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Retinyl Palmitate (not to be confused with retinol)

May 28, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 6 Comments

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.

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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.

Related Articles:

Retinyl Palmitate - the official entry in TIA's ingredients glossary

Retinyl Palmitate sunscreen and skin safety

New study links Retinyl Palmitate to cancer

Dermatologists claim Retinyl Palmitate sunscreens do not cause cancer

Five Best OTC anti-wrinkle Retinol creams

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  • November 10, 2011

    by Marta

    Hello Ly, here's an article on some ingredients to avoid when pregnant. members of the retinoid family are mentioned there, but not retinyl palmitate. However, there safety concerns associated with RP, which you might want to consider:

  • November 10, 2011

    by Ly

    HI, i m in pregnant, and i want to know Can I use any cosmestic include retinyl palmitate?

  • June 22, 2010

    by marta

    Amy, thanks and you are right. We did update this and include new information on retinyl palmitate in our listing in the ingredients directory and should have added a link here - which I now have.

  • June 22, 2010

    by Amy

    Yes, definitely time for an update.

    People trying to escape the signs of aging are doing nothing more than killing themselves faster.

  • June 18, 2010

    by Sarah

    This ingredient is known to cause cancer in lab rats and it's being used in most sunblock products. please update your information.

  • July 8, 2008

    by Kelly

    <p>Sorry, but retinyl palmitate is not "gentler" on the skin and therefore is certainly not a better option for those with sensitive skin. In fact it's considered 10 times more toxic than natural, real vitamin A.</p>

    <p>Google "Sally Fallon" or "Weston A. Price" and "Vitamin A" and you can read the studies.</p>

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