Retinyl Palmitate: Is It Worth It? What’s The Difference Between Retinyl Palmitate And Retinol?



What Is Retinyl Palmitate?

You have probably heard of the benefits of retinol and retinoids by now. One of these ingredients that you may not be familiar with 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 support the treatment of acne.

Retinoids are a class of ingredients that have demonstrated benefits to the appearance of the skin. Retinoids such as retinol or retinyl palmitate are converted to vitamin A or retinoic acid in the body. 

Retinoic acid is required for many different biological processes in the body. In particular, it is involved in embryogenesis, reproduction, vision, growth, inflammation, differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis. 

Vitamin A or retinoic acid is also 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 retinoid 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. 



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


Skin cell turnover

Retinyl palmitate has also been studied for its ability to initiate the increase of epidermal proliferation, which means it may help to support skin growth. The skin normally takes about 28 days from the first formation of a cell until that cell naturally sheds off. Retinyl palmitate has been suggested to speed up this process to 14 to 16 days. This effect has been linked with a thicker skin and improvement in the appearance of fullness in the skin. 



Additionally, retinoids exfoliate the skin by supporting the natural shedding of the skin. The uppermost layers of the skin are typically composed of 14 layers of densely packed dead skin cells. These dead skin cells form the protective barrier that prevents moisture loss, bacteria overgrowth, and damage. However, in some people, shedding this layer may help to improve pigmentation and reduce the frequency of blemishes. The use of topical retinyl palmitate helps to slough off some of these surface layers.

The combination of rapid regeneration of cells and exfoliation may help to improve the appearance of aging skin and  reduce the appearance of dark spots and blemishes. Over time these actions may 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.

Antioxidants help to prevent free radical damage. Free radicals are produced by a natural process in the body called oxidative stress, however, environmental factors such as UV rays, smoking, diet, and pollution can increase the number of free radicals in the body. 

This increase can be detrimental, as free radicals have been linked with damage to the body’s cells and studies suggest that they may be linked to aging. The ability of retinyl palmitate to work as an antioxidant may provide the skin with a little extra protection.



Retinoids are often used to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. They work by speeding up the skin’s natural shedding process, removing the pigmented skin from the surface. They also may work to influence the molecules that are responsible for pigment in the skin, melanocytes, allowing for regular arrangement of pigment in the skin. 

The main thing to remember when using any retinoid product is that you need to use it in conjunction with sunscreen. This is particularly important when using retinoids for hyperpigmentation as the sun will contribute to the appearance of hyperpigmentation.



In acne prone skin, retinoids may help to reduce hormone driven excess sebum production, think oily skin. It may also help to reduce blockages in the pores, and reduce the inflammatory response. 



Retinoids are widely used to reduce the signs of aging on the skin. While the aging processes of the skin are highly complex and depend on genetic and environmental factors, retinyl palmitate and its retinoid counterparts have been shown to help reduce fine lines and wrinkles as well as improve skin texture and laxity. 



There is some new research that suggests that retinoids such as retinyl palmitate may help to support the treatment of psoriasis

How Does Retinyl Palmitate Form Vitamin A?

In addition to retinyl palmitate, the retinoid family consists of retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid, as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives. 

The different retinoids have slightly different functions and benefits.  All the retinoids are converted into retinoic acid in the body. Retinoic acid is the main ingredient that has a direct biological effect on the skin. Retinoic acid is a metabolite of vitamin A and is responsible for most of the benefits to the body and skin. 

Retinoic acid is available as a prescription treatment known as tretinoin or Retin – A. Tretinoin can cause skin irritation including excessive peeling, redness, and photosensitivity which limits its use.

Despite retinoic acid being the most biologically active retinoid, retinyl palmitate is also processed through the body to produce retinoic acid. The difference being that the body has to convert retinyl palmitate to retinoic acid before it can be used. This reduces its potency. 

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 less side effects as compared to tretinoin and other synthetic retinoids. 

The benefits provided by retinyl palmitate also apply to all topical retinoids since they are all converted to retinoic acid in the body.

What Is The Difference Between Retinyl Palmitate and Retinol?

Retinyl palmitate and retinol are both retinoids which means that they are converted to retinoic acid in the body. Retinol only has to undergo one conversion step in the body and is more potent than retinyl palmitate. 

Basically, retinyl palmitate has to undergo more processing in the body to produce retinoic acid, than retinol. As retinyl palmitate is less potent it is considered to be a gentler form of retinoid and may not produce the same side effects that are often associated with retinol. Side effects such as dryness, irritation and redness are common with retinoid use.

What Is Retinyl Palmitate Made From?

Retinyl palmitate is an ester of retinol which is another name for vitamin A and palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid.

Is Retinyl Palmitate Vegan?

As retinyl palmitate is made from vitamin A and palmitic acid, there are two ingredients to consider. 

Vitamin A can be derived from both plant-based and animal based sources. 

Palmitic acid can also be derived from both plant-based and animal sources but is usually derived from plant sources. Be sure to check that the product uses plant-based sources if you are looking for a vegan product. 

Who Should Use Retinyl Palmitate?

As retinyl palmitate is less irritating than the other four retinoids it is a great option for those who have sensitive skin or don’t tolerate stronger retinoids well. 

What Should You Consider Before Using Retinyl Palmitate?

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. 

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 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. 

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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