There is no more vital vitamin for the skin than vitamin A. And there is no more frequently overlooked application for vitamin A creams in skin care than removing wrinkles.
Vitamin A is basic for normal skin growth. It “flips the switch” for certain genes inside skin cells to start making the collagen that keeps skin smooth. It helps skin cells mature and it helps them fight infection. The fat under the skin collects vitamin A and releases it as it is needed for healthy skin growth.
Vitamin A is the basis for four of the best known medications for acne, Accutane, Retin-A, Differin, and Tazorac. These drugs are chemically potentiated formulations of vitamin A that were originally developed for treating acne. They cause the skin to grow so fast that it literally pulls away from deep, painful, pus-filled acne cysts without lancing or surgery.
These medications can be the answer for otherwise untreatable acne, but they are not without problems of their own. The skin that is cleared of cysts promptly gets filled with blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Users have to be very careful to avoid sunburn. Some people experience liver damage or severe depression, and, in the USA, women taking these drugs are required to use not just one but two forms of contraception because of the risk of birth defects.
Since all of these products have been on the market for a long time, the drug companies started looking for new reasons for doctors to prescribe them. About ten years ago, the anti-acne drug Accutane was reformulated and repackaged as an anti-wrinkle cream called Renova.
Renova is a kinder, gentler version of the anti-acne drug. The maker of this medication states that it will remove the kind of wrinkles around the eyes known as “crow’s feet,” but not any larger wrinkles, and that the results may not last more than 12 months after the user discontinues the drug. This 0.02% solution of the active ingredient in Accutane is not dangerous for women who might get pregnant, won’t cause liver damage, and isn’t linked to suicidal depression. On the other hand, nearly everyone who uses it experiences dryness, redness, itching, and irritation.
The Procter & Gamble Company, which makes vitamin products, decided to test the idea that “ordinary” vitamin A might really work just as well for wrinkle reduction without the inflammation that Renova causes.
Medical researchers hired by Procter & Gamble recruited 196 women who had fine lines and wrinkles around their eyes. For eight weeks these women were asked to use Olay Foaming Face Wash as desired for cleansing the skin, and also to use Olay Complete All Day Moisturizing Lotion twice a day in place of their regular skin care products.
After this preparatory period, the women were randomly assigned to two groups. The 99 women in the test group were given a wrinkle cream that contained the amino acid carnosine, two kinds of protein that plump up when they come in contact with moisture on the face, a B vitamin derivative called niacinamide, and a form of vitamin A called retinyl propionate. This form of vitamin A is stronger than the retinyl palmitate that is more frequently used in skin creams, but it is not as irritating as Accutane or Retin-A.
The women in the test group were asked to use this anti-wrinkle product every night. They were also given an antioxidant-enriched SPF 30 sunblock to use during the day.
The 97 women in the control group were given Renova and sunblock. These women were asked to use Renova every other night for two weeks and then to use it every night. These women were given an SPF 30 sunblock made by Neutrogena, which also packages Renova. To minimize the risk of birth defects, women of reproductive age who took Renova were also asked to submit a urine sample for a pregnancy test once a month. Both groups of women were told to use the treatments on any parts of the face they thought needed treatment.
The results of treatment were not immediate. Neither group of women had less wrinkling at the end of two months. Only some of the women in both groups had less wrinkling at the end of four months. About 41% of the women used Renova had fewer wrinkles after four months. About 58% of the women who used the vitamin A and niacinamide cream had fewer wrinkles at the end of the four-month test period.
A few of the women enjoyed dramatic improvement in the appearance of their skin. The disappearance of more than two “crow’s feet” was considered an outstanding result.
About 11% of the women who had used Renova had two or three fewer lines around the lines after four months, but 28% of the women who had used vitamin A had this level of improvement in just four months. Without laser ablation, without chemical peels, without dermabrasion or microdermabrasion.
And what about side effects? Vitamin A benefits clearly outweighed those of the prescription medication. Not only did more women using vitamin A cream enjoy wrinkle reduction, but the vitamin A creams made their skin moister, especially after the first 8 weeks. (These benefits were probably due to the carnosine and peptides in the formula, not the vitamin A.) Women who took Accutane treatment started the experiment with dry skin and ended the experiment with dry skin.
If your dermatologist suggests that you try Renova for wrinkled skin, ask if the doctor can’t recommend a vitamin A cream first. You are less likely to suffer drying, reddening, itch, or irritation, and you are more likely to lose fine lines around the eyes. No wrinkle cream will dissolve deep creases in the skin of the face, but vitamin A creams made with retinyl propionate work as well as much more expensie products. You will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and you may have softer, moister, suppler skin.
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