Vitamin A In Skincare: How It Works and the Benefits

Vitamin A is considered to be the ultimate cosmeceutical for almost all skin types. Dr. Albert Kligman discovered the power of Vitamin A as an essential skin ingredient. He used vitamin A in the form of retinoic acid to regulate oil glands and cell turnover. However, he also discovered that this molecule was able to reduce skin pigmentation and address fine lines.

As a result it has been used to address visible ageing for the last twenty years and is used to address over 125 skin disorders including acne, psoriasis, pigmentation and sun damage.


Types of vitamin A

Over the years Vitamin A has evolved to become more stable and more specific in its action on the cells. Vitamin A for the skin is referred to as the family of ‘retinoids’. Within this family, there are a number of different compounds including:

  • Tretinoin (all trans retinoic acid): the most potent form of vitamin A, where a doctor’s prescription is required.
  • Retinol: the most popular non-prescription form of vitamin A. Converted to potent retinoic acid in the keratinocytes. Retinol is found in Ultimate A.
  • Retinaldehyde: intermediate form of vitamin A
  • Retinyl palmitate: ester form of vitamin A. This is considered ineffective and has been superseded by more effective forms.
  • Hydroxy pinacolone retinoate (HPR): the newest retinoid on the block. It’s more stable than other forms of vitamin A. HPR is found in Acceler-A.


Formulating with vitamin A

When it comes to formulating the Synergie Skin products, I refer to my ‘SEED Principle’:

  1. Stability – The ingredient must not be prone to oxidation or breakdown.
  2. Effectiveness – The ingredient must actually work and have data to support the benefits.
  3. Elegance –The ingredient must have that ‘feel good’ quality and the customer must want to use it. As well as touch and feel, the product must not have an unpleasant fragrance.
  4. Delivery – The cosmeceutical active ingredients must be able to reach its target cell to create the desired biological effects.


Let’s consider vitamin A through my SEED principle:


No matter how effective the ingredient is, it must not break down before it reaches its target cell. Although the medical retinoid Tretinoin (all trans retinoic acid) is highly effective, it is unstable and susceptible to oxidation. Traditional Retinol and Retinaldehyde is also highly unstable and easily oxidised rendering it inactive on the skin.



Vitamin A is often referred to as the great ‘cellular regulator’ due to its ability to control cell growth and differentiation. Retinoids are extremely powerful as they are actually able to program our genes (DNA) in the nucleus of our cells to perform the following specific functions:

  • Regulation of cell turnover: In the nucleus of our cells there are receptors (RAR’s and RXR’s) that are specific to Vitamin A. When the retinoid binds to these receptors (mainly in the epidermis of the skin) the DNA is programmed to increase differentiation of keratinocytes, normalise the turnover of our skin cells It also reduces cell inflammation and cell over-production. Vitamin A also thickens and compacts the epidermis to give a more youthful appearance to skin.
  • Sun damage reversal: UV light increases the production of substances called MMP’s which break down our collagen. Vitamin A inhibits these MMP’s and as a result, helps to preserve healthy collagen.
  • Collagen stimulation: Vitamin A causes stimulation of fibroblasts, the cells that make collagen in the deeper skin layers (dermis), resulting in reduction of fine lines.
  • Oil regulation for acne: One of the most effective topical treatments for overactive oil (sebaceous) glands is retinoids. Oils gland cells are overly active in acne sufferers. These cells have a receptor on their surface the binds to vitamin A and initiates a cascade of events that normalises the growth pattern of the cells (sebocytes). Retinoids cause oil glands to decrease in size and reduces their growth rate, resulting in dramatically decreased oil production.
  • Pigmentation reduction: Vitamin A reduces the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme critical to produce melanin. Vitamin A also reduces the clumping of pigment (melanin) in the base of the epidermis and makes the actual pigment particles (melanosomes) smaller and less visible. Furthermore, because the cells are turning over in more orderly manner, the pigment trapped in the outer cells is also being removed efficiently.



The problem with prescription Tretinoin (retinoic acid) and even traditional retinol is that the molecule binds to undesired receptors not involved in the expected effects of vitamin A. these undesirable side effects include:

  • Flaking (due to decreased ceramides)
  • Irritation
  • Redness

Consequently patients tend to discontinue use due to lack of elegance in Tretinoin and traditional retinol. Doctors recommend gradually increasing tolerance over 3 months and not to mix with acids. Many patients do not comply with this suggested regimen.



Retinol is highly effective and penetrative provided it is not oxidised. Stabilised retinol offers enhanced penetration and stability versus traditional retinol. When retinol penetrates the cell, it is converted to retinoic acid in the cells. It then combines with receptors in the nucleus where it exerts its biological effects without irritation.


Vitamin A truly has evolved into a more stable, elegant and improved delivery system with minimal risk of irritation to the user. Stabilised retinol ticks all the boxes and certainly adheres to my SEED principle compared to other forms of vitamin A currently available.


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