Vitamin A Game

Learn about each ingredient in your Vitamin A Game skincare.


Dimethicone + Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer

Dimethicone and dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer are both types of silicones. There are lots of different types of “dimethicone-like” silicones; they differ from a structural chemical perspective, but their use and purpose are the same.

Their main purpose is to act as a delivery agent for the active ingredients in the product - think of them as the FedEx of skincare. They have a silky smooth, non-greasy texture which helps the product glide across our skin and can improve the appearance of our skin’s texture.

Let’s take a moment to address the silicone debate. Silicones sometimes get a bad rep which we (and many scientists, dermatologists, and leading beauty journalists) don’t think is deserved. So, here’s some silicone facts and we’ll let you make up your mind.

What’s it made from?

Silicones are made from the naturally occurring mineral, silicon (note no “e”), and oxygen. Silicon (otherwise known as quartz) is one of the most commonly occurring minerals on earth - sand is even made from the stuff. There are lots of changes to silicon to turn it into the silicone we can use in skincare and this is why it’s considered a synthetic ingredient.

Why use it in skincare?

Silicones have a lattice-like molecular structure, with large spaces sitting between the ingredient’s molecules. It’s kind of like the Burberry check, with the dark colours representing the silicone molecules and the light colours as the little spaces between them. When you use a product containing silicone, you get a fine film-like layer sitting on your skin which is punctured by millions and millions of these little holes. This structure is important because the little spaces let your skin breathe while the film-like layer both keeps moisture in the skin (most silicones don’t let water pass through) and acts as a carrier for active ingredients (so aiding the product’s performance). Once on your skin, the film enhances our skin’s texture, blurring any imperfections to improve your complexion.

Will they cause me to breakout?

No - don’t worry, they won’t.

Quite simply, silicones do not clog pores and do not lead to breakouts. There are a couple of reasons we know this. First, as we’ve just talked about, the structure of silicones means that there are these giant spaces between each molecule and this lets the skin breathe (even when we are wearing our skincare products). Secondly, the size of silicone molecules are too big to penetrate into the skin. This means that they can’t get into the pore to block it in the first place!  

Are they ok for people with sensitive skin?

Yes. Silicones are great for people with sensitive skin as they are extremely unlikely to cause any irritation or allergic reactions. Silicones have been around for a long time - around 70 years in consumer products - and so there has been a lot of time to test their safety. Note that hospitals use silicone-based dressings to take care of wounds due to their biocompatibility with most people (very few individuals have allergic reactions or sensitivity to silicone).

What about other health risks?

As silicone molecules are too big to penetrate our skin, it means they can’t enter our bloodstream or bioaccumulate. In other words, they can’t build up inside us to cause harm.

It’s worth mentioning here that there are two key types of silicones that are used in skincare - cyclic silicones (which we don’t use in Bolt Beauty products) and linear silicones (which we do use). There have been some studies that link cyclic silicones (cyclotetrasiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane and cyclomethicone) to potential health issues (reproductive, developmental toxicity and/or endocrine disruption concerns); however, the latest studies are calling these earlier concerns into question. Let’s assume the jury is still out on these cyclic silicones. But what about their linear cousins - like dimethicone and its derivatives? We are not aware of any studies linking these types of silicones to similar health concerns (and we’ve really looked!). Instead, as we’ve previously described, there are good reasons to use these linear silicones in cosmetics products without any risk to your health.

Do they harm the environment?

There is lots of information out there claiming that silicones will harm the environment. Similar to when we looked at the health implications of silicones, it’s important to remember that there are different types of silicones that have different chemical structures and therefore different potential impacts on the planet. Cyclic silicones have been identified by the EU, Canada and Australia as having potentially harmful impacts on the planet due to they way they can bioaccumulate (build up) in water. However, even these studies go on to recognise that consumer use is unlikely to cause bioaccumulation. Again, let’s assume there isn’t a definitive answer on cyclic silicones yet. We are not aware of any scientific evidence that linear silicones (like dimethicone) are causing harm to the environment. Certain governments have designated cyclic silicones as an environmental problem, but none has done the same for linear silicones. In addition, other studies indicate that dimethicone is “degraded to inorganic constituents, carbon dioxide, silicic acid and water” and “no adverse effects have been detected in experimental organisms representative of the environmental compartments in which dimethicone… may be found”.  

So, why do silicones have a bad rep?

