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More and more cosmetic products contain vitamin A. Most of them are anti-ageing creams. Most of these are anti-ageing creams that are supposed to slow down the ageing process of the skin. However, vitamin A creams are also known to treat blemished skin, pigmentation spots and sun damage. If you are unsure about the alleged effects, you should read on.
We have conducted a vitamin A cream test 2021 to give you all the information you need on the subject. Apart from the scientific background on the effects, you will also learn about the correct application. In addition, we explain what to look for when buying a vitamin A cream.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 The most important facts in a nutshell
- 3 The Best Vitamin A Cream: Our Picks
- 4 Buying and evaluation criteria for vitamin A creams
- 5 Guide: Frequently asked questions about vitamin A creams answered in detail
- 5.1 What is vitamin A cream and how does it work?
- 5.2 When and for whom is the use of a vitamin A cream useful?
- 5.3 What types of vitamin A are there and which one is right for you?
- 5.4 How should a vitamin A cream be used?
- 5.5 What are the side effects of vitamin A cream?
- 5.6 What are the alternatives to vitamin A cream?
- 5.7 Is it harmful to use vitamin A cream during pregnancy?
- 5.8 Does a vitamin A cream require a prescription?
The most important facts in a nutshell
- A vitamin A cream promotes the regeneration and growth process of the cells. Thus, it slows down the ageing process of the skin and reduces pigmentation spots as well as sun damage. In addition, vitamin A cream is used to combat blemished skin.
- Basically, you should start with a low vitamin A concentration and gradually integrate the vitamin A cream into your facial care. Over time, the concentration as well as the frequency of application can be increased.
- Due to the anti-ageing effect, the use of vitamin A cream should only be started from the age of 25. To be on the safe side, the use of vitamin A creams should be avoided during pregnancy.
The Best Vitamin A Cream: Our Picks
With so many vitamin A creams to choose from, you're sure to find one that works best for you. To make the buying process a little easier for you, we will present our favourites below.
Buying and evaluation criteria for vitamin A creams
When buying a vitamin A cream, you can look at different aspects, such as:
By making the right choice for you, you can save money and also ensure that you do not give your body anything it does not need. Therefore, always look for high quality and, if necessary, ask to see the manufacturer's certificates.
Vitamin A concentration
When using a vitamin A cream or also called retinol cream, you should pay attention to the correct dosage.
Basically, it is recommended to start with a low retinol concentration. Over time, this can be increased if the skin has proven to be well tolerated. High concentrations are not recommended, especially for sensitive skin areas such as the eye area.
It is recommended to start with a low concentration of retinol.
Low-dose products contain between 0.01 and 0.04 % retinol. In Germany, the retinol concentration of over-the-counter cosmetic products is limited to a maximum of 0.3 %.
High-dose versions such as vitamin A acid creams can contain from 0.5 to 1 % retinol, which is why they require a prescription. However, side effects are more likely with very high-dose products.
The ingredients of a vitamin A cream can vary. It is important to check that it really does contain retinol.
In addition, pay attention to the cream base used. This determines how well the active ingredients can be absorbed into the skin. The body's own base of pure phosphatidylcholine is suitable. Natural fat sources such as neutral oil or shea butter are helpful. In contrast, a mineral oil base is rather disadvantageous.
Many vitamin A cream products contain other ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil, green tea or aloe vera. It is also possible to buy vitamin A creams with additional vitamin C, vitamin B3 or vitamin E. The combination of several active ingredients enhances the effect of the vitamin A cream.
Skin tolerance depends strongly on the concentration. Low-dose products are better tolerated than highly concentrated vitamin A creams. In most cases, sensitive skin types can also use a low concentration retinol cream.
You should start with a mild vitamin A cream and gradually integrate it into your skin care routine. However, we recommend testing the vitamin A cream for skin compatibility. To do this, apply a small amount of cream to one area of skin for a few days in a row. No skin irritations should occur.
It is also possible to seek the opinion of a dermatologist or pharmacist to make sure you find the right dosage for you.
