Navigating the alphabet of skincare options out there can be a monumental task, not too dissimilar from learning the actual alphabet many years past. (If you’re using Vitamin A diligently though, not a soul can tell just how many.)
I’ve traipsed down the path for fresh skin before, ever-ager and overdone it on the vitamin front. The retinol purge is a familiar foe in this journey, all irritated skin and wispy bits (read: peeling). We’ve all done it, slathered on the highest percentage we could get our little mitts upon and hoped for the best. Instead of our dream post-facial glow, one delivery of compromised barrier arrives at our basin. Akin to the vitamins we sip, stir and diligently pop, the dose is not the full story rather it’s the supporting nutrients and behaviors that ensure optimal absorption. For more on the lettering and layering to know for plump and supplemented skin, I took my pores and bevy of beauty products to the experts. An alphabetic immersion if you will.
A primer first, what exactly is a vitamin jammed into our bottle of choice? “An active is an ingredient that has a specific effect on the skin. Vitamins are active ingredients but not all actives are vitamins,” Dr. Harshal Ranglani, MD, clinical and aesthetic dermatologist defines. Active vitamins include A, B, C and E while the new kids on the epidermal-block aren’t considered so. The best delivery device to get said vitamins (active and otherwise)? “Vitamins have specific actions and target specific skin concerns, it is beneficial to use them in the form of serums in order to achieve maximum results…Serums are formulations with a high concentration of a specific ingredient or active, designed to deliver a large number of active ingredients locally to the skin.”
It is with that locality and high concentration in mind, selection of serums and strength for your skin concerns is paramount. James Vivian, dermal delight (ok, therapist) and namesake of his Melbourne salon, notes something is better than nada, “You can’t just go for the strongest percentage of Vitamin C or prescription strength Vitamin A and expect your skin to be able to reap all the rewards… In saying that, people still want results. And anything is better than nothing. I think a lot of people go from doing nothing to something. And that needs to be celebrated and congratulated, but you don’t need to go to the full strength straightaway.”
Whether this is your first foray into the supercharged cabinet or you’re a veteran of vitamins, meet your lauded and loaded skincare options to dose accordingly.
The high-achieving, premiere star of any skincare routine. Whether you’ve ventured into Botox or not, the rejuvenating power of this ingredient is undoubtedly, suitably hyped. It comes in the form of retinoic acid, tretinoin, retinaldehyde and retinol itself on the clinical side but it’s also found in its nature-bound sister bakuchiol. The combination of its collagen production boost and skin cell turnover speed up make Vitamin A a fine-line fighting, wrinkle reducing wonder. Not hyperbole, it’s truly that brilliant. But with that resurfacing prowess comes a drawback or two. Irritation is common, the aforementioned purge period and a heightened sensitivity to the sun.
Lesley Thornton, holistic esthetician and founder of skincare outfit Klur doesn’t hold back her praise when queried of her favorite vitamin. “Without a doubt, Vitamin A. It’s a master antioxidant, potent skin strengthen agent and is responsible for multiple cellular functions, including collagen production hyaluronic acid production, necessary for wound healing and accelerated cell turnover. I could go on and on about how essential Vitamin A is for the skin—it’s simply unmatched for overall skin health.”
For those pregnant, nursing or otherwise sensitive to retinol and its many forms, Bakuchiol may be the option for you. The less potent but ever-enriching option is often touted as a retinol alternative – though it won’t perform the miracles a tube of Tretinoin will, it also won’t aggravate sensitivities in your skin cell’s tumble turn process.
As Emma Lewisham, founder of her similarly named and proudly circular brand adds, the irritation common when introducing Vitamin A can be a hurdle for use altogether – one they sought to remove given it’s essential nature for skin function. “Vitamin A has long been a dermatologist favorite, however it can come with harsh side effects such as skin irritation, burning or scaling. We use plant-based Vitamin A, Bakuchiol … (it has) been scientifically proven to deliver the same amazing Vitamin A skin benefits sans the irritating side effects.”
No matter your form, Vitamin A is the best base for skin health across the vast majority of skincare concerns. And if these founders, derms and skin therapists all shouting it’s praise doesn’t verify this, perhaps their dazzling dolphin skin will.
My personal favorite of the vitamin drawer, Vitamin B is a sensitive skin dream. A team player that boosts the effectiveness of Vitamin A and Vitamin C and a bonafide backup dancer who deserves a stage all of her own. You’ll spy Vitamin B by way of Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) or B5 (panthenol) in pursuit of most skincare formulas. The soothing superstar is so commonplace, you could assume it’s a snooze. Alas no, it’s just a brilliant many-hat-wearer.
Formulations wizard Luu explains “Vitamin B3 is an amazing multi-tasker. It’s used in skin care to reduce hyperpigmentation, brighten, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, reduce redness, encourage collagen production, and improve microcirculation… also helpful if you’re dealing with issues like acne, rosacea, or skin inflammation.”