It’s a good question and we’re not really sure of the answer. We can speculate that some of the potential issues related to cyclic silicones have tarnished the reputation of non-harmful, friendly, linear silicones. The fundamental chemical differences between the ingredients can get lost when they all share the generic “silicone” surname. Ever get in trouble at school even though you didn’t do anything but you were hanging around with the kid with the bad rep? It’s just like that.

We’ve also noticed that it’s pretty trendy these days to have a “formulated without” list. We have “suspicious sixes”, “naughty nines” and who knows what will be next. These can be super helpful to identify ingredients that are known to be problematic. But, they can also be confusing, meaningless, and a great marketing tactic. Silicones have started making their way on to these which perpetuates the confusion over whether or not they are problematic ingredients. Let’s start talking about what we formulate with instead :)

Conclusion

Well done for making it through all that detail. As you’ll now be aware, there is a lot of information about silicones and some of it is more accurate than others. We hope a key takeaway for you is that there are different types of silicones and not all silicones are created equal - especially when it comes to the impact on human health or our planet. We are committed to creating safe, effective products and have no reason to consider dimethicone or its derivatives to be potentially hazardous. We’ll continue to monitor the latest scientific studies and will update this when new information on the silicones debate is published.

Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)

Tocopheryl acetate is a form of Vitamin E. It’s a synthetic form of tocopherol, which is the natural version of Vitamin E (if you want to get super sciencey-specific, tocopheryl acetate is actually an ester of tocopherol). Tocopheryl acetate is more stable than tocopherol (it doesn’t oxidize) which is why it’s used in cosmetic products, but when we put it on our skin it converts into tocopherol.

Vitamin E is an amazing antioxidant* that protects our skin from damage caused by daily life, like UV rays (sun damage) or air pollution. When our skin encounters these harmful things, it is at risk of damage by unstable molecules called “free radicals”. Free radicals harm our skin in a process called “oxidative stress”. This causes dullness, pigmentation, skin sagging, and fine lines - not what we want for our skin. Antioxidants help to prevent this damage by neutralising the “free radicals”. This helps us to maintain firm and non-pigmented skin, which looks healthy and bright.

If you want to learn more, you can read more about “free radicals” and antioxidants in our description of “antioxidants” in the key concepts section.

There have been some suggestions on the internet that tocopherol in skincare is not safe. We are completely committed to providing you with safe and effective skincare and so we take any claim about ingredient safety very seriously. It turns out that these claims are based on studies where mice were injected multiple-times with tocopherol and then developed tumours. These studies do not deal with topical application of tocopherol in low doses. There are no scientific studies which show that tocopherol in skincare causes cancer (or other harm). In fact, there are actually studies which show that application of tocopherol can help to reduce skin cancers in humans. We hope this helps reassure you on where the rumours come from and why tocopherol is safe to use in your skincare routine.

Glycine Soja Oil (Soybean Oil)

Soybean oil (scientific name Glycine Soja Oil) is made by pressing soybeans to extract the oil, which then gets purified and refined. Soybean oil has been used since ancient times as an amazing emollient*, keeping our skin soft and moisturised.  

It mainly consists of “triglycerides” (this just means its a mixture of glycerol and three other things - hence the “tri”) of oleic, linoleic and linolenic and saturated acids. Oleic, linoleic and linolenic are all types of fatty acids - often referred to as “omega acids”. These are widely acknowledged as having beneficial effects on the skin’s structure and in maintaining the skin’s natural barrier.

Retinol

Retinol – otherwise known as Vitamin A – is one of the few ingredients that has been scientifically proven to work. It is an incredible ingredient for fighting the signs of ageing (fine lines, wrinkles, large pores, pigmentation, and rough, dull skin) and helps to clear up acne or blemishes. But there’s lots of confusion about Vitamin A and how it really works. We’ve tried to dispel some of the common misunderstandings and explain how it can truly transform your skin.

Different words, same thing?

Talking about “retinol” and looking at different “retinol” products can be a bit confusing because there are lots of different words that get used - sometimes correctly and sometimes not. Before we get to the juicy stuff of how retinoids work, here’s some “retinol”-related words and what they actually mean:

  • Vitamin A: An essential nutrient. Our body can’t produce it and so we need to get it elsewhere. There are two forms of Vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. We’re only looking at retinoids here as carotenoids work as an antioxidant and therefore have a very different function to retinoids.
  • Retinoid: A term used to describe the group of chemical compounds which are a form of Vitamin A.  

