Skip to content

Plants and the chemicals they make. Retinoids can be both gentle and effective.

First of all, WHY do you have to use retinoids? Because retinoids will help you with very common problems that everybody will have at one time or another: acne and skin aging (wrinkles, etc.).

What retinoids do

After retinoic acid enters the cell, it binds to specific nuclear receptors. These “activated” nuclear receptors, in turn, bind to specific regulatory sequences (called retinoic acid response elements) in the DNA inside the nucleus and directly change gene expression of specific genes. Such changes in gene expression translate into changes in the production of proteins, and are responsible for the biological and therapeutic effects of retinoids.

Acne and retinoids

In the 1970s, retinoic acid was used topically to control acne, and the effect was thought to be through reduction of sebum secretion. In 1979 a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, 13-cis-retinoic acid (isotretinoin), was found to help with severe nodulocystic acne by reducing the size and secretion of the sebaceous glands.  Isotretinoin also reduces bacteria in both the ducts and skin surface. This is thought to be a result of the reduction in sebum, a nutrient source for the bacteria.

The chemistry of retinoids

Retinol and its esters (retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl palmitate) are converted into retinoic acid and bind to receptors on the nuclear membrane, and through these receptors they exert their effects.

Hundreds of different chemicals share some of the activities of vitamin A, but their different structures also mean that side effects will be different. When it comes to synthetic derivatives, like isotretinoin, part of the effects may be due to its partial conversion in the body into retinoic acid. However, there is more to the mechanism of action, and this part of the story is still a matter of investigation (in other words, caveat emptor, because we have no idea how it works).

The vitamin A found in animal sources, retinyl ester, is fat soluble. This is also the form of vitamin A we use in our Skin Actives products, and what is used in commercial vitamins. Retinol (the alcohol) and retinal (the aldehyde) are very unstable, and there is not much point in trying to keep them stable when we have retinyl esters available. There are other reasons to choose retinyl esters as the retinoids of choice.  Retinoids have significant effects on normal embryonic development. Retinoic acid has been found to be a vertebrate morphogen, i.e. a signaling molecule that controls the spatial pattern of differentiation and the shape of the developing embryo. The potent teratogenic effects (malformations of the embryo) of retinoids are well established and are a consequence of their central role in morphogenesis. Isotretinoin is also a teratogen with a number of potential side-effects, so its use requires medical supervision and it is strictly controlled by law.

Retinoids: more can be too much

In general, retinoids tend to normalize cellular proliferation and differentiation. In human epidermis, low concentrations of retinoids generally increase keratinocyte proliferation, but high concentrations can be inhibitory. This effect is used in the treatment of psoriasis.

Vitamin A on aging skin

The benefits of topical tretinoin on human photodamaged skin were first observed in middle-aged women treated for persistent acne. These women described smoother, less wrinkled skin in addition to the clearing of acne. Improvements were noted in skin texture, wrinkling, pigmentation, and sallowness. Although these effects were first studied using tretinoin, retinyl acetate (vitamin A) has similar effects BUT without the irritation caused by tretinoin (and without the need for medical supervision required for the synthetic retinoid).

Many people can’t use topical tretinoin because of its side effects, which include skin irritation. We know that this is not a problem with retinyl esters, like retinyl acetate, because they work just as well or better, because they don’t have serious side effects and don’t require medical supervision. The take home lesson is that it is simply not worthwhile to suffer the side effects of tretinoin and other synthetic forms of vitamin A. We have two ready made products, Vitamin A Cream and Vitamin A Serum to deliver the benefits of retinyl acetate safely.

What else will you find in Skin Actives Vitamin A cream?

Niacinamide to potentiate the retinyl ester (see reference below), nutrients so that retinoids can do their job, anti-inflammatory actives, lots of antioxidants, plus actives to protect your skin proteins from losing structure and activity.

Seakelp (Lactobacillus/Kelp Ferment Filtrate) Bioferment, Niacinamide, Alpha-D-Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Retinyl Acetate, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Carnosine, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Juice, Allantoin, curcuminoids, Kakadu Plum Fruit Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate Hyaluronic Acid, Glycerin, Pomegranate Seed Oil, Tocotrienols, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Astaxanthin, Lycopene, Xanthophyll, R-Alpha Lipoic Acid, Beta-Carotene, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-3,

How to get the best out of retinoids

Avoid the sun and use sunscreen,

Do not do any type of exfoliation (AHA, salicylic acid, physical exfoliation), the retinoids are already doing that job.

Protect your skin stem cells, you can’t replace them with apple stem cells (unless you are actually an apple).


Reference: J.J.J. Fu, G.G. Hillebrand, P. Raleigh, J. Li, M.J. Marmor, V. Bertucci,_P.E. Grimes, S.H. Mandy, M.I. Perez, S.H. Weinkle and J.R. Kaczvinsky (2010). A randomized, controlled comparative study of the wrinkle reduction benefits of a cosmetic niacinamide⁄peptide⁄retinyl propionate product regimen vs. a prescription 0.02% tretinoin product regimen. British J. Dermatology, 162: 647–654

DISCLAIMER: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.