Each unique in their own way as Lesley Thornton explores the B vitamins are not not one-note but rather uniquely talented, “Each B vitamin… serves a different function. We use both B3 aka Niacinamide and B5 Panthenol —just in different formulas as they have other effects on the skin. With our Supreme Seed, we chose to use B5 because of its immediate soothing, plumping, and hydrating effects on skins, as it acts similarly to a humectant. I wouldn’t use Niacinamide as a rinse-off mask because B3 needs time for it to be effective, and should remain on the skin longer than 10-15 minutes.”
Vitamin B doesn’t stop there, in fact it can reduce what’s known as ‘casual sebum levels’, a not so casual term for the persistently oily skinned. James Vivian shares, “It doesn’t reduce the amount of sebum that our skin produces, but what it does is that it decreases the amount of oil that is sitting on your skin at any one time. So that’s great for an oily complexion, a skin that you know, is prone to some sort of… afternoon shine.”
Whether you utilize solo or as part of a well-concocted moisturizer or routine, B may as well be capital-B for boosting-in-all-pursuits.
The zesty morning antioxidant that conjures images of plump fruit and effervescent vitamin drinks – all good skincare adjectives also. Vitamin C is preventive in nature thanks to its antioxidant effect, Dr Harshal notes, “It prevents damage that may occur from UV rays and other oxidant stressors. It also acts to minimize pigmentation.”
By way of L-ascorbic acid, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbate, Calcium Ascorbate, and Ascorbyl Palmitate – Vitamin C is a diligent daytime must for antioxidant and free-radical fighting.
While Vitamin C is treacherous to transport, it’s important to use routinely to ensure it remains photostable. Look for formulas with dark bottles not transparent and depending on the form of Vitamin C, an airtight container as this too can interact with the efficacy.
Not just a solar-powered solution for internal top ups, this ingredient has now earned a serum all of its own. Though the research here on topical use is limited, Societe’s Vitamin D complex touts itself as a skin-repairer and age-management wunderkind.
Most commonly in the form of Vitamin D3, it’s been used topically for psoriasis and clinical conditions in the past thanks to its ability to slow down skin cell turnover. Or when used in multivitamin-esque serums, this can minimize irritation from more hyper-actives (looking at you Vitamin A.)
“Vitamin D like Vitamin B helps shield the skin and treat skin irritation,” says Luu. Though this vitamin is less-loved and raved about, it does have potential for elevating the effectiveness of other formulas.
The unsung nourishing and ever hydrating multitasker, Vitamin E (or most often tocopherol as its known on your ingredient list) is a skincare formula staple. Any moisturizer or oil you love will likely have this in it as it is deeply hydrating and thickening.
There’s four forms but for an understudy ingredient, tocopherol is the one to keep your attention upon. Uber nourishing and bought-a-Brownstone-rich in antioxidants and plays perfectly with ferulic acid, Vitamin C and other antioxidants – as you may know from the beloved Skinceuticals C E Ferulic.
Solo serums for Vitamin E are few and far between as you get your dose from everything else that finds its way to your face, but if you’re curious about this letter’s hydration in particular the Alpha H Vitamin E serum is for you.
The lesser known F is popping up in many a formula and fancy complex – but what exactly is it? Formulator Janel Luu elucidates, “Vitamin F contains essential fatty acids and acts as a skin protector and revitalizer. It reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and balances the moisture content in skin, helping keep it supple. These essential fatty acids can also help facilitate the penetration of other active ingredients.”
Or in other words, Vitamin F works best in a team – assisting our beloved A, C and E to quell the whispers of aging dotted on our face. Though the texture-refined jury is still out on its worthiness for a serum all of its own.
A word on cocktailing:
Though you may make a mean Manhattan (cheers, me too) cocktailing in skincare this is best done under the guidance of a professional. Someone who can peer at your pores – or lack thereof – and assist you in pursuing your best skin yet. The concept of intuitive beauty comes into play here, where you treat your skin as an athlete in pursuit of gold. Or at very least, an endorsement deal. Training and stretching is essential (your delicious 10-step routine), regular track meets (in-clinic visits) and the occasional mega event (wedding-skin prep, multi-course laser treatment, your peel du jour); all of these things play a role in making your skin top-tier. But you don’t train the same every day, you need to push your skin to its podium-best and a coach (ahem, skin professional) can help you cycle your skincare to do this. Yknow, without forgetting a muscle group or pulling a phantom ligament on the reformer. A forever limber partnership to take your visage to that next level of where’d-you-get-that-radiance.
Fellow lover of an exercise analogy James Vivian touts this advice too, “One particular set of skincare might take your skin from there to there. But if you keep using it, you’ll just plateau, you then want to take your skin from there to there from there to there. And that’s when a professional can help say, ‘okay, that worked really well, keep on those other two things. But let’s enhance the vitamin A concentration on this next time around’… it becomes a journey, it’s more than just finding the perfect skincare and staying on it.”
As by the stroke of a calligrapher’s pen, the letter alone does not the magic make. Instead it’s important to build from the basics up and cater your routine to your skin’s needs, not the whims of a close friend or impossibly chic Instagram personality.