The following things are all retinoids and therefore also a form of Vitamin A. Different retinoids are used for their different strengths, so we’ve set them out here from strongest to gentlest:

  • Tretinoin: A prescription strength retinoid. It’s stronger (about x20 stronger!) than retinol because it’s already in the form of “retinoic acid” and so can be processed by the skin straight away. Retin-A is a brand name that uses tretinoin (so they are kinda the same thing). It comes in concentrations of 0.1%, 0.05% and 0.025%.
  • Retinaldehyde (or retinal): A retinoid that needs one conversion to retinoic acid by the skin before it can be effective. It’s not as strong as tretinoin, but it’s often better tolerated by people - less irritation, dryness and redness.
  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR): An ester of retinoic acid. This means it doesn’t need to go through conversions by our skin before it can get to work. Due to its chemical composition, it can also be less irritating (some of the skin irritation caused by retinoids is due to the conversion process). To work out how much retinoic acid is actually received by the skin after applying HPR, divide the percentage of HPR by 10 - so a product with 5% HPR is equivalent to 0.5% retinoic acid. You’ll tend to find percentages from 1% to 5% on the market.
  • Granactive retinol: A brand-name for hydroxypinacolone retinoate (made by Grant industries). Not different, just branded.  
  • Retinol: Vitamin A. It’s medium strength; our bodies need to convert retinol into retinaldehyde and then retinoic acid before it becomes useful to us. These steps mean it is less powerful compared to some of its retinoid siblings, but it also means skin irritation is less likely. Lots of people inaccurately use “retinol” to describe other types of retinoids - watch out for this with product names and check the ingredient list on the back. You can find products containing from 0.01% up to 1% of retinol on the market (although anything over 0.3% needs to be prescribed). We use a concentration of 0.15% retinol in Vitamin A Game.
  • Retinyl palmitate: A retinoid ester made from retinol and palmitic acid (a fatty acid that’s actually naturally produced by our skin). When applied to our skin, it needs to be converted first to retinol and then retinoic acid before it’ll have an effect. This makes it the least potent of the retinoid family and you’ll see percentages of up to 7%.

There are two other relatives of the retinoid family (although they are more like cousins): adapalene (brand name Differin) and tazorac (brand name tazarotene). Both are prescription only products that are used for skin conditions like psoriasis and acne. There are lots of studies showing how they have an extremely positive impact on these skin conditions.

Vitamin A for anti-ageing: how does it work?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have skin as soft and plump as a toddler (I mean, they don’t even know to appreciate it!)... Sadly, no one has come up with a skin time machine yet and so ageing is an unavoidable part of life. Skin ageing comes in two forms - standard chronological ageing and photoageing, which is where we prematurely cause our skin to deteriorate due to lifestyle damage like sun exposure, cigarette smoke and pollution. Together, these ageing processes do a number of things: they reduce the amount of collagen (one of the skin’s fundamental building blocks) in our skin leaving it thinner and without the “plump”; they cause our skin to slow down the speed at which it regenerates itself (i.e. develops new skin cells); they cause our elastin (another of the skin’s key building blocks) to develop in irregular arrangements which undermines the skin’s ability to “bounce” back into shape; and, they disrupt the production and distribution of melanocytes (the cells in our skin which give us colour). Altogether, these can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, thin, limp-looking skin, and pigmentation.

While a lot of this is an inevitable part of life, a large number of scientific studies prove the effectiveness of Vitamin A (or retinoids) in fighting the signs of skin ageing. How this works is pretty complex. Evidence suggests that Vitamin A both stimulates the production of collagen and inhibits the enzymes which cause collagen to degrade over time. Studies also show that it enhances elastin fibre formation and changes the processes which control the production of new skin cells, causing cell turnover to increase. The effect of these processes on our skin is a reduction in wrinkles and fine lines, increased plumpness and skin elasticity, and less pigmentation - exactly what we’re after! There are large numbers of clinical studies which confirm Vitamin A’s effectiveness. So, Vitamin A might not turn back time, but it can slow down the signs of ageing.

Vitamin A for acne: how does it work?

It’s worth going back one step here to understand the causes of acne (and, indeed, all pimples). Blemishes are triggered by the following (normally in combination): too much sebum (skin oil) production; skin cells shedding in the oil gland; and acne-causing bacteria (which naturally exists on our skin). When skin cells or bacteria get stuck in our oil glands (much easier to do if there is excess oil), this causes a blockage and the oil that our skin produces can’t escape to the skin’s surface. It’s just like a blocked drainpipe but instead of overflowing, the blockage pushes against the surface of the skin - that’s the blemish. There are different types of blemish - including blackheads, whiteheads and, where bacteria infects the oil gland, postules, papules, nodules and cysts - which can affect all of us. However, the general way that these blemishes are formed (i.e. oil + blockage) is the same.

