Should you take vitamin A for the skin? That depends on the form of the nutrient.

You see. There is retinol, which is found naturally in liver and other meats. Excessive intake of retinol is toxic. It can cause a number of health problems, including death.

Then, there are retinoids. Retinoids are found in carrots and many other vegetables. The body converts retinoids to retinol on an as-needed basis. There is no risk of toxicity.

Finally, there is a synthetic form of retinol. It is called isotretinoin if it is taken orally or tretinoin if it is included in topically applied creams.

Isotretinoin is used to treat various types of cancer and severe skin conditions like cystic acne vulgaris. Like natural retinol, it is lethal at high doses and its use must be closely supervised by a doctor.

Even when the doctor’s dosage recommendations are followed, there are permanent side effects that include stunted growth, hair loss, poor night vision, inflammatory bowel disease, bone diseases, dry skin and dry eyes. It also causes birth defects. In the US, it is only prescribed to women that pledge not to become pregnant.

Tretinoin is the synthetic form of vitamin A for the skin most commonly used to treat acne, keratosis pilaris, stretch marks, hair loss and wrinkles.

Creams containing it typically cause redness, itching, burning, dryness and scaling.

People are more sensitive to sunlight when using tretinoin creams. Extreme caution must be taken to avoid sunburn.

The ingredient reduces the skin’s thickness. If waxes are used for hair removal, the skin’s outer layer will peel away with the wax leaving a sore red area that persists for several days. If tweezers are used, black marks will appear on the skin’s surface.

Tretinoin also causes birth defects, even when applied to the skin’s surface. Women who might become pregnant should not use it.

The only safe form of vitamin A for the skin is the retinoids, whether we are talking about an oral supplement or a skincare product. Nutritional supplements usually contain beta-carotene. Skincare products may contain plant based oils or extracts that provide retinoids. Examples include avocado extract and Shea butter.

There is one more synthetic ingredient you should know about. It is retinyl Palmitate, another synthetic form of retinol, and is often found in sunscreens. Ironically, the ingredient has been shown in lab tests to accelerate the growth of cancer cells. Since sunscreens are supposed to help prevent cancer, it does not seem wise for manufacturers to use the ingredient in those or any skincare products for that matter.

The benefits of vitamin A for the skin are not well understood. When it comes to reducing wrinkles, it may have to do with the antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help to prevent and reverse free radical damage, a major cause of the visible signs of aging.

When it comes to treating acne, it is known that most acne sufferers have low blood levels of several nutrients, including retinols and tocopherols. Those antioxidants are found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. It may be that a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet plays a role in the severity of acne cases. Some studies seem to indicate that is the case. tretinoin cream uk

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