What is the Connection Between Retinol and Aging?

Jacob Queen

Scientists, with mixed determinations, have long debated the link between retinol, vitamin A that is derived primarily from animal foods such as fish, liver, milk and eggs, and aging. Though there is still some disagreement as to the extent of the effect retinol has on the aging process, most studies do show that retinol can sometimes diminish outward signs of aging, such as wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity. In addition, it may help with other conditions associated with aging, most particularly vision-related problems.

Retinol face cream may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Retinol face cream may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Epithelial tissues generally cover all surfaces of the body, both internal and external. When these cells alter or break down, aging occurs. Studies of retinol and aging show that in some instances, retinol can impact the behavior of these cells. It appears to have a positive effect on macular degeneration, which, in the elderly, is one of the leading causes of loss of sight. Retinol also can increase the production of mucus, which has a direct impact on organ and tissue health.

Retinol may reduce the outward signs of aging.
Retinol may reduce the outward signs of aging.

A study was conducted by the University of Michigan's dermatology department to analyze the connection between retinol and aging. The study was done on two groups of participants over a six-month period. Group one received a placebo cream application, while group two received a cream containing retinol. After four weeks, the group receiving the retinol began to show some smoothing in wrinkles, and this smoothing continued throughout the study—the placebo group showed no changes in skin tone. The improvements shown in the group receiving retinol were not permanent. Six months after stopping the treatment, the skin generally returned to pre-treatment condition.

The relationship between retinol and aging, however limited, has led to an abundance of both prescription and over-the-counter products to help promote longevity and beauty. In addition to internal supplements, there are many anti-aging creams that contain retinol. Most experts say that buyers should exercise some caution when purchasing these products. As with any vitamin, it is possible to overdose on vitamin A—effects of ingesting too much vitamin A can include orange skin, nausea, birth defects, and even death. Topical treatment with retinol and other vitamin A solutions can cause dryness and skin irritation.

There are many natural and healthy ways to increase intake of retinol. One popular way is to eat a lot of foods that are rich in vitamin A. Though plants do not contain as much retinol as animal food, orange vegetables such as pumpkin and carrots do contain carotenoids, which during digestion, are transformed into retinol.

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