So, how can Vitamin A help with this? It helps to control the complex process by which the skin produces new skin cells. In a nutshell, it encourages skin cell turnover in a way that makes it harder for skin cells to block the oil glands. New skin (i.e. the stuff at the outer layer which is in contact with the world) develops through a complex process of “cell proliferation” (where cells literally multiply) and “differentiation” (where skin cells progress from the lower levels of the skin to the top, outer layer). Retinoids reduce the “proliferation” part and increase “differentiation” with the ultimate effect of increasing skin cell turnover.

Vitamin A also blocks proinflammatory signals within our body, meaning pimples are less likely to develop. This is really important because inflamed blemishes are more likely to cause acne scarring, which can be very difficult to treat.

The use of retinoids in treating acne is not new - it’s been around since the 1970s and there are tonnes of clinical studies showing the effectiveness of retinoids in acne treatment. Even if you don’t have acne, Vitamin A can be really helpful in regulating our skin’s normal processes. We can’t guarantee you’ll never get another pimple, but we can rely on years of scientific study showing that retinoids can help fight the causes of blemishes.

Reactions to retinol

One thing we often hear about when it comes to retinol is that there are some unintended side effects of using the product: redness, skin irritation and dryness, being the main culprits. The stronger the retinoid and/or concentration, the more likely you are to experience these effects. It’s understood that these symptoms are caused by our body’s immune system kicking into gear in response to the retinoid. However, after our skin gets used to the retinoid, this response normally goes away. This is why lots of people start with using a low strength retinoid a couple of days a week and build up frequency and strength over time. Of course, if you experience severe discomfort or symptoms, you should stop using the retinoid and seek professional medical help.

Sun sensitivity is another symptom experienced by new users of retinoids. Studies show that the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays returns to normal after a couple of months of retinoid use. However, due to the harmful impact of UV rays on our skin, it is always important to avoid sun exposure wherever possible and always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (please, it really is important).

Making sure it works

Retinol is a sensitive ingredient; when it’s exposed to air and sunlight, it decomposes quickly which means that it loses its potency. You’ll see lots of brands use air tight containers (e.g. pump action), and dark coloured or opaque packaging to try and preserve the potency of the product. By encapsulating our retinol serum, we prevent the active ingredients from coming into contact with light and air. Studies show that this enhances the stability (and therefore efficacy) and increases the shelf life to 36 months.

Conclusion

Retinoids are extremely effective in skincare to target the things which can really bother us most - blemishes and the signs of ageing. We (and leading dermatologists) recommend including a gentle retinoid into your regular skincare routine. Studies have shown that even low doses, over time can have incredible effects on the skin. So, what are you waiting for?

BHT (Vitamin E)

BHT (or to give it its proper name, butylated hydroxytoluene) is a synthetic antioxidant* which works like Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, it’s often used in cosmetic formulations to help preserve the active ingredients in the product. Just as free radicals can damage our skin by stealing electrons from the healthy cells (you can read more about this in our description of “antioxidants”), they also impact cosmetics products in exactly the same way. By using an antioxidant in the formulation, we help to reduce the negative impact of these free radicals and maintain the quality and efficacy of the product.

There have been questions over the safety of BHT in consumer products. Many of these concerns relate to the use of BHT as a preservative in food products and are based on the impact of when it is consumed orally, rather than topical application in low doses. Product and ingredient safety are the number one priority for us, so we have fully examined the available scientific evidence on BHT’s safety. Scientific studies show that topical application (i.e. putting BHT on your skin) does not cause the same effects as when you consume it orally (i.e. in your food). According to the Cosmetics Independent Review on BHT (which was re-reviewed in July 2019), BHT primarily only penetrates the skin and does not produce systematic exposures. Based on all the evidence, it is recognised as being safe to use in cosmetics products. It’s also worth noting that we (and most other beauty brands which use BHT) will use it in extremely low doses - we’re talking 0.1%. We hope this helps reassure you about the use and safety of BHT in our (and lots of other brands’) products, which is fully backed by scientific study and analysis.




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What's in my skincare?

