WHAT VITAMIN A IS DOING IN YOUR SKINCARE… Plus which type will work best for you!

In Buzz skincare ingredients by Cheryl Woodman MChem11 Comments

Today, i thought we would talk, SKIN VITAMINS, more to the point, vitamin A, what it is, what it does and why the heck its in our skincare. Oh! and ALSO what type of vitamin A is going to work the best for your skintype [because you are absolutely and fabulously unique]. Vitamin A is super active on skin, but choose the wrong kind, and it could be super OUCH!

Vitmain A found in skincare is there to do a couple of things, you might have heard a bit already about this ‘kid’, including spot fighting abilities AND anti-aging marvels, well lovelies, let’s get down to it and set the record on Vitamin A.

Why you should look out for Vitamin A in your skincare. Oh! and let's talk about all the different types, including which will be best for YOUR skin!


Vitamin A was FIRST used in SKINCARE to treat those pesky SPOTS that just won’t go away, turn into acne AND seem to grow like Vesuvius, dormant but HUGE cyst like growths hiding under the skin. The first skin used form of vitamin A is called Tretinoin and was developed as a DRUG for acne, that drug bit means it is prescription ONLY. THEN, here is what happened, like most GREAT things in science, we stumbled over the amazing, totally awesome skin discovery that VITAMIN A is an ANIT-AGING marvel. An anti-aging super-hero. All these people using the drug form of vitamin A, ‘Tretinoin’ to help with acne, starting seeing that their WRINKLES were biding them GOODBYE. Now, i bet you’re just bursting to find this beauty in your skincare, let’s get onto the different types of vitamin A and which is suited to YOUR skintype.


The first is called RETIN-A or RETINOIC ACID and this is the drug strength acne treatment called TRETINOIN. The 2 MOST common cosmetic versions of vitamin A, the ones you are going to find in your  skincare [HOORAY!] are Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. Then there are 2 newbies called Retinyl retinoate and retinaldehyde which you might also see in ‘just hitting the market’ vitamin A types creams. Today we will focus on the 2 you are MOST likely to see in your face creams – Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. Phew that’s a lot of ‘Retin’!

These ingredients are POTENT, that’s why we love ’em right. That means we don’t need a lot of these lovelies, so you are going to find them near the end of the ingredient list and they have no covert name, so what they are called, is what you will find them named as on the ingredient list. When we talk low quantities, for Vitamin A that is usually going to be around 1% and lower.


This is the DRUG version of vitamin A. It is prescription only and clinically proven to help acne prone skin and reverse the signs of aging. It’s not just ‘word of mouth’ or hear-say, it is science fact #TweetThat. You only need a very, VERY small amount of this ingredient, to get the job done, there are 3 prescription dosages to choose from, 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%. See what I mean, that is tiny ‘ey! Even at such small dosages, this can be pretty irritating for skin, as with all drugs, because they do things so darn fast, there are usually side-effects. With the drug version of Vitamin A cream, that is skin dryness and the general irritation and reddening you get when you put something on skin that it just doesn’t like. Luckily most of us will not need the prescription strength version of Vitamin A and the cosmetic skincare equivalents will be just as effective for you.


Retinol is the MOST potent cosmetic form of Vitamin A found in skincare. This guy will do everything that Tretinoin does, but more gently. Think of it like Tretinoin being the situation where you take antibiotics for a tooth infection and Retinol being the situation where you aid your body in fighting the infection itself BY getting good sleep, looking after yourself and your diet, and maybe even juicing up with lots of vitamin containing foods.

The reason why Retinol is a slightly less potent version of vitamin A for skin, is because it needs to get processed into THAT age-winding-back drug version. Its like eating food, the Kale leaf goes in, but it sure ain’t hanging around in that leafy form for long, it gets broken down into lots of different minerals and vitamins that are then absorbed by your body. That’s exactly the same thing that Retinol does. Retinol goes into skin, and then it gets broken down to Retinoic acid, the drug version.

