Dr Des Fernandes, founder of Environ, tells us why vitamin A will always remain essential for treating photo-ageing.
Vitamin A was “discovered” approximately 100 years ago. By 1930 Sulzberger, an American physician known for his major contribution to dermatology, proposed that, because the vitamin A molecule was so sensitive to light, a localised vitamin A deficiency might be responsible for wrinkled skin, which is seen only on areas exposed to sunlight.
The first reference to the anti-ageing effects of vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) was published in 1954, yet it was ignored, probably because people expected the benefits to be immediately visible, whereas changes only became apparent after prolonged use
Sun induced localised vitamin A deficiency
Every time we go out into light we start destroying the vitamin A in our skin, so we lose vitamin A from our skin every day. In the upper layers of the skin, just below the horny layer, vitamin A is concentrated and acts as a functional natural sunscreen that protects us from UVA as well as UVB.
It is in more or less the same area of the epidermis where vitamin D is manufactured, but the interesting thing about vitamin A is that while it is a sunscreen, it does not interfere with the UVB rays that manufacture vitamin D.
In addition, vitamin A is also found in the deeper parts of the skin where our collagen and elastin are found. This area can only be reached by UVA rays. Vitamin A also absorbs the energy of UVA rays in the deeper dermis. Standard sunscreens do not give sufficient UVA protection so the addition of vitamin A gives added UVA protection.
Unfortunately, the absorption of UVA and UVB rays has a downside: the stores of vitamin A are fairly rapidly depleted and that has important metabolic consequences – it leads to a loss of vitamin A effects in the nucleus and DNA of the cell where it is utterly important for 1,000 genes. You can get some idea of the importance of vitamin A if you understand that there are 20,000 genes in your body. Vitamin A controls five per cent of our body’s genes.
Interestingly, vitamin D works intensively with vitamin A and controls about 4,000 genes so these two vitamins have a massive influence on the healthy function of the gene pool in our bodies.
How to ensure our skin remains rich in vitamin A
We need a safe and secure way to store vitamin A because the body needs it every second of the day. If we get more sun than usual, or if the skin is injured, then we need more vitamin A than normal.
Vitamin A is stored in a special chemical form (called an ester) mainly as retinyl palmitate (RP). It does not matter what type of cosmetic vitamin A you apply to the skin, virtually all of it is converted into the storage form within a very short time. When our body needs it, stored vitamin A is