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  • Writer's pictureLouisa @ Reface

The Low Down on Vitamin A - Retinoids

There are few cosmetic ingredients that attract as much interest as Vitamin A aka retinoids

And rightly so! Vitamin A (and its many forms) has a long, clinically proven record of being highly effective at improving many skin concerns including collagen loss, lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores, blocked pores, pigmentation, acne and scarring.

There are also very few ingredients that create so much confusion…..

What exactly does it do?

Which type of retinoid should I be using?

What percentage?

What is encapsulated vitamin A?

So let’s begin with... What does it do?

Increases and regulates cell turnover and structure:

For preventing premature ageing - as we age, the skin’s natural rejuvenation process slows down and skin becomes drier, thinner and less elastic. Vitamin A accelerates cell turnover which restores the skins ability to retain water and thickens the epidermal cells creating a more luminous skin and also helps to create uniformity of the whole skin structure.

For acne, comedones and closed comedones - this acceleration of cell turnover helps to unplug pores that have become blocked and will prevent further development of comedones.

For acne scars, post-inflammatory pigmentation (PIP) and pigmentation - pigmented cells will be removed through the layers of the skin more quickly and furthermore vitamin A will regulate the pigment distribution below helping to minimise the severity of the discolouration.

Stimulates collagen production and epidermal thickness

Vitamin A has been clinically proven to increase the amount of collagen produced by the skin and as well as that; when combined with Vitamin C is found to enhance collagen production as well as reducing collagen degradation by inhibiting MMP’s (matrix metalloproteinases - an enzyme that breaks down proteins like collagen and elastin)

What are the types of Vitamin A?

There are many forms of vitamin A but you won’t see “Vitamin A” on an ingredient list.

Here are some of the types that you will find in skin preparations from weakest to strongest explaining the process of vitamin A metabolism in order:

Retinyl esters: Retinyl Palmitate, Retinol Acetate, Granactive Retinoid

are stored in liver and fat cells until needed. These convert to:


to be transported by the blood to cells. Once in the cell, retinol is converted to:


and then

Retinoid Acid

Retinoic acid is the version of Vitamin A used by the cells but it is also the most potent form that will nearly always create negative side effects on the skin when applied in this form.

So, which type should I use?

If you are new to retinol or have sensitive skin, as rule you should start with the weakest form such as retinyl palmitate or look for products that say their vitamin A is encapsulated (more on that later)

Skin builds up a tolerance to vitamin A so starting out slow and gentle is good and depending on your skins tolerance - potentially moving up to higher percentages or the more potent types.

The important thing to say is that ALL vitamin A derivatives will influence a positive effect on the skin regardless of strength so find what suits your skin and don’t get too concerned with percentages (see below)

Because vitamin A affects the skin on a cellular and structural level results are not instant but can take months to be noticeable on the skin so be patient!

What's the deal with Percentages?

This is where it gets really confusing!

As an example; 0.1% Retinoic Acid (prescription) - is more potent than 1% retinol and

0.5% retinol is stronger than 5% granactive retinol so this demonstrates that you can’t compare different types of retinoid by looking at percentages - its all relative.

You can only use percentages to compare the same type of retinoid

What is liposomal encapsulation?

Encapulation involves using phospholipids to surround the ingredient like a mini cell which not only improves penetration of the ingredient through the skin but reduces the possible negative effects on the skin surface and delivers the ingredient directly into the cell.

This encapsulation is a game changer when it comes to skin tolerance and effectiveness of vitamin A

Most of the undesirable effects of vitamin A (redness, peeling and soreness) occur because of oxidation and exposure to UV - encapsulation of the ingredient protects them from coming into contact with oxygen and UV rays therefore preventing oxidation making it kinder on the skin.

Both Dermaviduals and Osmosis use encapsulation to allow better penetration of their active ingredients giving you optimum results from your home care and in-clinic treatments.


Effects of Vitamin A

- increases cell turnover

- organises and creates a uniform skin structure

- increases epidermal thickness

- improves collagen synthesis

- reduces and can even remove pigmentation

-softens the appearance of scars

Encapsulating Vitamin A

- increases penetration by up to 600%

- protects against degrading and oxidation of ingredient

- prevents negative side effects on the skin

- delivers ingredients directly to the cells

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