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Retinyl Palmitate crops up in products all the time - from creams to war paint. It is, of course, vitamin A. However, I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that it doesn't having anything to do with Retinol (the form of vitamin A that is used as an anti-ager in prescription creams) and that it doesn't really do that much for you. So is Retinyl Palmitate a worthwhile and active ingredient?
First of all, what exactly is it? Retinyl is the ester of Retinol (Vitamin A) and it is combined with Palmitic Acid, which is a saturated fatty acid that is found in humans, animals and plants and is (as the name implies) a major component of palm oil. Although it isn't (strictly speaking) Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate is easily absorbed by the skin and once it is there is converted into Retinol.
It is gentler than applying Retinol directly and, therefore, a better option for those of sensitive skin. On the other hand, it isn't going to have the exfoliation effect of a Retinoic Acid (such as Tretinoin, the active ingredient in prescription Retin-A creams) and will not stimulate cell turnover in the same dramatic way. There are studies, however, showing that Retinyl Palmitate plumps the skin and increases collagen production.
The problem with Retinyl Palmitate is that it has to be in high concentrations to make a difference. Indeed, the concentrations would be so high that it could be as irritating as Retinoic Acid. This is because Retinol is 20% weaker than Retinoic Acid. Very often, Retinyl Palmitate appears way down the ingredients list, implying that it may rarely be sufficiently present to make much difference at all.
Although Retinyl Palmitate has many proven benefits, the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database rates it as a moderate hazard ingredient. It warns of potential side effects including cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions and warnings, cellular level changes, and organ system toxicity. Also, according to FDA scientists, Retinyl Palmitate breaks down in sunlight to photomutagenic compounds, forms free radicals in the presence of UVA and UVB radiation. However, the FDA's final assessment has not yet been made public.