Vitamin A in Cosmetic Formulations

Florence Barrett-Hill

Vitamin A is the dominant vitamin of the skin because it has a fundamental role in the control of normal activities of skin cells.Consequently, it’s no surprise that Vitamin A is used in many highly effective skin care products.
Lets’s explore a few facts surrounding Vitamin A.

Fact: Vitamin A is of great importance in controlling normal activities of the DNA of the nucleus of the cell as well as the mitochondria. DNA maintains the normal activities of skin cells.

Fact: One must remember that vitamin A is also necessary for the formation of healthy blood cells in the bone marrow.

Fact: Names of Vitimin A:

  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Retinyl aldehyde
  • Retinal aldehyde
  • Retinol
  • Retinoic acid
  • Retinyl linoleate
  • Retinyl propionate
  • Retinyl acetate
  • Beta-carotene

Is it any wonder we get confused?

Fact: Vitamin A is normally found in the skin predominantly as retinyl palmitate, which is an ester of vitamin A.

Fact: An ester is the name applied to a chemical group of organic compounds, which consist of a combination of carbon and hydrogen atoms in a chain without any double bonds.

Fact: Esters as a cosmetic ingredient, they can be natural or synthetic and liquid or solid depending on properties of the reacting substances. Being insoluble in water, they replace oils and fats to provide uniform composition and preservation. They have good skin tolerance and a lubricating and emollient action.

Fact: There are numerous esters of vitamin A and the most commonly used are retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate.

Fact: The esters of vitamin A are less irritant and kinder to the skin and will eventually result as using the more aggressive versions of vitamin A.

Fact: The reason for this is that in the skin we have enzymes that convert the retinyl esters into retinol and from that the retinol is converted in retinal, that is retinyl aldehyde.

It is from there it is converted into retinoic acid and retinoic acid is the actual chemical that makes the changes in the DNA and cellular structures. However, only a tiny amount of retinoic acid is normally found in the skin. It also seems as though the natural ability to store vitamin A in the skin determines the level of retinoic acid that is found in the cells. In that way one can increase the amount of retinoic acid in the cells by increasing the amount of retinyl palmitate and other esters in the skin.

Fact: There are also Retinyl propionate and Retinyl linoleate.The theoretical advantage of the linoleate is that it is a combination of vitamin A with Vitamin F.

Fact: Vitamin A is extremely sensitive to sunlight and particularly to UVA.

Fact: With the development of modern sunscreens, we are not able to give sufficient protection of the skin from UVA.

Fact: Vitamin A is still damaged by exposure to light, even when a person is wearing a sun protection factor of 30 or 40.

Fact: By 1955, it was discovered that the application of vitamin A as retinyl palmitate to aged skin rejuvenates the skin to a small degree. The test period at that time was a mere six weeks. Sigmund Berg showed that people who suffered severe sunburn could be improved by oral administration of vitamin A in high dosage.

Fact: Today it is well recognized that the rejuvenation of skin can be achieved by applying Vitamin A to the skin.

Fact: When one reads about the various types of Vitamin A one may be confused as to which type of Vitamin A to use on the skin.

Fact: There are a number of related Molecules with Vitamin A activity and these are classed under the family name of retinoids.

Fact: The most common form of vitamin A is Retinyl palmitate, which is the form of Vitamin A thats normal found in livers. Retinyl palmitate is also found in the liver of fish like halibut, cod and sharks.

Fact: Retinyl palmitate accounts for about 80% of the Vitamin A found in the skin.

Fact: Retinyl palmitate is an ester of Vitamin A.

Fact: Retinal or retinyl aldehyde. This is the form of vitamin, which is essential for normal vision, and a deficiency of this vitamin will lead to night blindness in the beginning.

Fact: Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A. This is the form of vitamin A that is used normally to transport vitamin A from the liver to the tissues. It is bound to certain proteins in the bloodstream, then taken up by the various organs, especially the skin.

Fact: Retinoic acid is the acid form of vitamin A and has gained great popularity and notoriety.

Fact: Retinoic acid: This is the most irritant form of Vitamin A and this is usually only available on prescription from a doctor. It is also known as tretinoin.

Fact: Only a tiny amount of Retinoic acid is normally found in the skin.

Fact: It also seems as though the natural ability to store vitamin A in the skin determines the level of Retinoic acid that is found in the cells.

Fact: In that way one can increase the amount of Retinoic acid in the cells by increasing the amount of Retinyl palmitate and other esters in the skin.

Fact: Another version of vitamin A is Beta-carotene, which is the plant version of Vitamin A. Under normal circumstances beta-carotene is maintained as beta-carotene and is normally found in skin in fairly high concentrations. In the oriental people the beta-carotene levels are higher than in the westerners. Beta-carotene has the ability to be cleaved into two molecules of retinal.

Fact: This is the reason why Vit A deficiency never occurs amongst vegetarians. It is important to remember that vitamin A deficiency is probably the most common deficiency in the world today. It is likely that the clinical deficiency of vitamin A in skin is also the greatest vitamin deficiency of the skin.

Fact: Vitamin A should be used daily, if used during daylight hours it should be accompanied with anti oxidant vitamins like vitamin C, E and beta carotene, so that it is relatively protected from ultra violet light.

Fact: A reliable UVA sunscreen should be used at the same time in preference to a high SPF ratio cream.

Fact: Vitamin A should also be replaced every evening as a topical application to the skin to try to address the daily loss of Vitamin A.

Fact: Because we cannot prevent the damage to the Vitamin A in the skin, it is essential to replace the vitamin A each day. So that we do not gradually develop the signs of Photoageing which are really also the signs of vitamin A deficiency of the skin?

Fact: Vit A is measured in international units (i.u.) per gram. The recommended effective doses are between 500 i.u. and 10,000i.u.

Fact: International units per gram expressed in percentages: 10 000 i.u./g = 1% pg 7000 i.u./g = 0.7%pg, 2 500 i.u./g = 0.25%pg, 1 250 i.u./g = 0.125%pg

Fact: Vit A metabolism is strongly tied to Vit C, and Vit C is essential for the proper function of Vit E.

Fact: Skin absorption is not efficient,, at most the most effective penetration of any cream is only in the region of 7% and 2% is considered average.

Fact: If you rub on a gram of Vit A cream containing 5000 i.u. g% on the face, then you will apply 5000 i.u. on to the facial skin, and of that 100 i.u. to a maximum of 350 i.u. will reach the Keratinocyte layer or the upper papillary dermis over about 260 square centimeters. This is 1.2 i.u. per square centimeter and this probably translates into a concentration of Vit A in the tissues that is close to the serum concentration.


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