Vitamin A



Vitamin A at a glance

  • Also known as retinol
  • Has more than 70 years of research proving its anti-ageing abilities
  • Communicates with skin, telling it how to look and behave younger
  • Effective at several strengths
  • Is sensitive to light and air exposure

Vitamin A description

Retinol is the name for the entire vitamin A molecule. This powerhouse ingredient has more than 70 years of established studies showing it has value for skin on several fronts: It’s a skin-restoring, wrinkle-smoothing, firming and pore-refining ingredient and an antioxidant, allowing it to improve a variety of skin concerns, most related to visible signs of ageing. Retinol delivers its long list of visible results because of the way it uniquely communicates with skin cells and influences various pathways, effectively “telling” skin how to look and act younger. For instance, recent research shows retinol can jump-start skin’s production of hyaluronic acid, resulting in a plumper, more hydrated appearance. Packaging is a key issue, so any container that lets in air (like jar packaging) or sunlight (clear containers) just won’t cut it. Lots of retinol products come in unacceptable packaging; these should be avoided because the retinol will most likely be (or quickly become) ineffective. Only purchase retinol products sold in opaque, airless, or air-restrictive packaging. Many consumers are concerned about the percentage of retinol in anti-ageing products such as serums or moisturisers. Although the percentage can make a difference (larger amounts of retinol, generally considered 3% or higher, are used in clinical settings for more dramatic results), it’s not helpful in understanding how a retinol product will benefit your skin. Studies have shown even small amounts (as low as 0.01%) of retinol can make an impact in the appearance of visible signs of ageing. Far more important is the delivery system, packaging, and the other ingredients present with the retinol. Using a product with a range of anti-ageing ingredients plus retinol is far more valuable for skin than using a product with only a supposedly high percentage of retinol. Skin needs far more than any one ingredient can provide, however great that one ingredient may be. There are several myths about using retinol with other anti-ageing ingredients or products, such as those with vitamin C or exfoliants like glycolic acid.

Vitamin A references

  • Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2019, pages 918-923; and March 2015, pages 271-280
  • Experimental Dermatology, August 2019, pages 906-913
  • Archives of Dermatological Research, May 2017, pages 275-283
  • International Journal of Cosmetic Science, February 2017, pages 56-65
  • Dermatology, May 2014, pages 314-325
  • Dermatoendocrinology, July 2012, issue 3, pages 308-319
  • Toxicological Research, March 2010, pages 61-66
  • Archives of Dermatology, May 2007, pages 606-612
  • The Journal of Pathology, January 2007, issue 2, pages 241-251
  • Clinical Interventions in Aging, December 2006, pages 327-348

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not rated

We have not yet rated this ingredient because we have not had a chance to review the research on it.