How Is Retinyl Palmitate Different From Retinol? And How Does It Improve Your Skin? - The Dermatology Review

How Is Retinyl Palmitate Different From Retinol? And How Does It Improve Your Skin?



What Is Retinyl Palmitate?

Retinyl palmitate is a type of retinoid that is used in skincare products due to its ability to improve visible signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and acne.

Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds that demonstrate vitamin A activity. Retinyl palmitate is the ester of retinol which is another name for vitamin A and palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid.

Vitamin A cannot be synthesized by the body, which means it must be supplied to the body through dietary sources. Retinoids are required for many different biological processes. In particular, they are involved in embryogenesis, reproduction, vision, growth, inflammation, differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis. Retinoids are found in the keratinocytes or skin cells in two forms, retinol and retinyl esters, where they function as antioxidants.

Vitamin A is used to improve the appearance of the skin. Studies have suggested that vitamin A may help to reduce visible fine lines, pigmentation, blemishes, and may help to improve skin cell turnover. This is why vitamin A products are so widely used.

Retinyl Palmitate

the good:Vitamin A ingredients help to improve the appearance of fine lines, blemishes, and helps to promote skin cell turnover.

the not so good:There are some studies that have suggested that retinyl palmitate may be linked to some negative effects. It is important to remember that a few studies don’t indicate a causational link. Retinyl palmitate has been reassessed for safety and has been indicated to be safe for use.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:Be mindful that using vitamin A topically is absorbed through the skin and can contribute to overloading the body with vitamin A. Vitamin A can build up in the system so be mindful if you are taking any vitamin A supplements or medications.

What Are The Benefits Of Retinyl Palmitate?

As a class, retinoids are well-known to be one of the most powerful topically applied ingredients to address the signs of aging and improve acne symptoms. In addition to retinyl palmitate, the retinoid family consists of retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid, as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives. But did you know that of all the retinoids only retinoic acid has a direct biological effect on the skin? While retinoic acid is available as a topical prescription treatment (tretinoin, brand name Retin-A), it often causes skin irritation including excessive peeling, redness, and photosensitivity which limits its use.

So if retinoic acid is is the only biologically active retinoid, why do cosmetic manufacturers even use retinyl palmitate? Fortunately, our skin has naturally occurring enzymes that can convert retinyl palmitate to its active form. Retinyl palmitate is first converted to retinaldehyde. Then, the metabolism of retinaldehyde to retinoic acid occurs only by keratinocytes at a pertinent stage of differentiation, leading to a more controlled delivery of retinoic acid and weaker retinoid associated adverse effects as compared to tretinoin and other synthetic retinoids. For the remainder of the article, the benefits provided by retinyl palmitate will also apply to all topical retinoids since they are all converted to retinoic acid.

Retinyl palmitate improves the appearance of skin through several mechanisms. One is through the inhibition of collagenase, which is an enzyme that breaks down collagen. By preventing collagen degradation, skin appears more firm, and lines/wrinkles will be diminished.

Retinyl palmitate also initiates the increase of epidermal proliferation, which means it produces rapid skin growth. The skin normally takes about 28 days from first formation of a cell in the basal layer of the epidermis until it naturally sheds off. Retinyl palmitate speeds this process up to 14 to 16 days, which results in thicker and more plump skin.

Additionally, retinoids exfoliate the skin by causing more rapid shedding of the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is typically composed of 14 layers of densely packed corneocytes or dead skin cells. The use of topical retinyl palmitate sloughs off several of these cell layers, thinning the stratum corneum to eight or nine layers of more loosely woven skin cells.

The combination of rapid regeneration of cells and exfoliation of the stratum corneum not only improves the appearance of aging skin but also helps to exfoliate dark spots and blemishes. Over time these actions improve the appearance of acne, soften the skin, lift dark spots and reduce the visibility of wrinkles.

Lastly, retinyl palmitate functions as an antioxidant to limit oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are derived from both internal sources such as peroxisomes and phagocytic cells and external sources such as UV radiation, pollution, alcohol, tobacco smoke, heavy metals, and pesticides. Free radicals are detrimental because they are highly reactive molecules and can damage important cellular structures, like DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, or the cell membrane. Altogether, the damage to cells caused by free radicals is known as oxidative stress. The free radical theory of aging states that organisms age because cells accumulate oxidative stress caused by free radical damage over time. Topical application of retinyl palmitate may help to protect the skin from damage by free radicals.

Is Retinyl Palmitate Safe?

The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of retinyl palmitate for several over-the-counter or OTC products.

The safety of topical retinoids, including retinyl palmitate has been assessed on several occasions by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, a group responsible for evaluating the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients. In 1987, the Panel evaluated available scientific data and concluded that they were safe as cosmetic ingredients. In 2005, the Panel considered available new data and reaffirmed the above conclusion. Once again, in 2013, the CIR Expert Panel looked at additional new data and decided the data were not sufficient to re-open the safety assessment. The ‘safe as used’ conclusion in previous reports was confirmed.

This reassessment was initiated by the a study that suggested that retinyl palmitate may be linked to tumours in mice. This study was conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration and retinyl palmitate is still approved for use. It is important to remember that one study doesn’t indicate a causational link. 

An important consideration when using retinyl palmitate is to always check with your doctor or specialist before use as vitamin A can build up in the system and be absorbed through the skin. Make sure to speak to your doctor to ensure that supplements and other medications you may be on won’t interact. 

Oliveira, M, et al. 2014. ‘Topical application of retinyl palmitate-loaded nanotechnology-based drug delivery systems for the treatment of skin aging’, BioMed Research International. Zasada, M, & Budzisz, E, 2019. ‘Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments’, Postepy Dermatologii i Alergologii, 36(4), 392–397. Johnson, W, 2017. ‘Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate’, International Journal of Toxicology.


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