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What Is Retinol A?

What Is Retinol A? What Is Retinol A?


Retinol, sometimes referred to as retinol A, is a chemical compound found in animal sources of vitamin A, such as dairy products, eggs, liver and kidneys. In the body, vitamin A is critical for vision, reproduction and bone and cell growth. Retinol is available in both natural and synthetic forms.

Natural Sources of Retinol

Animal products provide significant amounts of retinol. According to the National Institute on Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, animal foods such as whole eggs, liver and milk (including fat-free and dried milk fortified with vitamin A) are good sources of vitamin A. For example, 3 oz. of cooked beef liver provides 27,185 IU of vitamin A (545 percent of the daily value), whereas 1 cup of skim milk provides 500 IU (10 percent of the daily value). Fortified breakfast cereals; vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach; and fruit such as citrus and cantaloupes also contribute vitamin A to a person's diet. Adult males should consume 900mcg (3,000 IU) of vitamin A daily, and adult women need 700mcg (2,310 IU) for good health.

Synthetic Retinol

Manmade, or synthetic, retinol often appears as an ingredient in skin products. Because retinol assists in the growth and death of skin cells, a process called cell turnover, applying it topically can improve skin's texture and appearance. Manufacturers sometimes refer to these topical retinols as cosmeceuticals, and they may be available in over-the-counter and prescription forms, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Benefits for Skin

Applying vitamin A to the skin can reduce the appearance of fine lines and improve skin texture, which is why skin care manufacturers often include retinol in cosmetic products. Even less potent retinol formulations appear to benefit skin. A 2007 study reported on the website Journal Watch Dermatology found that people 80 or older who applied mild retinol creams to their skin three times weekly for six months experienced less wrinkling, less roughness and reduced effects of aging.

Other Health Benefits

In addition to retinol's benefits for skin disorders, other health conditions improve with the use of retinol, reports the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Eye disorders related to vitamin A deficiency, including dry eye (xerophthalmia) and a buildup of the connective tissue keratin (a disorder called Bitot's spot), improve when vitamin A is added to the diet. In patients with the genetic eye disorder retinitis pigmentosa, taking retinol can reduce vision loss. Doctors also use retinol to treat a type of cancer called acute promyelocytic leukemia.


The American Academy of Dermatology warns that using retinol A improperly could result in peeling, dry skin and general skin irritation. Patients should always follow the directions on cosmetics that contain retinol to avoid these complications. In addition, ingesting too much vitamin A can be dangerous, causing problems such as headache, dizziness and fatigue. Patients taking blood thinners such as warfarin or prescription retinoids may be advised to avoid eating foods rich in vitamin A or taking retinol supplements.

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