Vitamin A Game

Learn about each ingredient in your Vitamin A Game skincare.

Dimethicone + Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer

Dimethicone and dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer are both types of silicones. There are lots of different types of “dimethicone-like” silicones; they differ from a structural chemical perspective, but their use and purpose are the same.

Their main purpose is to act as a delivery agent for the active ingredients in the product - think of them as the FedEx of skincare. They have a silky smooth, non-greasy texture which helps the product glide across our skin and can improve the appearance of our skin’s texture.

Let’s take a moment to address the silicone debate. Silicones sometimes get a bad rep which we (and many scientists, dermatologists, and leading beauty journalists) don’t think is deserved. So, here’s some silicone facts and we’ll let you make up your mind.

What’s it made from?

Silicones are made from the naturally occurring mineral, silicon (note no “e”), and oxygen. Silicon (otherwise known as quartz) is one of the most commonly occurring minerals on earth - sand is even made from the stuff. There are lots of changes to silicon to turn it into the silicone we can use in skincare and this is why it’s considered a synthetic ingredient.

Why use it in skincare?

Silicones have a lattice-like molecular structure, with large spaces sitting between the ingredient’s molecules. It’s kind of like the Burberry check, with the dark colours representing the silicone molecules and the light colours as the little spaces between them. When you use a product containing silicone, you get a fine film-like layer sitting on your skin which is punctured by millions and millions of these little holes. This structure is important because the little spaces let your skin breathe while the film-like layer both keeps moisture in the skin (most silicones don’t let water pass through) and acts as a carrier for active ingredients (so aiding the product’s performance). Once on your skin, the film enhances our skin’s texture, blurring any imperfections to improve your complexion.

Will they cause me to breakout?

No - don’t worry, they won’t.

Quite simply, silicones do not clog pores and do not lead to breakouts. There are a couple of reasons we know this. First, as we’ve just talked about, the structure of silicones means that there are these giant spaces between each molecule and this lets the skin breathe (even when we are wearing our skincare products). Secondly, the size of silicone molecules are too big to penetrate into the skin. This means that they can’t get into the pore to block it in the first place!  

Are they ok for people with sensitive skin?

Yes. Silicones are great for people with sensitive skin as they are extremely unlikely to cause any irritation or allergic reactions. Silicones have been around for a long time - around 70 years in consumer products - and so there has been a lot of time to test their safety. Note that hospitals use silicone-based dressings to take care of wounds due to their biocompatibility with most people (very few individuals have allergic reactions or sensitivity to silicone).

What about other health risks?

As silicone molecules are too big to penetrate our skin, it means they can’t enter our bloodstream or bioaccumulate. In other words, they can’t build up inside us to cause harm.

It’s worth mentioning here that there are two key types of silicones that are used in skincare - cyclic silicones (which we don’t use in Bolt Beauty products) and linear silicones (which we do use). There have been some studies that link cyclic silicones (cyclotetrasiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane and cyclomethicone) to potential health issues (reproductive, developmental toxicity and/or endocrine disruption concerns); however, the latest studies are calling these earlier concerns into question. Let’s assume the jury is still out on these cyclic silicones. But what about their linear cousins - like dimethicone and its derivatives? We are not aware of any studies linking these types of silicones to similar health concerns (and we’ve really looked!). Instead, as we’ve previously described, there are good reasons to use these linear silicones in cosmetics products without any risk to your health.

Do they harm the environment?

There is lots of information out there claiming that silicones will harm the environment. Similar to when we looked at the health implications of silicones, it’s important to remember that there are different types of silicones that have different chemical structures and therefore different potential impacts on the planet. Cyclic silicones have been identified by the EU, Canada and Australia as having potentially harmful impacts on the planet due to they way they can bioaccumulate (build up) in water. However, even these studies go on to recognise that consumer use is unlikely to cause bioaccumulation. Again, let’s assume there isn’t a definitive answer on cyclic silicones yet. We are not aware of any scientific evidence that linear silicones (like dimethicone) are causing harm to the environment. Certain governments have designated cyclic silicones as an environmental problem, but none has done the same for linear silicones. In addition, other studies indicate that dimethicone is “degraded to inorganic constituents, carbon dioxide, silicic acid and water” and “no adverse effects have been detected in experimental organisms representative of the environmental compartments in which dimethicone… may be found”.  

So, why do silicones have a bad rep?

