What Is Vitamin A In Skincare?

Everyone knows retinoids are a skincare user’s best friend, retinol being one of the most popular active ingredients on the market when it comes to targeting fine lines and wrinkles. However, its derivative, Vitamin A, is less known in the industry, despite its proven effects at normalizing blood flow and optimizing UV protection.

Whether you’re looking to treat aging symptoms or specific skin conditions, you might want to look into incorporating a bit of vitamin A into your life.

Is Vitamin A the Same As Retinol?

While vitamin A and retinol are related, they’re not exactly the same thing. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for various bodily functions, such as supporting a healthy immune system and promoting proper organ function. Retinol is a specific type of retinoid, and it is often considered the most active and usable form of vitamin A in the body. When you consume retinol directly from animal sources or as a skin care supplement, your body can utilize it directly without further conversion.

What Are the Skin Benefits of Vitamin A?

Vitamin A, particularly in its retinoid form, offers numerous skin benefits when applied topically or taken as a supplement. Some of the major skin benefits of vitamin A include:

  • Anti-aging effects

Retinoids are well-known for their ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. They aid in collagen, which helps improve skin elasticity and firmness, leading to a more youthful appearance.

  • Acne treatment

Topical retinoids are effective in treating acne by unclogging pores, reducing inflammation, and preventing the formation of new pimples. They can also help fade acne scars over time.

  • Improved skin texture

Vitamin A promotes skin cell turnover, ultimately shedding dead skin cells and encouraging the growth of new, healthy skin cells. This leads to smoother skin and a more even texture.

  • Reduced hyperpigmentation

Retinoids can help fade hyperpigmentation, such as dark spots and sunspots, by inhibiting the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color.

  • Minimized appearance of pores

Regular use of retinoids can help minimize the appearance of large pores, making the skin look smoother and more refined.

  • Enhanced skin hydration

Vitamin A helps strengthen the skin's natural barrier, reducing water loss and improving overall hydration, leading to softer and suppler skin.

While vitamin A provides significant benefits for the skin, it can also cause skin irritation, especially when used in high concentrations or in sensitive individuals. Using sunscreen during the day is crucial when using retinoids, as they can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun and cause sunburn. Retinoids should always be applied in your PM skincare routine due to this effect rather than in the AM.

Is Vitamin A Or C Better For the Skin?

Both vitamin A (retinoids) and vitamin C offer unique and valuable benefits for the skin, and which one is "better" depends on the specific skin concerns and individual needs. While Vitamin A benefits above include its anti-aging effects, hyperpigmentation, and acne treatments, Vitamin C provides some similar positive results as well as some alternatives:

  • Antioxidant properties: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radical damage caused by UV radiation and environmental pollutants.

  • Brightening effect: Vitamin C can help brighten the skin and even out skin tone by inhibiting melanin production and reducing the appearance of dark spots.
  • Sun damage protection: While not a replacement for sunscreen, vitamin C can enhance the effectiveness of sunscreens and provide some level of protection against UV damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe redness and inflammation in the skin.

Both vitamin A (retinoids) and vitamin C are beneficial for the skin, but they excel in different areas. Vitamin A is more effective for addressing issues related to aging, acne, and skin texture. In contrast, vitamin C is exceptional in protecting the skin from oxidative damage, brightening complexion, and supporting increased collagen production.

How Do You Use Vitamin A On the Face?

Using vitamin A (retinoids) on the face requires a specific approach to ensure its effectiveness while minimizing potential irritation. We recommend this guide to ensure you are reaping the most benefits from vitamin A:

  • Ease Vitamin A Into Your Routine Gradually

If you're new to using vitamin A products, start with a lower concentration and apply it less frequently. This allows your skin to build tolerance over time. Begin with applying it once or twice a week and slowly increase the frequency as your skin becomes accustomed to it.

Vitamin A products are best used at night because they can increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight. Apply them after cleansing and before moisturizing.

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to remove makeup, dirt, and impurities before applying your desired vitamin A product.

