By Rachel Lamont
Medical Esthetician and Owner of The Natural Art of Skin Care
Our bodies break down over time; we call this process "aging." An accumulation of free-radical damage builds up and begins to break down the body. Tissue is more susceptible to inflammation, we don't heal as fast or as well, damages to the immune system can become more frequent and the our body's healing ability and daily functioning slows down. These are all some of the contributing factors to the aging process. Sun damage starts to show in the skin and hormonal fluctuations that cause damage to the skin begins to show. New cells are produced slower and in a more irregular, mutated, rough, defective way and the result is skin looks older and is not as plump - not like the plump, youthful skin cells of our earlier days! General cell turnover slows down also, so our skin takes longer to flake off, leaving us with older and more lackluster, dull and damaged skin appearance. With a slower system, our skin damage becomes more prominent and the growth of new skin cells also slow down, and therefore take longer to get to the surface so the skin begins to look dull and old. There are not as many elastin and collagen cells in the skin or being produced by fibroblasts, so the youthful thickness begins to diminish and the firmness of our skin loses its bounce.
Have I made you depressed yet?
So is there anything we can do to slow down the signs of aging? Especially the visible signs we see on our face, body, and skin? Or should we just try to accept the aging process gracefully and with dignity and just let our appearance age as we grow older? The simple answer is: NO. I'm a firm believer in meeting the aging process somewhere in the middle. I don't want anyone to look like the "Cat Lady" and refuse any sign of the natural aging process, and never see a line or a wrinkle; this simply looks unnatural over time. Using skin fillers, botox, excessive heavy chemical peels and invasive laser treatments to conceal the aging process can make a person look fake as they age, and unnatural in my opinion. But don't be discouraged because YES, there are many solutions that can be helpful as we grow older that will leave us radiant and youthful-looking. There are many natural products and ingredients that can help you with the overall signs of aging and even past acne scarring. These are the techniques and treatments we will be discussing in this article.
One of these magic ingredients that all skin care professionals agree on is Vitamin A. It is one of my absolute favourites because I have both personally used this product and recommended it to clients and seen great results over the years. This is a vitamin that is amazing at working against the signs of aging and can help you combat all of the visual symptoms I listed above. Used properly, Vitamin A can reduce fine lines and wrinkles, increase the thickness of the skin, reduce pigmentation, normalize the skin, improve the texture, unclog pores, reduce breakouts and neutralize free radicals! It is a great anti-oxidant for overall skin heath and allows the skin to regenerate faster so that it can turnover quicker, also improving the signs of acne, reducing all types of scarring and pigmentation, while increasing collagen and elastin for skin thickness and tightness. Vitamin A is also a great "food" for our glycosoaminoglycans (GAGs), which will help your skin to retain its moisture and produce a gorgeous, healthy skin glow.
There are many different types of Vitamin A so I'm going to try and clarify some of them for you throughout this article. They range from natural to synthetic and they both have their pros and cons in this regard. You may be familiar with some of different types of Vitamin A under these names: Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Carotenoids, Retinoic Acid, Retin-A Isotretinoin and Accutane, just to name a few. Each of these is a slightly different form of Vitamin A so let's go over what that means and break down the pros and cons of each type for you:
Retinol is a very active, alcohol form of Vitamin A. As a result it can be very effective, but can be irritating to the skin when it is over-used or used improperly. Retinol is one of the animal forms of Vitamin A; some of the best sources of Vitamin A are from eggs, liver, Halibut and Cod fish liver oils. It is generally accepted as the basic and a very common form of Vitamin A, and when converted by the body, essential for vision, healthy teeth and for growing strong bones and skin. The skin can become irritated by this version of Vitamin A, so only use it as recommended by a qualified Esthetician and increase your use slowly over time under their recommendations. You will see that the skin will likely peel with frequent uses. It is difficult to make a cream with Retinol and keep it active; Vitamin A products are very sensitive to light, oxygen and water, so packaging and ingredients need to be taken into extra consideration to ensure an effective product. This is why Retinol products generally have a specific and limited shelf life.
Retinyl Palmitate is a fat source of Vitamin A and is used as an anti-oxidant to feed and nourish the skin. Generally, it is less irritating to the skin than a Retinol Acid. It is normally found in the skin in its natural form and is a much more stable version of Vitamin A than most other forms. I like to use this and Retinyl Acetate personally, in conjunction with acid forms that will feed the skin over time.