It’s a good question and we’re not really sure of the answer. We can speculate that some of the potential issues related to cyclic silicones have tarnished the reputation of non-harmful, friendly, linear silicones. The fundamental chemical differences between the ingredients can get lost when they all share the generic “silicone” surname. Ever get in trouble at school even though you didn’t do anything but you were hanging around with the kid with the bad rep? It’s just like that.

We’ve also noticed that it’s pretty trendy these days to have a “formulated without” list. We have “suspicious sixes”, “naughty nines” and who knows what will be next. These can be super helpful to identify ingredients that are known to be problematic. But, they can also be confusing, meaningless, and a great marketing tactic. Silicones have started making their way on to these which perpetuates the confusion over whether or not they are problematic ingredients. Let’s start talking about what we formulate with instead :)

Conclusion

Well done for making it through all that detail. As you’ll now be aware, there is a lot of information about silicones and some of it is more accurate than others. We hope a key takeaway for you is that there are different types of silicones and not all silicones are created equal - especially when it comes to the impact on human health or our planet. We are committed to creating safe, effective products and have no reason to consider dimethicone or its derivatives to be potentially hazardous. We’ll continue to monitor the latest scientific studies and will update this when new information on the silicones debate is published.

Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)

Tocopheryl acetate is a form of Vitamin E. It’s a synthetic form of tocopherol, which is the natural version of Vitamin E (if you want to get super sciencey-specific, tocopheryl acetate is actually an ester of tocopherol). Tocopheryl acetate is more stable than tocopherol (it doesn’t oxidize) which is why it’s used in cosmetic products, but when we put it on our skin it converts into tocopherol.

Vitamin E is an amazing antioxidant* that protects our skin from damage caused by daily life, like UV rays (sun damage) or air pollution. When our skin encounters these harmful things, it is at risk of damage by unstable molecules called “free radicals”. Free radicals harm our skin in a process called “oxidative stress”. This causes dullness, pigmentation, skin sagging, and fine lines - not what we want for our skin. Antioxidants help to prevent this damage by neutralising the “free radicals”. This helps us to maintain firm and non-pigmented skin, which looks healthy and bright.

If you want to learn more, you can read more about “free radicals” and antioxidants in our description of “antioxidants” in the key concepts section.

There have been some suggestions on the internet that tocopherol in skincare is not safe. We are completely committed to providing you with safe and effective skincare and so we take any claim about ingredient safety very seriously. It turns out that these claims are based on studies where mice were injected multiple-times with tocopherol and then developed tumours. These studies do not deal with topical application of tocopherol in low doses. There are no scientific studies which show that tocopherol in skincare causes cancer (or other harm). In fact, there are actually studies which show that application of tocopherol can help to reduce skin cancers in humans. We hope this helps reassure you on where the rumours come from and why tocopherol is safe to use in your skincare routine.

Glycine Soja Oil (Soybean Oil)

Soybean oil (scientific name Glycine Soja Oil) is made by pressing soybeans to extract the oil, which then gets purified and refined. Soybean oil has been used since ancient times as an amazing emollient*, keeping our skin soft and moisturised.  

It mainly consists of “triglycerides” (this just means its a mixture of glycerol (otherwise known as glycerin) and three other things - hence the “tri”) of oleic, linoleic and linolenic and saturated acids. Oleic, linoleic and linolenic are all types of fatty acids - often referred to as “omega acids”. These are widely acknowledged as having beneficial effects on the skin’s structure and in maintaining the skin’s natural barrier.

Retinol

Retinol – otherwise known as Vitamin A – is one of the few ingredients that has been scientifically proven to work. It is an incredible ingredient for fighting the signs of ageing (fine lines, wrinkles, large pores, pigmentation, and rough, dull skin) and helps to clear up acne or blemishes.  

But there’s lots of confusion about Vitamin A and how it really works. We’ve tried to dispel some of the common misunderstandings and explain how it can truly transform your skin.

Different words, same thing?

Talking about “retinol” and looking at different “retinol” products can be a bit confusing because there are lots of different words that get used - sometimes correctly and sometimes not. Before we get to the juicy stuff of how retinoids work, here’s some “retinol”-related words and what they actually mean:

  • Vitamin A: An essential nutrient. Our body can’t produce it and so we need to get it elsewhere. There are two forms of Vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. We’re only looking at retinoids here as carotenoids work as an antioxidant and therefore have a very different function to retinoids.
  • Retinoid: A term used to describe the group of chemical compounds which are a form of Vitamin A.  

