Beauty drinks and supplements seem to be all the rage these days, from collagen powders to niacinamide gummies. Dirty Lemon‘s newest drink, +retinol, is the latest addition to this growing trend. The company claims that it will give you “smoother, younger-looking skin” without the harsh side effects associated with topical retinol like dryness, irritation, and sun sensitivity.
+retinol is the 10th addition to the brand’s growing line of beauty drinks. It features a blend of “pro-retinols” and antioxidants like pineapple juice, hibiscus, ginger, and black cherry. The company recommends drinking one a day, so at $45 for a case of 6, it’s not the most affordable retinol treatment on the market. But is it worth it? Let’s take a look!
How Does It Work?
There are two categories of vitamin A: beta-carotene and retinoids. The form that is found in fruits and vegetables is beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. The body will then use enzymes to convert beta-carotene into retinol. To bypass this process, Dirty Lemon has formulated +retinol with pro-retinols. These are a form of vitamin A derived from “retinyl esters” that are more readily metabolized by the body. “Retinols must be converted into retinoic acid to exert their beneficial effects on our skin,” says Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, the medical director of Mudgil Dermatology in New York City (source). “Whether applied or ingested, the conversion to retinoic acid is the key step. By ingesting retinyl esters, you are bypassing the intermediary breakdown steps of vitamin A to provide an easier format for the body to use,” Dr. Brodsky, a medical advisor for Dirty Lemon’s parent company, Iris Nova, clarifies.
Dermatologists Weigh In
Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, a dermatologist who is not affiliated with Dirty Lemon, recently said, “Retinol is a retinoid, which means it is derived from vitamin A. The benefits of retinoids are it boosts collagen production (thus diminishing fine lines and wrinkles), increases skin cells’ turnover (thus brightens and smooths skin surface) and unclogs pores” (source).
When asked if she felt that drinkable retinol worked she said, “I am not aware of any such evidence. Dermatologists prescribe an ingestible retinoid (isotretinoin) to treat severe cystic acne but I am not familiar with any other ingestible forms.” Accutane is a derivative of vitamin A commonly prescribed to patients with acne. It is known for being particularly harsh, so much so that women who are pregnant cannot use it. According to the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS), women who take Accutane during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy risk severe birth defects. These include severe fetal brain and heart defects, mental retardation, and other birth abnormalities. The correlation is strong, with one in four babies exposed to Accutane drug during the first trimester of pregnancy experiencing severe side effects.
Because of this, Dr. Ingleton advises you to check with your doctor before drinking +retinol. “As a dermatologist who prescribes the FDA approved ingestible retinoid Isotretinoin, I think it is very important to be monitored by a physician if you are ingesting high levels of vitamin A. There are a myriad of potential side effects and potentially teratogenic effects on an unborn fetus if a pregnant woman takes high doses of vitamin A.”
But Dr. Brodsky is quick to point out that Dirty Lemon’s +retinol is not Accutane. “Nutricosmetic ingestibles are not comparable to medical-grade dermal treatments,” she tells Fashionista. The only reason for the comparison is just to demonstrate that ingestible forms of retinol have been shown to be effective. Dr. Brodsky also points out to Byrdie.com, “Vitamin A has a well-documented effect on skin health and plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological and developmental function, and supporting digestive organs,” she explains. “Many people don’t realize that vitamin A from plants (provitamin A) is not the same as active vitamin A (retinol). Beta-carotene, the type found primarily in plants, needs to first be converted to active vitamin A in order to be utilized by the body.” The idea here is that by ingesting retinol, “you are essentially bypassing the intermediary breakdown steps of vitamin A to provide an easier format for the body to use,” she says.
What Does the Science Say?
Not much to be frank. And the little it does say does not bode well for Dirty Lemon’s +retinol. The American Heart Association recommends getting your daily supply of Vitamin A through a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than from supplements until more is known about the risks and benefits of supplementation. This is because high doses of antioxidants (including vitamin A) may actually do more harm than good. Vitamin A supplementation alone, or in combination with other antioxidants, is associated with an increased risk of mortality from all causes, according to an analysis of multiple studies.
Studies show that some of the risks associated with getting too much Vitamin A include:
Vitamin A toxicity. Symptoms include dry skin, joint pain, vomiting, headaches, confusion.
High doses of vitamin A have been associated with birth defects, lower bone density, and liver problems. People who drink heavily or have kidney or liver disease shouldn’t take Vitamin A supplements without talking to a doctor.
Because of this, the Dirty Lemon Team recommends that you only consume one bottle of +retinol per day. One bottle is equivalent to 100 percent of the lower limit of the daily recommended dose of vitamin A. +retinol is nowhere near as potent as other ingestible forms of retinol such as Accutane, but it should still be used with caution if you do decide to give it a try.
Dirty Lemon +retinol
It took me some time to get through my first bottle as the drink is really tart. It’s not bad but for those who don’t like the sour flavor, it might be hard to get through. I got used to it after a while which is good I suppose because the company says it takes about a month to see results. They recommend that you drink 1 per day and at $45 for a 6 pack, following that regimen will put you back about $180 a month.
I am not a fan of this or most of the other products in this beauty supplement fad. Getting too much Vitamin A can be dangerous, and there isn’t any solid evidence that shows drinking retinol is worth that risk. Sure, you can draw a comparison to Accutane, but this drink is nowhere near as potent so you won’t see the same effects no matter how much you drink. Instead of drinking +retinol I suggest investing in a great topical retinol cream and eating a healthy diet. Good food sources of retinoid vitamin A include eggs, whole milk, liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and apricots.