People with hair loss often find themselves turning into armchair sleuths when trying to diagnose the cause of their shedding at home. The latest cause people believe may be the reason for their thinning hair is skin creams containing vitamin A, also known as retinol.
Retinol creams, serums and lotions were originally used to treat acne but have become increasingly popular and more widely accessible in recent years due to their reported anti-ageing properties. However, according to various online discussion boards, a small number of people appear to have linked their shedding to vitamin A skincare creams.
Hair loss following retinol skincare regime
One of those involved, a writer using the moniker Septembergirl to post on the Essential Day Spa chat forum, stated: “On the 4th of July I started using a 0.025 % generic brand Tretinoin gel (vitamin A, retinoic acid). Two months later, the problems started. My hair changed texture from shiny and healthy to dry and coarse, and it started shedding. The same thing happened to body hair and eyebrows. I could see my eyebrows curling/twisting before they fell off, up to 6-8 hairs from each eyebrow every day.”
“I have been scrutinizing my diet, routines etc. and cannot find any other reason for the hairloss than the Tretinoin gel. I eat a healthy diet, have been taking the same supplements for a long time without problems, don’t take any medication, hormone pills etc. There is certainly some strong evidence pointing to the Tretinoin gel as the culprit for my hairloss.”
What appears may be happening in the various cases of people who believe they are losing hair due to use of topical retinoids, is an effective vitamin A overdose.
What’s worth noting is just how easy it is to have too much vitamin A. According to the NHS, the amount of vitamin A needed by adults aged 19 to 64 years old need is 0.7mg per day for men and 0.6mg per day for women. This amount should be easily achievable via diet alone.
The Department of Health advises that “having an average of 1.5mg a day or less of vitamin A from diet and supplements combined is unlikely to cause any harm.” However, caution should be exercised by women who are pregnant or are trying to conceive as large amounts of vitamin A may harm an unborn baby. Older men and women who have been through the menopause and have a higher chance of developing osteoporosis are also advised to watch their vitamin A intake closely.
Retinol, retinoids and other sources of vitamin A
Vitamin A is generally consumed via natural food sources containing beta-carotene such as carrots, sweet potato and kale. A 128g portion of these, or a whole sweet potato, provides more than the recommended daily intake allowance, which gives you an idea of how easy it is to reach – and exceed – your target.
Liver is considered the richest natural source of vitamin A and a 3 ounce serving of beef liver contains almost 3x the recommended daily amount. This is why adding additional sources – especially food supplements such as cod liver oil, and topical forms – can easily lead to accidentally overdosing on vitamin A.
Skincare that contains vitamin A can be confusing as this may often be referred to as containing retinol or retinoids. Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York-based dermatologist, spoke to New Beauty magazine about these ingredients and the difference between them. They report:
“The difference between retinol and retinoids is that over-the-counter products contain a form of retinol in ester forms (vitamin A derivatives) like retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, etc (you’ll typically see these names on ingredient labels). “These need to be converted into retinoid acid by the skin at the cellular level in order for the skin to use it. Basically, the more conversions it takes for an ester form to get to the retinoic acid form, the weaker it is,” adds Dr. Engelman. That’s why so many people turn to dermatologists and plastic surgeons to get prescription-based retinoids (under the names Retin-A and Tretinoin), which contain higher concentrations of retinoic acid compared to OTC [over-the-counter] options that typically only have 0.5–2 percent concentrations.”
“Biochemically, retinoids and retinol do exactly the same thing—it may just take longer to see results with retinol-based products because they are weaker,” says Dr. Engelman.”
Often skincare products containing retinol are not meant for daily use. As with any skincare product, it is incredibly important to read and stick to the usage directions given by the brand or manufacturer.
May lead to dryness and hair loss
From the forum users’ various descriptions of the hairloss they are experiencing, it would appear they may be affected by a temporary condition named Telogen Effluvium. This generally tends to appear around three months after being sparked, and causes thinning hair from all over the scalp. But is this connected to their skincare? We asked Belgravia’s superintendent pharmacist, Christina Chikaher, pictured, for her thoughts.
“Vitamin A is essential for our bodies to function normally and therefore it makes sense that it is essential for hair too. Whilst there are no authorised claims linking vitamin A to directly to hair growth, The Department of Health states that vitamin A keeps the skin healthy and healthy skin would encourage healthy hair growth.”
“Excess Vitamin A is stored and accumulates in your body and can be toxic to the liver. Excess doses of Vitamin A have also been linked with hair problems such as dryness or hair loss. Whether this is directly related to an effect on the hair itself or as a result of poor skin (scalp) condition is unclear.”
“As vitamin A is typically taken orally, information regarding its effects tends to focus on this method of delivery. However, creams, especially those with high content of Vitamin A should certainly be applied with caution as vitamin A can be absorbed topically into the system. It could be that those reporting hair loss from retinol skincare use have been regularly exceeding the recommended intake for vitamin A and are experiencing some level of toxicity.”
“It is important to remember that there are many, many factors that can influence hair growth and that can cause the hair to shed so, whilst the issue of topical vitamin A is something to be mindful of, it is simply one of a multitude of – often more probable – causes of hair loss.”
For those concerned about hair loss, a professional assessment of the scalp combined with a brief lifestyle analysis can often provide both a diagnosis of the hair loss condition and identify potential causes. Once the underlying issue has been dealt with, or is being managed, treatment for Telogen Effluvium can help to speed up the hair’s recovery which can otherwise take up to 6 months.
In more extreme cases, or where there is a genetic predisposition towards Male or Female Pattern Hair Loss that has been activated or accelerated by the Telogen Effluvium, a specialist will be able to tailor a bespoke hair loss treatment course to help stabilise shedding and promote healthy hair growth. These programmes feature clinically-proven medications alongside hair growth boosters such as Belgravia’s exclusive Hair Vitalics food supplements which do not contain vitamin A.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.