Understanding vitamins and their benefits, limitations and even dangers is a bit like understanding a family. You may not have a problem with your child hanging out with Bobby Jones, Martha Jones or Susan Jones -- but little Jim Jones ... he's another story. They're all Joneses, but they also have different individual names, characteristics and liabilities. In the same way, addressing the issue of sun exposure while taking vitamin A requires a little examination and explanation.
A vitamin is something made by an animal or plant that's essential to your health and growth [source: Teens Health]. Vitamin A is really a broad nickname for an organic group of compounds that aid in eye and immune system functions and the healthy growth and development of skin [source: WebMD]. It would be more accurate to call it by one of its scientific names but antixerophthalmic vitamin and 3-dehydroretinol just don't roll off the tongue. Retinol and Retin A -- which are typically used as cosmetic and anti-aging or acne treatments -- are chemical alterations of vitamin A. These vitamin-A derivatives have the potential to make your skin more sensitive to sunlight [source: Estridge; Yerman].
Doctors recommend that people using substances containing either retinol or Retin A avoid extended periods in the sun and that they make certain to apply sunscreen [source: Wiegman]. But even these two manipulated forms of vitamin A are different from each other, and those differences can have a big impact on your level of sensitivity to the sun's rays [source: Estridge].
Though retinol and Retin A's names are quite similar, it's easy to understand which is which and why one may be fine for you and the other less than ideal. Click ahead to learn more.
Retinol versus Retin A
Retinol and Retin A are both commonly used to improve the look, feel and overall health of your skin. Sometimes they're marketed as anti-aging creams, other times as powerful acne treatments. Retinol tends to be milder and less dramatic in terms of its benefits and its risks. In fact, retinol can be purchased over the counter, but Retin A is only available with a doctor's prescription [source: Estridge].
While retinol and Retin A can both create sensitivity to sunlight, Retin A is more often associated with higher levels of sensitivity; it is considered by dermatologists to be a strong drug [source: Estridge]. Because it exfoliates, your skin may be more susceptible to burning.
The key word to keep in mind when using either of these vitamin A derivatives is caution. Prolonged exposure to the sun is inviting trouble. Talk with your dermatologist before receiving a prescription for Retin A. Even if you use only retinol -- the over-the-counter product -- sunscreen is recommended. The minimum SPF should be 30 [source: Yerman].
Vitamin A, in general, is highly safe and even vital to your health. It's found in plants and animals, and only those in extremely undeveloped countries tend to lack enough vitamin A in their diets [source: Medical News Today]. In its manipulated forms, it has the potential to decrease the affects of aging and reverse acne, but not without some risks. Susceptibility to sun exposure is one of those risks that anyone using retinol or Retin A should be aware of.
- Antioxidant Detectives.com. "What is Vitamin A." (April 24, 2012) http://www.antioxidantsdetective.com/what-is-vitamin-a.html
- Estridge, Bonnie. "Is Retinol the miracle ingredient?" (April 23, 2012) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-24933/Is-Retinol-miracle-ingredient.html
- Medical News Today. "What is Vitamin A? What Does Vitamin A Do?" March 17, 2011. (April 24, 2012) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219492.php
- Stierstorfer, Michael, MD. "Sun Sensitivity" VitaminA.org. (April 23, 2012) http://www.vitamina.org/vitaGeneralInfo.php
- Stierstorfer, Michael, MD. "Sun Sensitivity" VitaminA.org. (April 23, 2012) http://www.vitamina.org/AccSunSensitivity.php
- Teens Health. "What are vitamins and minerals?" (April 23, 2012) http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/vitamins_minerals.html
- WebMD. "Vitamin A." (April 21, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-964-VITAMIN%20A.aspx?activeIngredientId=964&activeIngredientName=VITAMIN%20A
- Wiegman, Stacy, PharmD. "What should I avoid while using topical retinol?" Sharecare. (April 21, 2012) http://www.sharecare.com/question/what-avoid-taking-topical-retinol
- The World's Healthiest Foods. "Vitamin A." (April 24, 2012) http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=106
- Yerman, Marcia G. "Retin A: What can it do for your skin?" June 10, 2010. (April 23, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-g-yerman/retin-a_b_601867.html