Retinyl Palmitate, Why the Bad Rap?

On 4 August, 2012 by admin

Although Vitamin A and other retinol products have become well known and commonly used for their anti-aging properties, retinyl palmitate has suddenly received a lot of negative press.  If retinyl palmitate is just vitamin A after all, why all the fuss?  What makes it so different from any other form of the vitamin and so inherently dangerous?

Well, not much really, apart from the fact that it is less effective than many forms of the vitamin.  The reason being is that other forms require less metabolic steps to be able to be used by the body.  For example, retinoic acid, used in the widely prescribed  anti-aging topical Retin-A, is the active form of the vitamin used by the body, and hence able to be used by the skin in its present form to trigger cell growth, synthesis of proteins such as collagen and elastin, and sebum production.  Retinyl palmitate on the other hand has to go through three metabolic steps to become retinoic acid:

Retinyl Palmitate  –> Retinol –>Retinaldehyde –> Retinoic Acid

One of the problems with Retin-A though is that because it uses the active form of the vitamin, retinoic acid, the body has the inability to switch off production.  This can lead to too much retinoic acid, increasing cellular turnover past that desired, leading to dry, flaky skin.  For this reason, retinyl palmitate is a better choice in some cosmetics because it still exhibits many of the anti-aging and exfoliating effects without the irritation as the skin has the ability to turn off production of retinoic acid when it has ample supply.  Retinol and retinaldehyde are even better choices though as they require less metabolic steps to become the active form of the vitamin.

retinyl palmitate

Retinyl Palmitate – A Strange Ingredient for Sunscreens

The bad rap with retinyl palmitate really originates from its use in sunscreens.  Retinyl palmitate has been used in sunscreens for its antioxidant properties, in fact it is one of the primary antioxidants found in the skin. It also increases the rate of cellular renewal, like all exfoliants. When the skin cells divide, the healthy, youthful skin cells are revealed which evens the complexion and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. However, these new skin cells are also more susceptible to sun damage.  Logically, this makes any exfoliant, including any form of vitamin A an unadvisable choice in a sunscreen.

The verdict?  The evidence presented demonstrates that perhaps retinyl palmitate should not be applied before exposure to direct sunlight because it can make skin more susceptible to damage.  Therefore, it is best to avoid sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate.  However, exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acids, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing and vitamin A, including retinyl palmitate, can be very helpful in shedding unhealthy, damaged skin cells and discoloration, just make sure to properly protect your skin when using them.


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