Take a small amount (about a pea-size) of the vitamin A product and apply it to your entire face. Avoid the eye area and be careful not to over-apply, as this can lead to increased irritation.

Be sure to refrain from applying the product too close to the corners of your mouth, nostrils, and eyes. These areas are more sensitive and prone to irritation.

This can’t be emphasized enough! After the vitamin A product has been absorbed into the skin (wait a few minutes), apply a gentle and hydrating moisturizer to help lock in moisture and reduce potential dryness.

  • Sunscreen in the AM

Since vitamin A can increase sensitivity to the sun, it's crucial to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher during the day. This protects your skin from harmful UV rays and reduces the risk of sunburn and photo-aging.

  • Patience is a virtue

It may take several weeks to see noticeable results from using vitamin A products. Consistency is key, so continue using them as directed.

What Is the Best Form of Vitamin A For the Skin? 

The best form of vitamin A for the skin depends on individual skin concerns and sensitivities. There are several forms of vitamin A used in skincare products, each offering unique benefits. The most common forms of vitamin A used in skincare are retinol, retinoids, and retinal, or retinaldehyde.

  • Retinol

Retinol is one of the most popular and widely used forms of vitamin A in skincare products. It is a derivative of vitamin A and is generally considered milder than prescription-strength retinoids. Retinol is effective for addressing signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improving skin texture and tone.

  • Retinoids

Retinoids are a more potent form of vitamin A available by prescription only. Prescription retinoids treat various skin concerns, including acne, psoriasis, and severe signs of aging.

  • Retinal

This is an intermediate form of vitamin A that is closer to retinoic acid (the active form of vitamin A in the skin) compared to retinol. Retinal is typically considered less irritating than retinol and can be effective for improving skin texture and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

The "best" form of vitamin A for the skin depends on factors such as the individual's skin type, concerns, and tolerance to the ingredient. For those new to using vitamin A, retinol or retinaldehyde-based products are generally good starting points due to their milder nature. If you have specific skin concerns like acne or more severe signs of aging, prescription-strength retinoids may be more appropriate, but they should be used under the guidance of a dermatologist.

When To Start Using Vitamin A?

The appropriate time to start using vitamin A in your skincare routine depends on several factors:

  • Age
    Vitamin A products are often associated with anti-aging benefits, helping to reduce fine lines, and wrinkles, and improve skin texture. While there is no specific age requirement to start using vitamin A, it is more commonly incorporated into skincare routines as individuals enter their late 20s or early 30s when signs of aging may become more noticeable.
  • Skin Concerns
    If you have specific skin concerns such as acne or hyperpigmentation, you may consider incorporating vitamin A products into your routine earlier. Topical retinoids are particularly beneficial for treating acne and improving skin texture, so they may be used by teenagers and young adults under the guidance of a dermatologist.
  • Previous Experience with Vitamin A
    If you have never used vitamin A products before, it's generally a good idea to start with a milder form, such as retinol or retinal, and gradually introduce them into your routine. This allows your skin to build tolerance and reduces the risk of irritation.

There is no unanimous answer as to when to start using vitamin A. If you're considering adding vitamin A products to your skincare routine, it's a good idea to consult with a skincare professional. They can assess your skin's specific needs and recommend the most suitable form and concentration of vitamin A for your individual concerns and skin type. Patience and consistency are key when using vitamin A, as it can take several weeks to see noticeable improvements in the skin.

Can You Use Vitamin A When Pregnant?

The use of vitamin A (retinoids) during pregnancy is a topic of concern, and it's essential to exercise caution. High doses of vitamin A, particularly in the form of retinoids, can potentially cause harm to the developing fetus. Therefore, pregnant women are generally advised to avoid topical or oral retinoid products during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Prescription-strength retinoids, such as tretinoin (Retin-A) and tazarotene, are particularly strong and should be avoided during pregnancy.