The retinol in vitamin A creams is mostly synthetically produced, which makes these products vegan. However, it is possible that the active ingredient is produced from animal liver or from certain vegetables.
Product labels such as natural cosmetics, vegan or organic provide you with information about the production method. In addition, cosmetic seals such as Leaping Bunny, NATURE or Fairtrade help you to find the right products. The main focus is on animal-free, natural and fair production.
Guide: Frequently asked questions about vitamin A creams answered in detail
What is vitamin A cream and how does it work?
Vitamin A is mainly found in animal foods. Certain vegetables such as carrots, peppers, tomatoes or broccoli contain beta-carotene (provitamin A), which is a precursor of vitamin A and is converted when needed.
Basically, vitamin A promotes the regeneration and growth process of the cells. It also has benefits for the health of the skin, mucous membranes and eyes. With the help of a vitamin A cream, vitamin A is absorbed through the skin and acts directly on the affected area.
In most cases, vitamin A cream is used because of its well-known anti-ageing effect. The vitamin A contained slows down the ageing process, as it can prevent skin ageing in the form of wrinkles, among other things, and can even repair them if necessary. (2, 3)
Collagen is an important component of healthy skin. It gives the connective tissue suppleness and flexibility of the skin, so that fewer wrinkles appear. The retinol contained in the vitamin A cream activates collagen formation and inhibits so-called degradation enzymes. This results in less wrinkle depth. (4)
Effect against impure skin
Vitamin A creams are also used to combat blemished skin and acne. Most of these are vitamin A acid products that contain high doses of tretinoin. It promotes the production of healthy skin cells and regulates their functions.
Regular use of a vitamin A acid cream helps with skin renewal. This loosens thickened and superfluous calluses and balances sebum production. Tretinoin helps to reduce and prevent the formation of pimples. In addition, it has an anti-inflammatory effect to prevent the reappearance of acne. (5, 6)
Due to the high concentration of a vitamin A acid cream, they require a prescription. If you suffer from acne, you should consult your dermatologist for advice on which treatment is best for you.
Effects against pigmentation spots and sun damage
Another benefit of vitamin A cream is the possible reduction of pigmentation spots and sun damage to the skin.
Due to the exfoliating effect of this vitamin A cream, the top layer of skin becomes more even and finer. At the same time, pigment spots as well as pimple marks can be lightened slightly. This product can also be used to prevent the formation of pigmentation spots and hyperpigmentation. (7, 8)
When and for whom is the use of a vitamin A cream useful?
Because of its anti-ageing effect, vitamin A cream should only be started after the age of 25. As we age, our skin also begins to age. The production of collagen decreases, which reduces the elasticity of the skin and the first wrinkles appear. To prevent or correct these, many people use a vitamin A cream.
Basically, anyone can use a vitamin A cream. However, sensitive skin types should avoid products with too high a vitamin A concentration and should first talk to a dermatologist. Men can also use vitamin A creams. There are also special products for men.
The use of vitamin A creams is not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Despite some studies, it is still undecided whether retinoids really have negative effects on pregnancy (9), but it cannot be ruled out. Especially high-dose products with vitamin A acid could harm the unborn child.
What types of vitamin A are there and which one is right for you?
Vitamin A creams usually contain retinol, which can promote the formation of new cells and collagen production. However, there are different concentrations of retinol, which we have listed in the following table.
|Retinol ester||Precursor of retinol, Converts to retinol in the body, Weaker effect, Gentler on the skin|
|Retinol||Converts to tretinoin in the body, Retinol concentration up to 0.3 % available without prescription|
|Tretinoin||Active form of retinol, Also called vitamin A acid or retinoic acid, Used as a medication against acne, Available without prescription|
We recommend a low-dose vitamin A cream to reduce the risk of skin irritation. This is because too high a concentration of vitamin A could be harmful to the skin.
