The ABCs of Skin Care

glass beakers in a lab used to study abcs of skin care based on science

Skin care can be as easy as the ABCs (of skin care), but the steps you take should be supported by science.

Let’s look at the basics, the ABCs of skincare, and discover the fundamental ingredients needed to keep your skin looking youthful.

A is for Vitamin A or Retinoid -Think Tretinoin!

Did you know that topical vitamin A can help your skin maintain its youthful appearance? Topical vitamin A refers to a class of compounds called retinoids, and comes in three types: retinaldehyde, retinol, and retinoic acid. The most powerful of the three types of topical retinoids is retinoic acid, a synthetic retinoid available by prescription.
Dermatologists prescribe prescription-strength retinoids to boost collagen production, soften fine lines, and reduce pigmentation from sun exposure. They work by increasing cell turnover. By shedding the skin cells faster, old skin cells are replaced with new healthy ones. Plus, retinoids stimulate the production of new collagen for smoother, firmer skin.(5) The downside of prescription retinoids is they cause significant skin irritation and redness, and some people find them difficult to tolerate.
If you’ve tried a prescription retinoid and hated the skin irritation, you still have options. Retinol is a weaker form of vitamin A and is an ingredient in some non-prescription skincare products. It has some of the same benefits as retinoids, but causes less skin irritation. To be effective, retinol must be used for several months before you’ll notice results.
In terms of strength, retinaldehyde is intermediate between retinol and tretinoin. It’s less irritating than prescription retinoids, but more irritating to the skin than retinol. On the plus side, it works faster and may be more effective than retinol for more mature skin. With any topical vitamin A product, it’s important to wear sunscreen, as they increase sun sensitivity.

B is for Barrier - a Physical Barrier - Sunscreen!

The B of the ABCs of skin care is Barrier – a physical barrier on your skin. Do you know what the number one cause of premature aging is? It’s exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Dermatologists divide aging into two types: intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging. (1)

You can’t do a lot about intrinsic aging because it comes from the age-related loss of skin cell vitality, but you have more control over extrinsic aging. That’s skin damage and aging caused by sun exposure, air pollution (including exposure to cigarette smoke), and poor nutrition. Here’s the good news. Dermatologists say extrinsic aging accounts for 80% of the wrinkles and skin laxity people experience. (4) So, you have more control than you think!

There’s a simple solution for sun exposure; wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. Your chosen sunscreen should block both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB are the rays that cause sunburn, and most sunscreens block those well.
Where some sunscreens fall short is how effectively they block UVA rays. Although UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, they penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and contribute to skin aging. So, make sure your sunscreen blocks both types of rays.
The best choice of sunscreen is one that provides a physical barrier, rather than using chemicals to block ultraviolet rays. Zinc oxide is a component in some physical barrier sunscreens. (6) It works by deflecting ultraviolet rays away from the skin. It also blocks UVA and UVB rays for optimal sunburn and anti-aging protection.

C is for Vitamin C - Applied as a Serum

The C of the ABCs of skincare is Vitamin C, applied as a serum. We know how important vitamin C is to health and immunity, but did you know it’s also important for youthful skin? Make sure you get enough dietary vitamin C, but the real anti-aging benefits come from applying a topical vitamin C in the form of vitamin C serum.
Why is vitamin C important for staving off wrinkles and skin laxity? It’s an effective antioxidant that protects the skin from damage caused by free radicals. So, vitamin C helps slow premature skin aging by vanquishing free radicals created by air pollution and sun exposure.(3)
But there’s more. As you age, cells in the dermis of your skin produce less collagen. Studies show vitamin C stimulates collagen production. Plus, studies show that using it regularly reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improves skin elasticity, and evens out skin tone. (3) If you’re trying to delay the skin aging process, vitamin C serum is a worthwhile investment.

Bonus: D is for Vitamin D - Taken as a Supplement

The bonus letter of the ABCs of skin care is D – for Vitamin D taken as a supplement. We are not talking about applying vitamin D topically, as that is unlikely to benefit your skin, but getting enough of the “sunshine” vitamin on the inside is important for keeping your skin youthful. Research shows vitamin D protects against the cell-damaging effects of ultraviolet light. (2) The protection isn’t enough to substitute for a sunscreen, but its protective effects may be additive with the sun protection you wear on your skin. Here’s a quote from a study:
“Vitamin D affects skin aging via several mechanisms, including protection against cell damage from UV light, cellular detoxification, and regulation of genes that affect aging.” (Dermatoendocrinology, 2012)
Many people don’t get sufficient sun exposure to maintain a healthy vitamin D level, and sunscreens reduce your skin’s ability to make vitamin D. That’s why a vitamin D supplement may be beneficial. Always check with your doctor to determine if your Vitamin D levels are low.

The Bottom Line - Remember the ABCs of Skin Care

Hopefully, you have a better idea of the ABC’s of caring for your skin. If you follow the ABCs, you’ll take science-backed steps to help your skin stay youthful.

1. Zhang S, Duan E. Fighting against Skin Aging: The Way from Bench to Bedside. Cell Transplant. 2018 May;27(5):729-738. doi: 10.1177/0963689717725755. Epub 2018 Apr 25. PMID: 29692196; PMCID: PMC6047276.
2. Reichrath J. Unravelling of hidden secrets: The role of vitamin D in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1;4(3):241-4. doi: 10.4161/derm.21312. PMID: 23467804; PMCID: PMC3583884.
3. Farris PK. Topical vitamin C: a useful agent for treating photoaging and other dermatologic conditions. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul;31(7 Pt 2):814-7; discussion 818. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2005.31725. PMID: 16029672.
4. Zhang S, Duan E. Fighting against Skin Aging: The Way from Bench to Bedside. Cell Transplant. 2018 May;27(5):729-738. doi: 10.1177/0963689717725755. Epub 2018 Apr 25. PMID: 29692196; PMCID: PMC6047276.
5. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-48. doi: 10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327. PMID: 18046911; PMCID: PMC2699641.
6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Is Sunscreen Safe?”

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