On the other hand, over-the-counter cosmetic products containing milder forms of vitamin A, such as retinol or retinaldehyde, may be used with caution during pregnancy. However, it is still recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an obstetrician or dermatologist, before using any vitamin A products during pregnancy. They can provide personalized advice based on your situation and recommend safer alternatives if necessary.

What Pairs Well With Vitamin A?

Vitamin A pairs well with several other skincare ingredients that can complement its effects and enhance overall skin health. When combining vitamin A with other ingredients, it's important to use them with caution to avoid potential irritation:

  • Hyaluronic Acid
    Hyaluronic acid is a powerful humectant that helps attract and retain moisture in the skin. When used alongside vitamin A, it can counteract potential dryness and keep the skin hydrated and plump.

  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
    Niacinamide is known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. When combined with vitamin A, it can help reduce potential irritation and redness caused by retinoids.
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    Our unique formulation of niacinamide, arbutin, and tranexamic acid, as well as featuring green tea as an active ingredient, work together to promote brighter skin and reduced pigmentation. Users have also noticed significant improvements in skin tone and texture, being able to apply the serum daily, either in the AM or PM. For enhanced results, the serum pairs well with our Under-Eye Micro-Dart Patches.

  • Vitamin C
    Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radical damage and brightens the complexion. When used in conjunction with vitamin A, it can enhance the overall skin-rejuvenating effects and improve skin tone.

  • Peptides
    Peptides are amino acid chains that support skin firmness. Combining peptides with vitamin A can help address multiple signs of aging, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

  • Ceramides
    Ceramides are lipid molecules that strengthen the skin's natural barrier and prevent moisture loss. Using ceramides alongside vitamin A can help maintain the skin's integrity and reduce sensitivity.
  • Gentle Exfoliants
    Mild exfoliants such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) can be combined with vitamin A to enhance skin cell turnover and improve overall skin texture. However, avoid over-exfoliation, which can potentially cause irritation and redness.
  • Antioxidants
    Antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as green tea extract or niacinamide, can complement vitamin A's effects by neutralizing free radicals and providing additional protection against environmental damage.
  • Caffeine
    Caffeine can help reduce puffiness and the appearance of dark circles, making it an exceptional addition when used in combination with a vitamin A product.


What Not To Mix With Vitamin A?

Alternatively, vitamin A can be a potent ingredient that may cause skin irritation or sensitivity, especially when combined with certain skincare products:

  • Other Retinoids

    Combining multiple retinoids can increase the risk of irritation and sensitivity. Using prescription-strength retinoids (like tretinoin) alongside over-the-counter retinol products can be too harsh for some individuals. It's generally best to stick to one retinoid at a time, especially if you're new to using vitamin A.
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs

    AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are chemical exfoliants that can enhance cell turnover. When used together with vitamin A, it can lead to increased sensitivity and potential irritation. It's best to use them on different days or at different times of the day.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

    Similar to certain AHAs, BHAs like salicylic acid can increase the risk of skin irritation when used simultaneously with vitamin A. It's better to alternate between the two or use them in separate routines.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide

    Benzoyl peroxide is commonly used to treat acne, but it can be harsh on the skin when used with vitamin A. It's best to use them at different times, such as applying one in the morning and the other at night.

  • Physical Exfoliants

    Avoid using harsh physical exfoliants, such as scrubs with large particles or brushes, along with vitamin A products, as they can exacerbate skin irritation.

  • Essential Oils

    Some essential oils may increase skin sensitivity and irritation when used with vitamin A. It's best to avoid using essential oils alongside retinoids, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Final verdict: vitamin a in skincare

Everyone's skin is different, and some individuals may tolerate certain combinations of vitamin A products better than others. If you want to incorporate multiple active ingredients into your skincare routine, consider doing so under the guidance of a professional. They can help you create a personalized and effective skincare regimen that incorporates vitamin A while minimizing the risk of irritation and sensitivity. Always perform a patch test before trying new products and be mindful of any signs of irritation when combining ingredients or trying out new products.