Products containing retinol esters also work well and are gentler on the skin (8). To make sure that you tolerate the vitamin A cream, you should first try it out on one area of the skin for a few days.
To make it easier to understand the different types, we have explained them in more detail below.
Retinol ester is the preliminary stage of retinol. It is only converted in the body through chemical reactions. The effect of retinol ester is somewhat weaker than that of pure retinol. Therefore, these products are gentler on the skin and cause fewer side effects.
Basically, a high concentration of retinol should be avoided. Especially sensitive skin types or skin areas like the eye area should be treated with a low retinol concentration.
Pure retinol is first converted into retinal (retinaldehyde) and then into vitamin A acid (tretinoin). Tretinoin is the active form of retinol. In Germany, pure retinol up to 0.3 % is available without prescription.
Lower concentrations are recommended because they are gentler on the skin. Higher concentrations are more effective, but they can irritate your skin.
The active version of retinol is tretinoin or vitamin A acid. When applied topically, it can be very irritating to the skin. For this reason, cosmetic products do not contain tretinoin.
Vitamin A acid creams are usually used as a medicine for acne and is therefore only available with a prescription at a pharmacy.
How should a vitamin A cream be used?
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends not using cosmetic vitamin A creams with more than 0.3% retinol concentration. Otherwise, the maximum amount of vitamin A considered safe for daily use will be exceeded (1).
To be sure that your skin can tolerate the active ingredient in the vitamin A cream, you should first do a test. To do this, apply some of the face cream to a small area of skin and wait for your skin to react. If you are unsure, you should ask a dermatologist or pharmacist for advice.
Basically, you should start with a low vitamin A concentration and gradually integrate the vitamin A cream into your facial care. Over time, you can increase the concentration and the frequency of application.
Vitamin A creams are applied either in the morning or in the evening. The skin becomes more sensitive to UV radiation due to the retinol it contains, which is why light protection should always be applied. When using a day cream, you should choose a product with SPF. A night cream is recommended so that the active ingredients can be absorbed by the skin undisturbed.
What are the side effects of vitamin A cream?
Redness and irritation often appear at the beginning of the use of a vitamin A cream, but these should subside after a few days. The skin is also more sensitive to UV rays, which is why the use of a sun protection factor is necessary.
The skin absorbs only a very small amount of retinol via the use of an appropriately concentrated vitamin A cream, which is why an overdose is rather unlikely.
The higher the concentration of the vitamin A cream, the more irritated the skin becomes. While a vitamin A cream with a low retinol content rather rarely causes side effects, the risk of skin intolerance is higher with creams containing tretinoin.
Especially when using a vitamin A acid cream, flaking, dryness and dermatitis (7) often occur. Once the skin gets used to the active ingredient, the side effects should subside. Often during treatment of acne, it will get worse before it gets better.
What are the alternatives to vitamin A cream?
|Vitamin C||Vitamin C counts as an alternative to pure retinol. A 2015 study found that it also promotes skin regeneration and collagen structure (13).|
|Hyaluronic acid||Many cosmetic products contain hyaluronic acid, which is a substance produced naturally in the body. A common cause of skin ageing is lack of moisture. In 2011, a study proved that hyaluronic acid improves skin hydration and elasticity (14). Hyaluronic acid and vitamin A are often combined in a face cream.|
|Rosehip oil||Rosehip oil or also called rosehip oil is considered a natural retinol alternative. A 2006 study found that it contains vitamin A acid. However, in a low concentration of 0.01 to 0.03 % (15). Rosehip oil is therefore well suited for sensitive skin.|
|Bakuchiol||Studies on the active ingredient bakuchiol have brought new insights. This can be compared to the anti-aging effects of retinol and is better tolerated (16). Also in 2014, a study found that the use of a bakuchiol cream improved wrinkles, skin elasticity and firmness, and sun damage (17).|
Each alternative has its advantages and disadvantages. Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid in particular are already widely used. If you are looking for a natural retinol alternative, rosehip oil would be a possibility. The active ingredient bakuchiol has not been used for very long, but is said to be a better tolerated alternative to retinol.