Retinol being LESS potent, isn’t all bad, the drug version can be pretty irritating for skin AND make it dryer, so this is a great every day alternative. Clinical trials of Retinol have shown that if you used a 0.2% cream, this gives the same effects as the 0.025% drug version AND it is much better tolerated on skin. BINGO! So yes you need a little bit more of it, but actually that still means it is less sensitising and has the same result – sounds like an all around winner!

Sometimes even the Retinol version of vitamin A is too potent or sensitising for skin and then you want to move to Retinyl palmitate.


This could be a good version of Vitamin A to use IF your in that in-between phase, thinking, ‘am I too young to be using anti-aging ingredients?’. Well we hear you, and this is your in-between answer. Retinyl palmitate is also a good shout for super sensitive skin types, as it is proven LESS irritating than retinol at the same concentrations.

Retinyl palmitate is one-step less potent than Retinol. This version of vitamin A needs to be converted in your awesome factory of a body (its like exercise for the skin!), when you give the skin Retinyl palmitate, it gets converted to Retinol and then to another version of vitamin A and finally to Retinoic acid – aka the VITAMIN A form in the drug treatment which is the one that’s going to do all the anti-aging hero stuff. That means where Retinol is 2 steps away from being the anti-aging drug form of vitamin A, Retinyl Palmitate is 3 steps away. This all adds up to it being a milder form for your skin.


This is an active little ingredient, AND that means it is not hanging around in the pot, waiting for you to use it up. Its got exciting things to do, ya know! To keep your vitamin A creams in GREAT condition for AS LONG as possible, its all about, keeping the lid on, storing it out of direct sunlight, and preferably ANY light at all, think burka bikini, OR maybe a tea cosy cover for your little GEM. Finally, keep it cool, heat is also great at encouraging all vitamin A’s energy to get used up. So that’s, cool, top-on AND in the dark somewhere.

RELATED: ‘How to MAKE sure your skincare products actually WORK’

TOP-TIP: All forms of Vitamin A have a shelf-life, so be careful to know when yours expires. It will also be less active and effective the longer you have it. A cream with BOTH Retinol and Retinyl palmitate in there, will be active for LONGER. Look out for a cream with both and it will be a skin lover that lasts you longer!

RELATED: ‘How to tell when your SKINCARE EXPIRES’


After all that ‘Retin’ talk, I thought what you guys absolutely needed was a cheat-sheet way to remembering how to choose a vitamin A cream for your skin.

  • First step is to find it on the ingredient list. The 2 forms to look for are – Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate.
  • THEN it’s a gander at the concentration, less is less effective, more is more effective and potent. Sometimes they will tell you this, and sometimes it won’t be there, if you want to be SURE you are choosing a cream that works, then choose the one which tell you how much of this lovely they have put in there.
  • FINALLY its remembering that Retinyl palmitate is a slightly less potent than Retinol, which means it is great for sensitive skin, and those looking for slightly less potent, and gentler skin solutions.


After all that Vitamin A skin talk, i thought it only fair to give it some face-time from an inside-out approach! What we put in our mouths, makes a BIG difference to our skin health [and lots of other vital parts of our bodies, for vitamin A, that’s also our EYES!]. We can get vitamin A in 2 ways from our food, the first is easy, it is exactly what we have been talking about putting on our skin – Retinol, this one is only found in food from animal sources, that’s diary, fish and meat. Liver is an EXTRA high source of vitamin A. The second requires a bit more converting in our awesomely-amazing bodies, this type is called pro-vitamin A carotenoids.  Thinking of carrots? Well these pro-vitamin A carotenoids are all plant found, beta-carotene is the most potent and of course, is found in carrots, also sweet potatoes (yum!) AND super food of the moment – Kale.

RELATED: ‘How to EAT your way to SUPER RADIANT and healthy skin’

If your brain wants to feast on MORE ‘vitamin A juice’, there’s some good reads about Vitamin A over at FutureDerm, and another good all-rounder by Paula, talking about All the benefits of Vitamin A for skin.

Do you use Vitamin A in your skincare routine? Are you going to be looking after reading this?