Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes from two sources: preformed retinoids and provitamin carotenoids. Retinoids, such as retinal and retinoic acid, are found in animal sources such as liver, kidney, eggs, and dairy products. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene (which has the highest vitamin A activity), are found in plants such as dark or yellow vegetables and carrots.
Natural retinoids are present in all living organisms, either as preformed vitamin A or as carotenoids, and are required for biological processes such as vision and cellular growth. A major biologic function of vitamin A (as the metabolite retinal) is in the visual cycle. Research also suggests that vitamin A may reduce death from measles, prevent some types of cancer, aid in growth and development, and improve immune function.
Dermatologists swear by retinol, counting it as a must-have for just about everyone (second only to SPF), even those with sensitive skin. And, research over the past 30 years has shown that retinol can tackle a ton of dermatological concerns, including acne, wrinkles, and rough or discolored skin. Not bad for a single active ingredient.
There are three levels of retinoids: pure retinoic acid, which is the strongest and prescription-only; retinol, which is sold over the counter and is weaker and less irritating than the pure stuff; and retinol derivatives, which are also sold over the counter and are gentler than retinol.
It’s true; you might not completely avoid irritation if you use the stuff. But, you can minimize it by being strategic. For someone completely new to the world of retinol, Dr. Rogers suggests using a derivative twice a week to avoid stressing out the skin. If yours still reacts adversely, she recommends moisturizing beforehand. Once you’re comfortable with biweekly applications, you can increase the frequency until you’re comfortable with everyday use. For some, the next step would be transitioning to a prescription concentration of retinoic acid. But, no matter what stage you’re in, don’t expect overnight results.