The following things are all retinoids and therefore also a form of Vitamin A. Different retinoids are used for their different strengths, so we’ve set them out here from strongest to gentlest:

  • Tretinoin: A prescription strength retinoid. It’s stronger (about x20 stronger!) than retinol because it’s already in the form of “retinoic acid” and so can be processed by the skin straight away. Retin-A is a brand name that uses tretinoin (so they are kinda the same thing). It comes in concentrations of 0.1%, 0.05% and 0.025%.
  • Retinaldehyde (or retinal): A retinoid that needs one conversion to retinoic acid by the skin before it can be effective. It’s not as strong as tretinoin, but it’s often better tolerated by people - less irritation, dryness and redness.
  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR): An ester of retinoic acid. This means it doesn’t need to go through conversions by our skin before it can get to work. Due to its chemical composition, it can also be less irritating (some of the skin irritation caused by retinoids is due to the conversion process). To work out how much retinoic acid is actually received by the skin after applying HPR, divide the percentage of HPR by 10 - so a product with 5% HPR is equivalent to 0.5% retinoic acid. You’ll tend to find percentages from 1% to 5% on the market.
  • Granactive retinol: A brand-name for hydroxypinacolone retinoate (made by Grant industries). Not different, just branded.  
  • Retinol: Vitamin A. It’s medium strength; our bodies need to convert retinol into retinaldehyde and then retinoic acid before it becomes useful to us. These steps mean it is less powerful compared to some of its retinoid siblings, but it also means skin irritation is less likely. Lots of people inaccurately use “retinol” to describe other types of retinoids - watch out for this with product names and check the ingredient list on the back. You can find products containing from 0.01% up to 1% of retinol on the market (although anything over 0.3% needs to be prescribed). We use a concentration of 0.15% retinol in Vitamin A Game.
  • Retinyl palmitate: A retinoid ester made from retinol and palmitic acid (a fatty acid that’s actually naturally produced by our skin). When applied to our skin, it needs to be converted first to retinol and then retinoic acid before it’ll have an effect. This makes it the least potent of the retinoid family and you’ll see percentages of up to 7%.

There are two other relatives of the retinoid family (although they are more like cousins): adapalene (brand name Differin) and tazorac (brand name tazarotene). Both are prescription only products that are used for skin conditions like psoriasis and acne. There are lots of studies showing how they have an extremely positive impact on these skin conditions.

Vitamin A for anti-ageing: how does it work?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have skin as soft and plump as a toddler (I mean, they don’t even know to appreciate it!)... Sadly, no one has come up with a skin time machine yet and so ageing is an unavoidable part of life. Skin ageing comes in two forms - standard chronological ageing and photoageing, which is where we prematurely cause our skin to deteriorate due to lifestyle damage like sun exposure, cigarette smoke and pollution. Together, these ageing processes do a number of things: they reduce the amount of collagen (one of the skin’s fundamental building blocks) in our skin leaving it thinner and without the “plump”; they cause our skin to slow down the speed at which it regenerates itself (i.e. develops new skin cells); they cause our elastin (another of the skin’s key building blocks) to develop in irregular arrangements which undermines the skin’s ability to “bounce” back into shape; and, they disrupt the production and distribution of melanocytes (the cells in our skin which give us colour). Altogether, these can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, thin, limp-looking skin, and pigmentation.

While a lot of this is an inevitable part of life, a large number of scientific studies prove the effectiveness of Vitamin A (or retinoids) in fighting the signs of skin ageing. How this works is pretty complex. Evidence suggests that Vitamin A both stimulates the production of collagen and inhibits the enzymes which cause collagen to degrade over time. Studies also show that it enhances elastin fibre formation and changes the processes which control the production of new skin cells, causing cell turnover to increase. The effect of these processes on our skin is a reduction in wrinkles and fine lines, increased plumpness and skin elasticity, and less pigmentation - exactly what we’re after! There are large numbers of clinical studies which confirm Vitamin A’s effectiveness. So, Vitamin A might not turn back time, but it can slow down the signs of ageing.

Vitamin A for acne: how does it work?