Retinyl Acetate is a milder - though still active - form of Vitamin A and is tolerated by the skin much easier than some other forms. This is a form of Vitamin A that is stored in the liver so it is a much more stable version of the vitamin and is more bio-available also.
The plant form of Vitamin A is called "Carotenoids." Some of the richest sources are from carrots and spinach, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, dried beans and lentils. This form of Vitamin A is both mild on the skin and also helps to feed the skin. It does not signal to the skin to hyper-exfoliate, so you will not get the skin turnover that you would expect from some of the stronger and non-acidic versions. I personally like to make this form of Vitamin A readily available in my skin care regime to both feed and nourish for healthy skin.
Retinoic Acid, Retin A and Accutane
Retinoic Acid, Retin A and Accutane is the metabolically active form of Vitamin A, which works on the DNA of a cell nucleus. You need to do your research on these products before using them and be very mindful when choosing if these products are right for you. These are prescription forms of Vitamin A and were introduced in 1982, and they can and should be used on when recommended by your doctor. Some forms are for topical application and some are designed to be taken orally. They are very strong versions of Vitamin A and cannot be misused. Orally, they can be toxic to the liver and kidney, as well as causing a number of different internal side effects like Chron's Disease, intestinal issues, nose bleeds, depression, dry skin and even birth defects. If you choose to go ahead and use one of these forms of Vitamin A, tread gently and follow your doctors orders carefully. But first I would always advise to ask yourself if it is necessary for your level of acne, and if this is the best way to take care of yourself and your skin. I believe it should be looked at as a last resort only and I would recommend trying facials, individualized skin care routines made for you by a skin care professional, regular routine skin clean-outs, and consultations with a natural practitioner to look over any allergies you may have, your liver and kidney toxicity and overall health, lifestyle and diet, before making your decision.
Vitamin A can be a powerful communicator with skin cells and help to bring them to a more normal, youthful and healthy state. It is a regulator and helps to normalize DNA. With this powerful ingredient, you can reduce the signs of aging I mentioned above, help firm and thicken your skin, reduce the appearance of scarring, as well as improve all skin types, including acne-prone skin, and help your skin to act and look younger and more resilient.
With a Vitamin A routine, you can reverse the damage by helping your skin to produce healthier, younger cells more quickly. It will help to stimulate the production of collagen, which in turn helps to firm sagging skin. Healthier, more normal skin loves to produce collagen and will do so over time with continued use of Vitamin A. Vitamin A will also help your skin build elastin, which over time will produce thicker and more firm, healthy and younger looking skin overall. Your skins structural elements, like collagen and elastin, are readily available in the skin but will accumulate in greater number earlier on, like in your youth.
One of my biggest pieces of advice for you is to remember that Vitamin A is most effective when used over time for gradual and consistent results! You will see the results build over months and years, and you will not be disappointed if you learn how to use the products properly and you exercise patience. I like to tell my clients that for great results give yourself a year, and the longer you use Vitamin A the stronger, thicker and better your skin will look. It is a secret weapon against aging that you can use for life and the results will slowly increase the longer you use it! With the help of a daily SPF and other skin-feeding ingredients and anti-oxidants, your skin will age glowing and radiating.
One way I believe I have had so much success with Vitamin A use, is that I help clients to start with a handful of different kinds of Vitamin A, encourage them to start slow, and then increase the levels of their use over months and years to follow. I also always pair Vitamin A with a combination of many other anti-oxidants, vitamins, nutritional skin products, SPF and oils, and I encourage my clients to aim for a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle choices. This will assist in aging well, trust me!
One reason people fail at using Vitamin A - a powerful tool for your skin - is because they begin using it too fast. This almost always ends in a Retinoid or Vitamin A reaction. Signs and symptoms of a reaction can look like a breakout, or a thinning of the skin, flaking, redness, rash, irritation, cold sores on the lips (if you carry the virus and are prone to them), eye styes, inflammation, pus-filled lesions and more. When people see results like this, it's no wonder they become discouraged and think they have particularly sensitive skin or that Vitamin A is not for them. In most cases, this is not actually true and if they had begun their use slowly, they would have had a greater level of success and better results overall, while avoiding these nasty side effects of over-use. Vitamin A is best utilized over time in my opinion, for the best results. As I said earlier, commit to Vitamin A for a year or more and I am sure you will be very satisfied; that has been my experience and the experience of my clients. I wish you all the best with your aging process and incorporating Vitamin A into your skin care regime! Remember that if you unsure of how to approach introducing Vitamin A, ask one of our qualified and experienced Estheticians to custom-design a Vitamin A routine with you, based on your individual needs.