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Vitamin A: The Superhero of Skincare

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: Could something as simple as vitamin A really be the answer to your skincare woes?
Air Date: 12/17/14
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Rachael Eckel, MD
Rachel EcklA native of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Rachael Eckel completed her medical training at the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She graduated from her program with Honours, and accrued six revered first place medals for outstanding academic achievements.

Dr. Eckel began her career in dermatology through the eminent St. Bartholomew’s and the London School of Medicine, where she received a distinction in her dissertation on leprosy and its history in the Caribbean. She further completed her American Board Certification in aesthetic medicine, graduating first in her class. Through her excellence, Dr. Eckel was nominated onto this academy’s Faculty; to teach and examine physicians worldwide in skincare and cosmetic medicine advances. Dr. Eckel remains the youngest doctor to ever achieve such esteemed membership.

Dr. Eckel has participated in several international cosmetic dermatology fellowships, at world-renowned institutions including the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Harvard University, Oxford University, and Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Eckel has also privately trained under Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos, Dr. Rox Anderson, and Dr. Michel Delune, the most influential and respected clinicians in cosmetic medicine and laser technology. In doing so, Dr. Eckel has learned and perfected the most pioneering aesthetic techniques worldwide.
  • Guest Twitter Account: @rachaeleckel
Vitamin A: The Superhero of Skincare
Your skin is such an important element of your overall health. But, aside from that, it's also the most visible of your organs, and, as a result, most likely to cause you angst in a cosmetic respect.

How can you keep your skin healthy and young-looking?

Dr. Rachael Eckel has a two-word answer: vitamin A.

But, does vitamin A really work that well?

If you imagine all cells within the skin... all layers, all the individual functions and the intricate interactions that occur on a daily basis, and then you add in the common enemies like disease, aging, pollution, and the sun, is it really possible for one topical agent like vitamin A to target all of the skin cells, maximize their functions, synchronize these functions while also simultaneously reversing the aforementioned evils?

"Absolutely," says Dr. Eckel. "That's why vitamin A gets my superhero mark of distinction."

Can you get the same benefits simply by taking a vitamin A supplement? Or, must you incorporate vitamin A into your skincare products?

In terms of skin care and skin health, the topical form of vitamin A is going to be the most beneficial. Orally, you can get vitamin A from foods like liver, spinach, eggs, and carrots (just to name a few). However, even if you eat a diet that is very rich in vitamin A, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll see the benefits of vitamin A on your skin.

Why is this?

When you eat foods rich in vitamin A, your body distributes the nutrient to your muscles, bones, liver and brain; only a small, nominal amount actually gets delivered to the skin. The most visible cutaneous benefits that you receive from topical vitamin A cannot be realized through your diet.

So, what are the topical forms that are available?

There are many different formulations for topical vitamin A, but the two most common are retinoic acid (RA), which is a prescription topical and retinol which can be found in over-the-counter products.

Does one work better than the other?

It all depends on what your skin needs. RA is often used if a patient has diseased skin (e.g. acne, rosacea) or if you really want to pack a strong punch against aging; for instance, if you have lots of sun damage or deep lines and wrinkles. Retinol has a much broader scope of applications, including anti-aging, daily skin care, and maintenance after RA. Retinol also is more gentle and can be used long-term, whereas RA is more of a short-term solution.

What are some of the ways retinol and RA work?

  • Improves cellular turnover
  • Improves texture of the skin
  • Softens skin
  • Boosts the durability of the skin (makes it stronger and more tolerant to the environment, especially in colder months)
  • Produces smaller, tighter pores
  • Prevents breakouts
  • Improves color (gives you a more homogenous tone)

The anti-aging benefits are unquestionable, as these remedies both preserve and boost the production of collagen and elastin in the dermis and thus smooth out lines and wrinkles.

Are there any side effects from using either of these options?

Some people experience redness and/or peeling after using a vitamin A topical formulation.

Any time that you use vitamin A in a high concentration, therapeutic way with the goal of achieving clinical gains, you're most likely going to have an element of redness, dryness and flaking initially. RA typically results in these symptoms lasting for 4-6 weeks, whereas retinol's effects are much milder and only last 2-3 weeks on average.

You can improve the redness, dryness and peeling by slowly introducing these vitamin A topicals into your regimen. For example, you might use it once a week for the first two weeks, twice a week for the next two weeks, three times for the next two weeks, and so on and so forth until you build up very gradually to daily application.

Listen in as Dr. Eckel joins Andrea and Lisa to share more about vitamin A's benefits for your skin, as well as which vitamin A option might be the best for you.