I have only once used a retinyl (vitamin A) cream and my co-workers dubbed me Mrs Angry on account of the fierce flush to my cheeks. But there is no doubt that retinoids, particularly in prescription creams such as Retin A, are highly efficient at dispatching acne and photodamage (fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. So my antennae are always tuned for a breakthrough invention that is mild enough to keep even my skin calm, yet does its job.

Frustratingly, the milder derivatives such as retinyl palmitate don't work. Retinyl palmitate, which is found in most over-the-counter anti-aging creams, is not absorbed by the skin and is mostly pointless. The other day, however, I came across something with promise: retinyl propionate.

My expectations were especially raised when I found that the scientist who invented Retin A cream is using retinyl propionate in his own range, called Vivant. All the vitamin A esters have to be converted to retinol by the skin in order to work. Vivant claims that retinyl propionate is broken down by the skin's enzymes and converted to pure Vitamin A acid.

Proctor & Gamble's research lab conducted a 12-week study comparing retinol and retinyl propionate, both co-applied with sunscreen. Those using retinyl propionate and sunscreen showed a significant reduction in the appearance of wrinkles and sunspots with no irritation, claims P&G. Conversely, the retinol-sunscreen combination appeared to exacerbate skin irritation and lessened the skin benefits. Wow! Not only is retinyl propionate a more tolerable form of vitamin A, it may even be a better one.

But not so fast. A bit more digging turned up a 1998 study in the UK that followed more than 60 people for 48 weeks after which the researchers declared that retinyl propionate didn't work for photoageing (there was no statistical difference between the skin results of the retin and placebo users). The good news is that the few acne sufferers in the study showed complete recovery.

I went through more than a 100 references on Google and that was the only independent study I could find. So I would say that retinyl propionate may be worth a try if you have acne, but for the wrinkled it may disappoint. I should add that Vivant's Derm-A-Gel also has, in addition to retinyl propionate, niacinamide, an ingredient that is also effective for acne. The niacinamide, along with the kojic acid, might mean that Derm-A-Gel can tackle age spots.

Ingredients in Vivant Derm-A-Gel

Retinyl Propionate, Kojic Acid, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Glycine, Fructose, Urea, Niacinamide, Inositol, Lactic Acid