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The Truth About Ascorbyl Palmitate and Cancer

oranges cut in half
March 29, 2016 Reviewed by Marta 10 Comments

In the past few weeks, I have received letters from people terrified that their vitamin C serums are going to give them cancer. In some cases, a specific form of vitamin C called ascorbyl palmitate was singled out for concern, while other writers were on the verge of trashing anything in their medicine cabinet. Helpfully, everyone sent me some links so that I was able to see their sources. Since their concerns were shocking and the initial research seemed worrying, I set about trying to find out the truth about vitamin C and ascorbyl palmitate.

A study from 2002 on ascorbic acid-6-palmitate

All roads led back to a study from 2002 where the researchers (Meves et al.) set about looking at the antioxidant properties of a lipid-soluble derivative of ascorbic acid, ascorbic acid-6-palmitate.

Synonyms for this ingredient are ascorbate-6 palmitate, ascorbyl palmitate and vitamin C-palmitate.

What Meves found was that scorbic acid-6-palmitate strongly promoted ultraviolet-B-induced lipid peroxidation and they concluded that “despite its antioxidant properties, ascorbic acid-6-palmitate may intensify skin damage following physiologic doses of ultraviolet radiation” and noted that this was “probably” due to its “lipid component."

This does sound definitive, but is it?

Calls for more research

Not long after the 2002 Meves study, an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, commented on it, noting “It is clear from the study reported by Meves et al that ascorbyl-6-palmitate is not ascorbic acid.” Then its author went on to question whether ascorbyl-6-palmitate could penetrate the stateum corneum or interefere with its own built-in form of antioxidant defense, disrupting the lipid barrier or even penetrate deeper and harm cellular layers of skin. The conclusion was “only additional in vivo studies will allow us to assess its potential harm to skin.”

So has there been more research?

The 2002 Meves study on the harmful effects of ascorbic acid-6-palmitate seems to be the only one its kind. I can find no other studies that try to replicate the results to either support or refute them. I went through the toxicology reports on PubMed and The Meves study is indeed listed there. But it is the only one that refers to harmful effects.

Research on ascorbyl palmitate is mostly positive. Actually, the research history is overwhelmingly positive. For example, a 2006 study on mice that demonstrated that ascorbyl palmitate topically administered twice a week inhibited 91% of tumors.

A study from 2014 found that this ingredient prevented cell death from X-rays. I’ll also mention research from 2013 on how ascrobyl-6-palmitate inhibited lipid peroxidation – the exact opposite conclusion from what got us started on this (although I do find it a bit odd that study was on humans and soybeans). In 2011, researchers noted that “vitamin C palmitate (VCP), a lipid-soluble form, integrates into human erythrocyte membranes and prevents oxidant damage”,

Other scientists (in 2013) have been cheerfully looking at ways to improve getting ascorbyl palmitate into the skin, seemingly unconcerned by the study from 2002.

One negative study from China concluded that ascorbyl palmitate had low antioxidant activity, which ascorbic acid’s was high.

I could go and on. As I said, the research pedigree for the safety of ascorbyl palmitate seems sound.

So why the sudden flurry of cancer concern?

The short answer is that I am not sure. However, a 2014 article by Felicia Rose Labs has been passed around.

The writer says that palmitate molecules “convert the skin loving vitamin C into a proven hazardous substance.” This process of stabilizing the vitamins leads to “accelerated skin cancer and skin aging.” This is entirely based on the Meves study from 2002.

She concludes that you should watch out for any vitamin with palmitate attached, including vitamin A. This is based on the National Toxicology Board’s findings that retinyl palmitate is carcinogenetic when exposed to sunlight. The thing is that the NTB also said that retinoic acid, not just retinyl palmitate increased skin lesions and photocarcinogenic activity.

In conclusion

Faced with only one, unreplicated study raising concerns and many more that find the effects on skin to be beneficial, I see no reason to stop using products with the ingredient ascorbyl palmitate.

  • November 11, 2017

    by Manlio

    A 2003 study at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, on UV irradiation and ascorbyl palmitate carried out in pig skin found that topical application of the skin “decreased the level of formation of free radicals.” In added that its “effectiveness depended significantly on the carrier system - the type of microemulsion and its concentration … Oil in water microemulsions delivered ascorbyl palmitate to the skin significantly better than water in oil microemulsions. In both types of microemulsions, the effectiveness increases at higher concentrations of ascorbyl palmitate.

    Here is the link:

  • November 26, 2016

    by Ain J

    Thank you very much for this article and the subsequent comments from readers, particularly from RN Elaine. My mind is now at ease knowing that a product I am currently using is safe and beneficial. This product I'm using also contains the usual minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which are natural sun blocking agents. My question is, will these minerals work synergistically to block the UV rays to prevent the alleged lipid peroxidation action on the palmitate component of ascorbyl palmitate? I do appreciate your reply. Thanks again.

  • October 8, 2016

    by Vatsal

    Can anyone tell me how much Ascorbyl Palmitate should be optimal to apply on skin?

  • October 3, 2016

    by Marta

    As I concluded in the article, ascorbyl palmitate seems to be safe. I wouldn't call a product that contains it organic though

  • October 3, 2016

    by Alohi

    Hi I was just wondering about this ingredient ( ascorbyl palmitate) in organic makeup like eyeliner, is it safe to use?

  • March 29, 2016

    by Elaine

    Hello Marta. Thank you for doing this research. I'd like to put your readers' minds at ease over this 2002 "study" regarding topical Vitamin C. I'm an RN with a Masters in Nursing. When we do research on medical topics there are several parameters we must follow before we can publish or before we can make new protocols in hospitals, clinics, or health care offices. First, we must do our research from something called "Evidence Based Practice" (EBP). According to Duke University, the most common definition of EBP the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. EBP is the integration of clinical expertise, patient values, and the best research evidence into the decision making process for patient care. Clinical expertise refers to the clinician’s cumulated experience, education and clinical skills. The best research evidence is usually found in clinically relevant research that has been conducted using sound methodology. Researching through EBP, can alleviate some of the false information disseminated by weekly magazines like Time and Newsweek. Second, when researching EBP articles, as medical professionals, we are NEVER allowed to reference an article that was written over five (5) years old. So, the 2002 article is very much out-dated. Third, if any of your readers have the availability to a university library, the best place to begin research is on a search engine called EBSCO, which is for medical information.

    I believe your information is sound, and readers must also realize that private labs may have a personal interest in publishing misinformation to bolster a skinceutical company's "new and improved" product.

    Hope this helps.

  • March 29, 2016

    by Denniz

    This is the study that said to avoid tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, correct?

  • March 29, 2016

    by Sarah

    So glad you wrote this post! It's really annoying that no one has specifically tried to replicate the original study--it would prevent a lot of hand-wringing and internet freakouts :)

    Another important thing to remember is that formulation matters--one product with C + other active ingredients may not react to UV rays the same way as whatever formulation being used in a study. Ideally, I want to see each specific product I am using in well-designed clinical trials that mimic real-life conditions... if only science had the same priorities as me!

    Regarding the lipid component of fat-soluble c, although the study authors are quick to blame it, palmitic acid is saturated, which makes it significantly less prone to oxidation than unsaturated fatty acids (in particular omega 3's and 6's.) I could be wrong, but I don't really see how something so stable would intensify skin damage.

  • March 29, 2016

    by Tina

    I also want to say thanks! I was just using my Mad Hippie Vit C when I saw this.

  • March 29, 2016

    by River

    Thank you! I love my Mad Hippie Vit C serum! Thank you for doing all that research for us.

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