Retin-A, retinol, retinyl.... how can you keep them all straight? The important thing to know is that these are all forms of Vitamin A, which, when applied topically, have many benefits. Today, it is perhaps best known for being an effective anti-aging treatment.
Originally, Vitamin A was brought to the market as a treatment for acne because of its ability to break down and prevent pore clogging. After just a week of treatment, physiological differences in the skin can be measured. The epidermis thickens, but the outermost layer of dead cells is exfoliated. This helps reduce clogging that can lead to acne. As the epidermis thickens, the body responds by strengthening the dermis with additional collagen for added support. Vitamin A is also indicated for the treatment of uneven pigmentation.
The term "retinoid" is used to describe the group of all chemical forms of Vitamin A. Below is a brief description of these different forms:
Isotretinoin: Brand name Accutane and is available by prescription only. Taken internally as a last resort for severe acne cases, has the potential for significant side effects.
Tretinoin: Common brand names are Retin-A and Renova and retinoic acid, which is the type of Vitamin A directly used by the cells. This is the most irritating topical form of Vitamin A, and is therefore only available by prescription.
Retinol: The most common form of Vitamin A, and is available over the counter. Irritation and flaking can occur in concentrations at or above .5%.
Retinyl Palmitate: The least irritating form of Vitamin A.
Retinaldehyde: A newer form of Vitamin A that demonstrates good germicidal properties, making it a good form of Vitamin A for treating acne. It is also non-irritating.
Vitamin A is an effective, well-studied ingredient that is beneficial to almost every patient. Because it is an active ingredient, there are a few rules to follow when adding Vitamin A to your routine.
When you first start using a retinoid, you may experience an adjustment period when redness and flaking occur. The severity of these side effects depends on the type and dosage of Vitamin A used, and side effects usually subside in two to four weeks. All forms of Vitamin A are destroyed by UV exposure, so always apply retinoids at night. Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be stored in the body, and it can affect the DNA of cells. At very high levels, it can build up in the body and eventually become toxic. Therefore, it is important to avoid prescription retinoids while pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, and to keep levels of the vitamin low in over-the-counter products.
Vitamin A is a greatly beneficial ingredient to include in your home care routine whether you are treating acne, fine lines, or pigmentation. It will yield visible results! Your dermatologist or esthetician can help you select the form of Vitamin A which will be best for your skin type and sensitivity.