Retinyl Palmitate

AKA: Vitamin A
An esterified form of retinol – it combines retinol and palmitic acid into one molecule. Retinyl palmitate is less irritating than retinol but also much less effective in its anti-aging and acne-reducing effects.
Also-Known-As:
Vitamin A
All functions
Origin
Retinyl Palmitate

Overview

Retinyl palmitate is an esterified form of vitamin A, or retinol - it combines retinol and palmitic acid into one molecule. Retinyl palmitate is used as a storage form of vitamin A in the body, especially in the liver and the skin because these two organs need a significant amount of vitamin A to function properly.

It is used as a retinoid in skincare products, an ingredient with vitamin A-like activity. There is a huge amount of conflicting information about retinyl palmitate on the internet, so let's unpack it one by one.

The active form of vitamin A in our body is called retinoic acid, or tretinoin. To convert this into retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate must go through 3 separate reaction steps: Retinyl palmitate - retinol - retinal - retinoic acid. This conversion happens in the skin after the application of the cosmetic product, but it is rather slow and not always fully completed.

That means that the effects of retinyl palmitate may be delayed or weaker compared to those of retinol or tretinoin (you can read more about retinol here).

Another issue is that there are no clinical studies that compare the efficacy of retinyl palmitate for anti-aging and anti-wrinkle purposes with the other retinoids. The only tests available are the ones that were done in test tubes or on animals, and these aren't 100% reliable.

The only relevant study on human volunteers used retinyl palmitate in a mixture with other anti-aging ingredients over a period of 12 weeks.

The results of this study were quite incredible, reporting significant improvements in all signs of photodamage, but it cannot be known for sure if this was due to the retinyl palmitate, or due to the many other anti-aging ingredients.

There is a relatively new study that was done on mice that suggests that retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin and exposed to sunlight, can increase the chances of developing skin cancer.

These results are not a reason to panic, as they were done on mice exposed to a lot of UV light in a short period of time, but it does provide another reason to use sunscreen regularly, especially when you treat your skin with light-sensitive retinoids.

The general consensus of cosmetic science is that retinyl palmitate is safe to use in concentrations up to 2%, but its efficacy has not yet been proven.

Science

1
Riahi, R. R., Bush, A. E., & Cohen, P. R. (2016). Topical Retinoids: Therapeutic Mechanisms in the Treatment of Photodamaged Skin. American journal of clinical dermatology, 17(3), 265–276.
2
Fu, P. P., Xia, Q., Boudreau, M. D., Howard, P. C., Tolleson, W. H., & Wamer, W. G. (2007). Physiological role of retinyl palmitate in the skin. Vitamins and hormones, 75, 223–256.
3
Rawlings, A. V., et al. (2013). The effect of a vitamin A palmitate and antioxidant-containing oil-based moisturizer on photodamaged skin of several body sites. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 12(1), 25–35.
4
Boudreau, M. D., et al. (2017). Photo-co-carcinogenesis of Topically Applied Retinyl Palmitate in SKH-1 Hairless Mice. Photochemistry and photobiology, 93(4), 1096–1114.
5
Johnson W., Jr (2017). Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. International journal of toxicology, 36(5_suppl2), 53S–58S.