and so on and so forth. Be sure to only use a pea-sized amount with each application.

It is important to be cautious in the sun while using Vitamin A products as they cause photosensitivity. Be sure, as always to apply an SPF of at least 30 on a daily basis, reapply for extended periods of time spent in the sun and protect your face as much as humanly possible! Retinoids make your skin more susceptible to sunburn and sun damage; because of this, you should only apply your retinoid products at night. Wash your face as normal and pat dry, then wait a few minutes to ensure all moisture is gone before applying your Vitamin A serum or cream, avoiding the immediate eye area but you can still treat around the orbital bone. You can follow with a moisturizer after waiting a few minutes for the product to absorb.

When it comes to retinol formulations I prefer retinaldehyde or retinol as they are strong yet don’t cause sensitivity if used properly and slowly. There are a few different types of Vitamin A formulations; gel or cream. Gel formulations tend to be stronger (serums) but it depends on the concentration within varying products. 

It can be tricky to know what Vitamin A product I right for your skin. If in doubt, talk with a skincare professional, such as our Pomp Estheticians to get product recommendations and help to incorporate a Vitamin A product into your routine.

Nicole Hatfield
NBC HWC & Certified Esthetician, Founder of Radiant Beings Wellness & Beauty Coaching

One comment

  1. Hi Nicole, thank you for explaining retinoids so well. It was a very interesting and informative article. I have tried retinoids before without the counsel of an esthetician. It was not a good experience as I thought I was allergic to the product. Now I understand so much better and how to gain the full benefit of retinoids by using them correctly. It’s amazing the difference it makes when consulting an esthetician. Since I have been ordering products through Pomp, I have learned so much about my own skin and what works best for me. I am treated on such a personal level. The Pomp estheticians are so knowledgeable, kind and patient. Thanks for the post!

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