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By Dr. Chiachi Hsu



A: Vitamin A is a group of highly nutritious organic compounds. They are essential nutrients for the body with different parts requiring different forms of vitamin A. For example, retinal is important for your eyes, and retinol is involved in embryonic development. Retinoic acid is most relevant to dermatologists because it is the only vitamin A ingredient that can kick in while activating the epidermal cells.  

Vitamin A is fat-soluble. It is stored in the form of retinyl palmitate in the body, but has to be metabolized into retinol, then retinal, and lastly, into retinoic acid to become useful to the skin. So what are the effects of retinoic acid on the skin? To begin with, it can promote the growth and differentiation of the epidermal cells from the stratum basale so that the stratum corneum is more orderly layered. It also assists in the removal of old and dead skin cells, making the skin look smoother and glowing. Next, retinoic acid can reach further down to activate fibroblasts so as to help the synthesis of collagen and protect collagen and elastin from being easily destroyed by the sun. As a result, retinoic acid can improve problems such as the thinning of the skin and loss of elasticity caused by aging. As for brightening skin tone, retinoic acid can inhibit melanin production, making the skin look clearer and illuminating while improving spots. Since it can inhibit the sebaceous gland from secreting excessive sebum, retinoic acid is also known for controlling oily skin and resisting acne. 

You may wonder why it is not retinoic acid that is being added to skincare products, since it’s the only vitamin A ingredient active in the skin and with so many benefits. Why is retinol grabbing all the attention instead? This is mainly because retinoic acid is very irritating and can only be used with the advice of dermatologists or other specialists. Restrained by regulations, retinoic acid cannot be incorporated into at-home treatment. As previously mentioned, the conversion order of different forms of vitamin A into retinoic acid is: retinyl palmitate → retinol → retinal → retinoic acid; the fewer the steps, the more effective, but also more irritating and unstable. Retinyl palmitate due to a longest conversion pathway is the mildest and serves better as a supporting role; retinal causes strong irritation and was previously patent-protected, so it has not been widely applied. And thus, it comes down to retinol with potency and irritation in between retinyl palmitate and retinal. No wonder retinol has stood out in recent years. 





A: Lots of retinol products on the market specify concentration levels. I actually find concentration to be less of a consideration. Of course, the active ingredients of a product need to reach a certain concentration to be effective, but the product’s base material and packaging are equally important. For example, acidic ingredients such as mandelic acid might seem impressive when it accounts for 20%, 25%, or even 30% of a product. Yet, if the product itself has a pH value that is not acidic enough, however high the concentration is, the result it can deliver is still greatly reduced. The same goes for retinol. Since retinol is a fat-soluble ingredient, the product’s base material should contain oil and should be more nourishing. If the product’s texture is watery, such as the texture of a toner or watery serum, the retinol within is probably not able to deliver much of its effects. Furthermore, retinol is very unstable. The packaging has to be opaque and airless so that retinol does not become ineffective due to oxidation and light degradation.    

According to current regulations, there’s no max limit to the concentration level of retinol in skincare products, but usually the effective strength ranges from 0.1% to 1%. DR.WU’s new release of the next-generation Tri-Retinoid is featuring a pretty high strength at 1.5%, even though it is a combination of three ingredients: retinyl palmitate, retinol, and retinal. Another key point to observe is the product’s color. The color of retinol’s raw material should be a pale yellow. If the product’s color is also a pale yellow, it is probably more effective; if it is white or transparent, it might be because the concentration is too low, or too many colorants are added and covered the original color.