What is Vitamin A?


Without needing a science degree, Vitamin A is simply a group of fat-soluble, organic compounds derived from plants and animals. For the purposes of skin health, we are most interested in Retinoids, a type of Vitamin A compound that is bioavailable, meaning they have an immediate effect on the skin. 

This wonder ingredient has a long history; in fact during the First World War that it was discovered that a deficiency in Vitamin A can result in dry, rough, scaly and congested skin. Since then, much research has gone into developing its derivatives to improve efficacy and safety in the use of medicines and cosmetics.  


You may sometimes hear skincare specialists refer to Retinoids as belonging to different generations.

1st Generation: Tretinoin, Isotretinoin, Retinaldehyde, Retinol (+ esters) 

2nd Generation: Atretinate and Acitretin

3rd Generation: Adapalene, Tazarotene, Motretinide.

Again, in respect of skin health, we are mostly concerned about first and third generation Retinoids as they are more flexible in their ability to bind to the majority of skin cell receptors. This makes them beneficial for treating a wide range of skin concerns like hyperpigmentation, post inflammatory pigmentation, acne and  fine lines and wrinkles.


Our skin cells have receptors which Retinoids can bind to and stimulate our DNA to encourage healthy skin cell regeneration and the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid which both hydrates the skin internally and boosts structural support. 

Within the Retinoid family the key player is Retinoic Acid;  it’s the most bioavailable form, going straight to work when applied to the skin. All other forms of Retinoids need to be converted into Retinoic Acid before your skin can realise their benefits. This conversion process weakens their overall strength, therefore prolonging the time in which you will see results. 

This is not a bad thing! Slow and steady wins the race. For most users, Vitamin A sit within the skin maintenance category, so there really isn’t any need to use high strength Retinoids. Those should be saved for people suffering from chronic skin conditions like severe acne. 
— Black Skin Directory


Our body is able to produce collagen and elastin needed to build up and support our skin naturally, however, this production typically starts to slow down from the age of twenty-five. So long as you have no medical restrictions, using topical retinoids will preserve and renew these vital corner stones of healthy skin as well as have positive effects treating skin conditions acne, psoriasis, uneven skin tone and texture, photodamage (e.g. hyperpigmentation) and in some cases even rosacea (which yes, can affect darker skin too!). 

They can be found in varying formulations and strengths so there’s something for everyone, from the beginners to the more experienced retinoid users.

Prescription oral and topical retinoids are prescribed to those with severe skin conditions such as cystic acne by a GP or Dermatologist and must be used under their supervision. Check out our practitioners if you need to speak to a professional. 

If you’re pregnant, trying to conceive and/or breastfeeding, the general advice is to avoid retinoids as they have the potential to cause harm to your child.


Absolutely, yes!

  • Retinoids are truly the royal family of skincare and their profound effects on the skin make them a gold standard skincare ingredient.

  • They support the superficial and deeper layers of the skin through regulating and normalising skin cell turnover, strengthening the structure of the skin and boosting volume.

  • They reduce inflammation in the skin and actively help to disperse and fade hyperpigmentation. They are the ultimate tyrosinase inhibitors. Refresh yourself here.

It’s safe to say that retinoids are skincare all-rounders, which can be slotted into any skincare regime for long term skin health benefits! And because it comes in various formulations from oil to creams to gel and in various strengths, there’s something for everyone!


Yes, absolutely!

The key is to build up your use gently over a period of time to build up your skins tolerance. Overuse, too fast and too soon can cause inflammation and irritation of the skin which can then cause hyperpigmentation and dark patches.

It’s best to start using a just a couple of times a week, increasing your use slowly until you are able to use it everyday. 

Want to know which Vitamin A is right for you? Check out the BSD Edit.

Need more help?

Tell us about your current skincare regime and our team of Aestheticians will do a bespoke recommendation for you.