Continuing from my previous post What’s in a skincare regimen, this article discusses Vitamin A derivatives as part of the treatment phase of a skincare protocol. An earlier article discussed the benefit of the Vitamin C serums.

Vitamin A: you take it internally as part of a healthy diet but today we’re talking about the amazing things it does for your skin when you apply it topically.

Vitamin A derivatives (aka retinoids) include retinoic acid, retinol, tretinoin (Retisol, Avita, Renova, Retin-A), isotretinoin (Accutane) and tazarotene (Tazorac). You have probably heard of Accutane being prescribed for acne but these products in general are also used to treat photoaging (wrinkles and brown spots due to sun damage), to improve skin hydration and to give a smoother skin texture.

This family of compounds act as exfoliants, increasing the speed at which the outer layers of skin cells are sloughed off. Advantages of exfoliation include making our skin look smoother, shinier and younger, as well as keeping pores and hair follicles unblocked, so that comedones, blemishes and ingrown hairs are reduced. The disadvantage of these exfoliants is the redness and peeling that usually follows a few hours after application.

Retinoids have other anti-aging effects including thickening of the skin, making the layers of the skin more organized, reducing pigmentation and slowing down the breakdown of collagen in the skin.

To my mind, retinoids are something that pretty much everyone would benefit from using every day but there’s a problem: redness and peeling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a skincare routine with retinoids and dropped it after a few days because I couldn’t stand being so flaky.

Here’s what you need to do:

First of all, when you know what the product will do for you when your skin becomes accustomed to it, it is easier to persist with it. The folks that lived through the red and flaky stage and kept up with the products now have beautiful skin.

Second, you can back off on the frequency that you use the product. I have very sensitive skin, prone to redness, so I had to start with Retinol only twice per week and gradually build up tolerance.

Third, start out with a milder formulation and gradually build up to the more intense compounds. I really like the Vivier A/K Capsules as a starting point for getting people on retinoids. These are little plastic capsules that you tear open to get out the gel that you apply to your face.

The vitamin A in the A/K Capsules comes in the form of retinol. Retinol gets converted into retinaldehyde which gets converted into the active form, retinoic acid. If you put retinoic acid directly on the skin you gets lots of inflammation but using the precursor form of retinol controls this because the body knows when the level of retinoic acid is getting high enough to cause irritation and shuts down the conversion reaction.

A/K Capsules also contain vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation which helps diminish fine lines, to reduce pigmentation and to act as an antioxidant, protecting the skin against damage from UV rays and pollution.

Vitamin K is important in blood clotting and strengthens the walls of blood vessels so you’re less likely to get broken capillaries. It acts as an antioxidant and helps to decrease pigment, redness and bruising.

The other key ingredient in A/K Capsules is green tea extract, a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and anti-irritation effects. This combination of ingredients is an ideal way to get your skin accustomed to retinoids.

Once you build up your tolerance to A/K Capsules to the point that you can use them twice a day, every day, you can consider changing to a prescription retinoid such as Retisol (tretinoin plus sunscreen) or Tazorac (tazarotene) but you may be happy to stick with the A/K Capsules. If you need Retisol or Tazorac, for instance for badly weathered skin, you can use retinol and the more aggressive compound on alternating days to decrease the peeling.

That’s the story on topical vitamin A. Next time I will be talking about topical growth factors.