It’s worth going back one step here to understand the causes of acne (and, indeed, all pimples). Blemishes are triggered by the following (normally in combination): too much sebum (skin oil) production; skin cells shedding in the oil gland; and acne-causing bacteria (which naturally exists on our skin). When skin cells or bacteria get stuck in our oil glands (much easier to do if there is excess oil), this causes a blockage and the oil that our skin produces can’t escape to the skin’s surface. It’s just like a blocked drainpipe but instead of overflowing, the blockage pushes against the surface of the skin - that’s the blemish. There are different types of blemish - including blackheads, whiteheads and, where bacteria infects the oil gland, postules, papules, nodules and cysts - which can affect all of us. However, the general way that these blemishes are formed (i.e. oil + blockage) is the same.

So, how can Vitamin A help with this? It helps to control the complex process by which the skin produces new skin cells. In a nutshell, it encourages skin cell turnover in a way that makes it harder for skin cells to block the oil glands. New skin (i.e. the stuff at the outer layer which is in contact with the world) develops through a complex process of “cell proliferation” (where cells literally multiply) and “differentiation” (where skin cells progress from the lower levels of the skin to the top, outer layer). Retinoids reduce the “proliferation” part and increase “differentiation” with the ultimate effect of increasing skin cell turnover.

Vitamin A also blocks proinflammatory signals within our body, meaning pimples are less likely to develop. This is really important because inflamed blemishes are more likely to cause acne scarring, which can be very difficult to treat.

The use of retinoids in treating acne is not new - it’s been around since the 1970s and there are tonnes of clinical studies showing the effectiveness of retinoids in acne treatment. Even if you don’t have acne, Vitamin A can be really helpful in regulating our skin’s normal processes. We can’t guarantee you’ll never get another pimple, but we can rely on years of scientific study showing that retinoids can help fight the causes of blemishes.

Reactions to retinol

One thing we often hear about when it comes to retinol is that there are some unintended side effects of using the product: redness, skin irritation and dryness, being the main culprits. The stronger the retinoid and/or concentration, the more likely you are to experience these effects. It’s understood that these symptoms are caused by our body’s immune system kicking into gear in response to the retinoid. However, after our skin gets used to the retinoid, this response normally goes away. This is why lots of people start with using a low strength retinoid a couple of days a week and build up frequency and strength over time. Of course, if you experience severe discomfort or symptoms, you should stop using the retinoid and seek professional medical help.

Sun sensitivity is another symptom experienced by new users of retinoids. Studies show that the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays returns to normal after a couple of months of retinoid use. However, due to the harmful impact of UV rays on our skin, it is always important to avoid sun exposure wherever possible and always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (please, it really is important).

Making sure it works

Retinol is a sensitive ingredient; when it’s exposed to air and sunlight, it decomposes quickly which means that it loses its potency. You’ll see lots of brands use air tight containers (e.g. pump action), and dark coloured or opaque packaging to try and preserve the potency of the product. By encapsulating our retinol serum, we prevent the active ingredients from coming into contact with light and air. Studies show that this enhances the stability (and therefore efficacy) and increases the shelf life to 36 months.

Conclusion

Retinoids are extremely effective in skincare to target the things which can really bother us most - blemishes and the signs of ageing. We (and leading dermatologists) recommend including a gentle retinoid into your regular skincare routine. Studies have shown that even low doses, over time can have incredible effects on the skin. So, what are you waiting for?

BHT (Vitamin E)

BHT (or to give it its proper name, butylated hydroxytoluene) is a synthetic antioxidant* which works like Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, it’s often used in cosmetic formulations to help preserve the active ingredients in the product.

Just as free radicals can damage our skin by stealing electrons from the healthy cells (you can read more about this in our description of “antioxidants”), they also impact cosmetics products in exactly the same way. By using an antioxidant in the formulation, we help to reduce the negative impact of these free radicals and maintain the quality and efficacy of the product.

There have been questions over the safety of BHT in consumer products. Many of these concerns relate to the use of BHT as a preservative in food products and are based on the impact of when it is consumed orally, rather than topical application in low doses. Product and ingredient safety are the number one priority for us, so we have fully examined the available scientific evidence on BHT’s safety. Scientific studies show that topical application (i.e. putting BHT on your skin) does not cause the same effects as when you consume it orally (i.e. in your food). According to the Cosmetics Independent Review on BHT (which was re-reviewed in July 2019), BHT primarily only penetrates the skin and does not produce systematic exposures. Based on all the evidence, it is recognised as being safe to use in cosmetics products. It’s also worth noting that we (and most other beauty brands which use BHT) will use it in extremely low doses - we’re talking 0.1%. We hope this helps reassure you about the use and safety of BHT in our (and lots of other brands’) products, which is fully backed by scientific study and analysis.



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