What’s the Effect of Vitamin A on Skin? Here’s the Answer


Notice that many skincare products now indicate they contain Vitamin A. This nutrient is actually essential in regulating skin health and maintaining some of our essential bodily functions (e.g. proper functioning of our eyes and immune system).

Specifically, vitamin A is known to be effective in reducing wrinkles and it even promotes wound healing. Topical application of a gel containing vitamin A can make fine wrinkles disappear or less noticeable.

Aside from its inherent effectiveness in maintaining skin health, the mention of vitamin A often also indicates that the product is natural or organic. After all, we already ingest it from various food sources (whether animal- or plant-based). In addition, our perception of using a natural or organic product often signals safety.

Natural doesn’t always mean safe

However, not everything that comes from nature is safe to humans. For example, there are poisonous plants and flowers that harm people whether through ingestion or physical contact. There are substances that come from plants and animals which can cause allergies, irritations and other adverse reactions.

It’s also the case with using vitamin A whether for skincare or as a form of ingestible supplement. For instance, consuming large amounts of vitamin A can result to nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, sensitivity to sunlight, itchy or peeling skin, hair loss and other noticeable physical effects. On the other hand, applying too much topical solution containing vitamin A can result to skin dryness.

Excess or large amounts of vitamin A will accumulate in our bodies through dietary intake. Due to their fat-soluble nature, they are more difficult to wash down. As a result, both acute and chronic toxicity can occur. It’s a similar case when too much vitamin A is in contact or absorbed by the skin. Our cells are not just used to processing too much fat-soluble nutrients. In addition, high concentrations of certain substances might be mistaken as dangerous by our immune system. Our bodies will then send a response to fight that manifests through skin dryness, rashes and other irritations.

In other words, using natural products doesn’t always mean they’re 100% safe. There are still precautions you need to observe before using such products. It’s especially the case in skincare wherein products can immediately cause adverse reactions. Some people might also show unusual effects because of their genetic makeup and specific health condition.

How to stay safe when trying skincare products?

Whether it contains vitamin A or not, it’s recommended to apply the gel (or any other topical product) in very small amounts initially. The goal here is to watch for any adverse reaction before making a commitment to the regular application of the product.

In addition, vitamin A may have side effects if the person is pregnant or has a health condition. It’s advisable to consult a doctor before ingesting or applying vitamin A especially if you plan to do it regularly. Our cells may react differently due to our hormonal, metabolic or other internal bodily changes.

Also, following the product instructions is a must. It’s very tempting to apply the gel more frequently because some people think that it will yield better and faster results. However, higher doses of vitamin A could lead to increased frequency or severity of skin dryness. The application of the gel in higher frequency might also lead to the same side effects.

Common misconceptions about vitamin A

Vitamin A is actually a group of chemical compounds with structural similarities. These compounds include retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid and provitamin A (e.g. beta carotene). They might have similar overall structures with small differences in their active functional groups (could be alcohol, aldehyde or carboxylic acid).

In dermatology and skin care, retinoic acid is known to have the potent biological activity. Perhaps it will act on the skin in a precursor form (e.g. retinol being metabolised to retinoic acid). Whichever is the case the end process should involve retinoic acid acting on the skin cells.

The exact mechanism on how retinoic acid does this is still not yet fully understood. But controlled tests almost always show that retinoic acid is effective in maintaining and improving skin health. Perhaps in the future the better understanding of retinoic acid’s mechanism will lead to more effective and targeted treatment.

For now, gels containing moderate amounts of vitamin A are effective in reducing fine wrinkles and making the skin look younger. Mostly these are applied on the face because the face shows the most signs of aging. After all, it’s the most exposed part of the body and the ultraviolet rays from the sun can accelerate skin aging and development of wrinkles and fine lines.

ATRA, Tretinoin and retinoic acid

These things often refer to the same thing. ATRA stands for all-trans retinoic acid. This could be the potent form of retinoic acid (many molecules can either exist in trans or cis forms, or combination). Perhaps it has something to do with the arrangement or spatial configuration of the molecule. The trans- could be more reactive and “docks” well with the target sites. After all, the reactivity of molecules depends both on their composition and configuration.

If you’re looking on skin care products, note that ATRA, Tretinoin and retinoic acid often refer to the same thing. They’re all the biological potent form of retinoic acid. So when you’re trying to research about their effectiveness, the terms mentioned above are often used interchangeably in many articles and research papers.

Some clues about its mechanism

As mentioned earlier, how retinoic acid works is not yet fully understood. Good thing is many scientists have somehow already “mapped” its mechanism.

Basically, ATRA or Tretinoin is known to increase the rate of collagen synthesis (as well as prevent or slow down collagen degradation). This occurs in a molecular level wherein retinoic acid inhibits enzymes that cause collagen to degrade (collagen is the main structural protein in skin).

Whether it’s through the natural course of aging or skin aging accelerated by sunlight, retinoic acid can maintain and stimulate collagen status and synthesis. The result is younger-looking skin if the application was done correctly.

The effect of vitamin A on skin

For many purposes and applications, creams and topical products containing vitamin A (specifically all-trans retinoic acid or Tretinoin) are already effective in reducing fine lines and achieving other desired results related to younger-looking skin.

Many recent studies already support this claim, which is why many products are already out in the market that contain Tretinoin. However, it’s best to observe caution especially if you have a health condition. It’s also recommended to test very small amounts to watch out for any adverse reactions.

If you have other questions about organic skincare, you can contact us here at Earth Derm. We are proud distributors of cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals in the Australian Professional Beauty Industry.