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Pregnancy & vitamin A: separating fact & fables

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METHOD MATTERS 

It's important to understand the difference between oral intake of vitamin A and topical application of vitamin A. 

While oral intake of excessive vitamin A has been linked to foetal abnormalities, we must recognise that there is no enzyme in the skin that will absorb topical vitamin A into the blood stream. There is only one enzyme mechanism that binds retinol onto carrier lipoproteins, and that enzyme exists in the liver, not the skin. Unless you are eating heaps and gobs of topical vitamin A products, the vitamin A will remain trapped in the skin (right where you want it). 

In fact, in a study of 679 pregnant women, 235 were exposed to a variety of retinoids applied to their skin from early pregnancy, while 444 were not. There were no differences between the two groups in rates of birth abnormalities. Not a single child displayed features of retinoid embryopathy (birth defects caused by vitamin A).  

The only exception in topical applications would be Retin A and other retinoic acid derivatives, which are prescription only and therefore much stronger. 

BALANCE MATTERS 

During pregnancy, a vitamin A deficiency can cause foetal abnormalities; that's why doctors recommend a healthy, well-rounded diet that includes whole foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli. However, excessive oral vitamin A intake can also cause problems; this has been seen in cases of pregnant women taking Accutane, which is usually around 300 000 IU of oral vitamin A. 

Because vitamin A serums are usually only applied to a small surface area of the body (face and neck), a typical application of a topical vitamin A product would deliver approximately 35-350 IU of vitamin A only. As we learned above, only trace amounts, if any, would be absorbed into the body. For comparison, an egg contains 260 IU of vitamin A. Even if your body absorbed all the vitamin A applied topically (which it doesn't), you would take in the same amount of vitamin A as you would get from eating an egg.  

WHAT TO AVOID 

To be clear: Supplemental, oral intake of vitamin A (in drugs like Accutane, for example) should not be taken by pregnant women. Pregnant women are also advised to avoid prescription Retin A and other retinoic acid derivatives. 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Proper levels of vitamin A are necessary for a healthy pregnancy – not too much, not too little (think Goldilocks). Topical application of vitamin A is not metabolised into the bloodstream, so feel free to use topical, non-prescription vitamin A products without fear, and be sure to maintain a healthy, balanced diet full of whole foods and natural vitamins and minerals. 

Click HERE to learn about SA’s very own Dr Janine Ellenberger and her pursuit for safe, chemical-free skincare products. 

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