I believe in natural products, but I realize that natural doesn't always mean safe.
What Are Carotenoids and Retinoids?
There are two types of vitamin A:
- Carotenoids are a provitamin A that is derived from plants and includes beta-carotene.
- Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A. The body must convert it to vitamin A.
- Plant sources include green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, yellow and orange fruit like mango, some nuts, and vegetables like carrots and yellow bell peppers.
- Retinoids are a preformed vitamin A that is derived from animal sources that contain fat and includes retinol.
- Animal sources of retinoids include liver, cheese, egg yolk, butter, and oily fish.
A Comparison: Beta-Carotene and Retinol
|BETA - CAROTENE||RETINOL|
A precursor to vitamin A – preformed vitamin A
Pure and active form of vitamin A – proformed vitamin A
Belongs to the carotenoid family
Belongs to the retinoid family
Found in plant sources
Found in animal sources that contain fat
Is not stored in the body
Is stored in the liver and fatty tissues
When we eat food rich in beta-carotene, it is converted to retinol in the intestinal mucous membrane. It does not need zinc to be release to the body because it is not stored.
When we eat food rich in retinol, it is stored in the liver and requires zinc to be released from the liver before being delivered to the body.
Beta-carotene is a powerful anti-oxidant which protects us from free radicles that damage our tissues.
Retinol is a weak antioxidant.
Benefits of Carotenoids and Retinoids in Skincare
When we eat food that contains carotenoids and retinoids the body converts them into retinol. Retinol is the active form of vitamin A. It is then transported around the body via the lymphatic system. Retinol promotes new skin growth and stimulates collagen production.
Can the Skin Absorb Retinol and Beta-Carotene Topically?
We know that we can eat food rich in beta-carotene (from the plant-derived carotenoid group) and retinol (from the animal-derived retinoid group) to reap the health benefits. But can our skin absorb these two forms of vitamin A topically?
Our epidermis—the outermost layer of human skin—contains retinol, retinyl esters, and beta-carotene.
- Beta-carotene: A recent study showed that beta-carotene may be converted to retinyl esters in our skin. Although this research is still new it shows that topical application of beta-carotene-rich plant oils does have a beneficial effect on our skins. Some examples of plant oils include avocado, carrot seed, or rosehip oils.
- Retinol: The skin is retinoid responsive and able to absorb vitamin A from topical retinol creams. Most retinol creams are synthetically produced. Weaker versions are available over the counter, but stronger versions are only available with a prescription to treat inflammatory skin conditions. The ability to promote skin regeneration is one of the key reasons why topical prescription retinoids are so effective in treating acne and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Plant-Derived Carrier Oils Are A Vegan Option to Animal-Derived Retinol
Carrier oils are derived from plants and have varying therapeutic properties and use in skincare. We use carrier oils as the base for many skincare recipes and massage oils to dilute essential oils. We cannot apply essential oils directly to the skin. They are potent plant oils and can cause skin irritations in their concentrated forms.
Carrier oils are beneficial, especially when considered many are a vegan alternative to some skincare applications. They are also a great alternative to synthetically produced skincare additives.
A Word of Caution
Not all plant-derived oils are suitable for use on the face. Oils are graded according to their comedogenic values between 0 and 5. The lower the number, the better the oil is for facial use. The closer the number gets to 5, the greater the likelihood of the oil clogging your pores. The number next to each oil below is their comedogenic value. Anything between 0 and 2 is safe for the face and is unlikely to clog pores. Oils with higher comedogenic values are safe for the rest of the body.
These beta-carotene-rich oils are hydrating, sometimes healing, and moisturizing. The table below outlines a few examples of beta-carotene-rich plant oils.
Brazil Nut Oil
Carrot Seed Oil
Cranberry Seed Oil
Kukui Nut Oil
Papaya Seed Oil
Peach Kernel Oil
Red Raspberry Oil
Sea Buckthorn Oil
Safety Precautions When Using Retinol in Skincare
Prescription retinoids are typically synthetically produced. Their anti-inflammatory properties among other benefits make them very useful for treating inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne but they have nasty side effects and should not be used by pregnant women or women who are planning to be pregnant.
Retinoids will increase skin sensitivity, dryness, peeling, and redness. Avoid going into the sun for long periods while on prescription retinoids.
I took prescription oral retinoids for 6 months and can attest to these skin sensitizing side effects. My nose and mouth were dry too.
It sounds crazy but if you eat too many carrots your skin can turn orange. The beta-carotene found in carrots is naturally orange. This is in extreme cases though. A few carrots a day won’t do you any harm.
Tips for Finding a Carrier Oil
- When you buy a carrier oil, look for cold-pressed, 100 % pure, preservative-free oils.
- Retinol may be artificially produced but could also be derived from animal products. Check the labels if you are vegan.
Retinol is a strong anti-aging and inflammation fighting skincare hero to many but it is either animal derived or synthetically manufactured. Beta-carotene is a weaker option and positive results will be less dramatic but it is vegan.
US National Library of Medicine
- Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety (nih.gov)
National Library of Medicine / pubmed.gov
Harvard T.H. Chan – School of Public Health
Wilson, Celeste. Isla Verde Spa Training Academy Certificate of Aromatherapy Course.
Wilson, Celeste. National Higher Certificate in Beauty Therapy. The Durban University of Technology.
Parker, M. Susan. Power of the Seed. Process of self-reliance series.
Celeste Wilson (author) on June 13, 2021:
Thank you for all the positive comments
Priya from Pune on June 13, 2021:
Amazing article. Very well written and explained beautifully providing every little detail.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 12, 2021:
I regularly source my vitamin A from plants and animals. Thanks.
Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 12, 2021: