Side Effects of Retinol (AKA Vitamin A)

Side Effects of Retinol (AKA Vitamin A)

Indispensable for skin care and healthy vision, Retinol (vitamin A) is safe when taken in the recommended daily allowance, but there can be side effects.

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Retinol / Vitamin A

Found in animal liver, kidney, and eggs, as well as in whole dairy products and a few reinforced foods, Retinol is an active form of the fat-soluble vitamin A. Also known as Retinal and/or Retinoic acid, Retinol is known to be beneficial for healthy skin and eyesight when taken in the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). For adolescents and adults, this amounts to approximately 900 mcg/day for males and 700 mcg/day for females. For infants and children, the recommended dosages are much lower. This Mayo Clinic link contains extensive information on acceptable dosages. Excessive consumption of vitamin A can be toxic and will result in acute poisoning.

Although uncommon in the United States and other developed countries, sustained Vitamin A deficiency can cause optical complications, skin afflictions, and susceptibility to infectious diseases. The image below displays Vitamin A deficiency around the world.


Side Effects of Retinoid Skin Creams and How to Manage

Some topical skin gels, liquids, and creams that contain retinoids can be applied directly to the skin. There is strong scientific evidence that these can be effective for treating acne, wrinkles, psoriasis, and warts. According to WebMD, retinoids may take “…three to six months of regular use before improvements in wrinkles are apparent, with best results occurring after six to 12 months”. They also report that it may take some time for skin to adjust to the application of topical retinoids, and side effects can be diminished by applying every other day.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Skin dryness
  • Skin irritation
  • Altered skin coloration
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Blistering of the skin

Side effects may be decreased by:

  • Combining usage with a moisturizer to reduce dryness of skin
  • Adhering to the dosages prescribed by your physician
  • Staying out of the sun, applying sun screen, and/or wearing protective attire
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Side Effects and Interactions of Orally Ingested Vitamin A

There are too many known side effects and interactions to adequately list here. The Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive list of these side effects and interactions. When scanning these lists, it should be remembered that Vitamin A is not dangerous when ingested in the recommended dietary allowance. Heavy drinkers and people with liver disease should avoid taking additional vitamin A. Other important interfering interactions may be for those taking anticoagulants, blood pressure medications, medications affecting the liver, and/or oral contraceptives.

Google Trends History

The Google Trends graph below shows interest in the search term “vitamin A side effects” over time. Interest has remained fairly consistent over the last 9 years, and a peak was experienced in February of 2010.

Bottom Line

Retinol is the active form of vitamin A, and it is essential for skin and eye health. Correct dosage is important, as too little will cause a deficiency (rare in the US) while too much can be toxic. There are some known side effects and interactions when using retinoid skin creams or orally ingested vitamin A, yet it is considered to be safe when taken in the recommended amounts.

Your Turn

Have you experienced side effects from using vitamin A or a Retinoid skin cream? Give us your reviews in the comments below.

Updated March 5, 2015
Originally published May 2014

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