Is it harmful to use vitamin A cream during pregnancy?
With the help of a study, it was investigated whether there is an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes when taking topical retinoids. No direct correlation was found (9). Another study has made similar findings (10).
Even though only a small amount of retinol is absorbed through the skin when using cosmetic products (11), the risk cannot be completely excluded. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid vitamin A cream for safety reasons.
Does a vitamin A cream require a prescription?
With a higher concentration, the maximum amount of retinol equivalents considered safe would be exceeded with the additional intake through cosmetics (1). Cosmetic vitamin A creams with a maximum of 0.3 % retinol are available without prescription in Germany.
In contrast, a vitamin A acid cream is considered a medicine due to the high concentration of tretinoin. Since it clearly influences the skin structure, a vitamin A acid cream must be prescribed by a doctor (12). This is because the risk of side effects increases with increasing vitamin A concentration and could thus harm the skin.
Image source: Thongjiew / 123rf
Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, Stellungnahmen des BfR über Vitamin A: Aufnahme über kosmetische Mittel sollte begrenzt werden, Stellungnahme Nr. 005/2014, Berlin, Januar 2014
Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019 Aug;36(4):392-397. doi: 10.5114/ada.2019.87443. Epub 2019 Aug 30. PMID: 31616211; PMCID: PMC6791161.
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Harper JC, Baldwin H, Stein Gold L, Guenin E. Efficacy and Tolerability of a Novel Tretinoin 0.05% Lotion for the Once-Daily Treatment of Moderate or Severe Acne Vulgaris in Adult Females. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019 Nov 1;18(11):1147-1154. PMID: 31741360.
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Rawlings AV, Stephens TJ, Herndon JH, Miller M, Liu Y, Lombard K. The effect of a vitamin A palmitate and antioxidant-containing oil-based moisturizer on photodamaged skin of several body sites. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2013 Mar;12(1):25-35. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12023. PMID: 23438139.
Kaplan YC, Ozsarfati J, Etwel F, Nickel C, Nulman I, Koren G. Pregnancy outcomes following first-trimester exposure to topical retinoids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Dermatol. 2015 Nov;173(5):1132-41. doi: 10.1111/bjd.14053. Epub 2015 Oct 19. PMID: 26215715.
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Yourick JJ, Jung CT, Bronaugh RL. In vitro and in vivo percutaneous absorption of retinol from cosmetic formulations: significance of the skin reservoir and prediction of systemic absorption. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2008 Aug 15;231(1):117-21. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2008.04.006. Epub 2008 Apr 20. PMID: 18511092.
AMVV Anlage 1 zu § 1 Nr. 1 und § 5
Stoffe und Zubereitungen nach § 1 Nr. 1
Crisan D, Roman I, Crisan M, Scharffetter-Kochanek K, Badea R. The role of vitamin C in pushing back the boundaries of skin aging: an ultrasonographic approach. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:463-470. Published 2015 Sep 2. doi:10.2147/CCID.S84903
Pavicic T, Gauglitz GG, Lersch P, Schwach-Abdellaoui K, Malle B, Korting HC, Farwick M. Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. J Drugs Dermatol. 2011 Sep;10(9):990-1000. PMID: 22052267.
Concha, J., Soto, C., Chamy, R. et al. Effect of rosehip extraction process on oil and defatted meal physicochemical properties. J Amer Oil Chem Soc 83, 771–775 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11746-006-5013-2
Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, Notay M, Trivedi M, Burney W, Vaughn AR, Nguyen M, Reiter P, Bosanac S, Yan H, Foolad N, Sivamani RK. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019 Feb;180(2):289-296. doi: 10.1111/bjd.16918. Epub 2018 Sep 21. PMID: 29947134.
Chaudhuri RK, Bojanowski K. Bakuchiol: a retinol-like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014 Jun;36(3):221-30. doi: 10.1111/ics.12117. Epub 2014 Mar 6. PMID: 24471735.