- Retinyl palmitate is a retinoid that provides a range of skin care benefits.
- It is used as a first-line treatment for acne and addresses signs of aging by increasing collagen production.
- As topical retinoids are known to increase sun sensitivity, sun exposure should be avoided after application.
Retinyl palmitate—also known as retinol palmitate or vitamin A palmitate—is a powerful antioxidant and a common ingredient in skin care products such as moisturizers, sunscreens and topical acne medications. It can effectively treat mild acne and provides anti-aging benefits by boosting collagen production.
Retinyl palmitate is available in topical formulations and as an oral supplement, which can be taken to promote the overall health of the skin.
What is Retinyl Palmitate?
Retinyl palmitate is a retinoid, a type of chemical compound derived from vitamin A. It is found naturally in meat, fish and eggs. When absorbed by skin, it is converted into retinoic acid, an active form of vitamin A that provides a range of benefits.
Topical retinyl palmitate is commonly applied for acne treatments or anti-aging purposes, and is available in several forms, including creams, gels and serums. It can also be taken orally as an acne medication, or injected as a remedy for severe vitamin A deficiency.
Retinyl palmitate vs. retinol
Retinol is the primary form of vitamin A included in over-the-counter (OTC) topical skin care products. Retinyl palmitate is closely related to retinol, and is in fact derived from a combination of retinol and palmitic acid, a complex fatty acid.
Retinol can provide the same range of skin care benefits as retinyl palmitate, and is also used to treat both acne and aging skin. However, retinol is more easily processed by the body, and requires fewer steps to break down into retinoic acid – the form of vitamin A used by the body. As such, it is more potent and produces slightly more dramatic and immediate effects.
However, retinol’s higher potency also means an increased risk of side effects in comparison to retinyl palmitate. Possible negative effects of both medications include skin redness, dryness, flaking and irritation.
Retinyl Palmitate Benefits
Topical retinyl palmitate is used to treat mild acne and reduce the visibility of signs of aging. It is safe and effective for all skin types, although people with dry or sensitive skin should gradually introduce it into their routine because of its potential to cause irritation.
Topical retinyl palmitate is a first-line treatment for acne that can effectively reduce both the severity and number of acne lesions and improve the overall appearance of acne-affected skin. Retinyl palmitate can also be administered orally for acne treatment, although large doses (typically 150,000–200,000 IU daily) are necessary for noticeable effects to develop.
This retinoid increases cell turnover, which accelerates the rate at which dead and damaged skin is purged and new, healthy skin regenerates. This helps keep pores clear by preventing the buildup of dead skin and other debris. Retinyl palmitate also decreases skin inflammation, which reduces the likelihood of breakouts.
Due to its relatively low potency as a retinoid, retinyl palmitate is best suited for treating mild cases of acne. For severe inflammatory types of acne, such as cysts and nodules, prescription-strength retinoids such as tretinoin are recommended instead.
Retinyl palmitate’s anti-aging benefits stem from the fact that it both supports the production and prevents the breakdown of collagen, the protein responsible for maintaining the structure, firmness and suppleness of skin.
The body’s collagen production slows as a natural part of the aging process, leading to decreased tissue volume, lax skin and the appearance of wrinkles. Retinyl palmitate helps to counteract these effects, and softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time.
Retinyl palmitate can also help fade the appearance of age spots and other forms of skin discoloration. It does so by increasing cell turnover, which accelerates the rate at which unevenly pigmented areas of skin are purged.
Forms of Retinyl Palmitate
Retinyl palmitate is available in several different types of formulas, with some more suitable for specific skin types.
- Creams contain hydrating ingredients, and are better suited for those with dry skin
- Gel formulations tend to be absorbed into the skin more quickly, and are therefore a better choice for treating acne-prone skin
- Serums are lightweight and water-based, and are ideal for those with oily skin
Retinyl palmitate is also available in pill form, which is either prescribed as a mild acne medication or used to treat vitamin A deficiency.
A word about supplements
Most vitamin A supplements are in fact formulated with retinyl palmitate, but they may not have as direct an effect on your skin as retinyl palmitate applied topically. Increasing your body’s overall levels of vitamin A, however, will promote the growth of healthy skin in the long term.
It is recommended that those taking vitamin A supplements never exceed a daily dosage of 3,000 IU. Vitamin A is toxic in high amounts, and carries a risk of causing severe liver damage.
Safety and Side Effects
Potential side effects of topical retinyl palmitate include skin dryness, flakiness, redness and inflammation. These effects are typically mild, but may be more pronounced in people with dry or sensitive skin.
Retinyl palmitate is also phototoxic, and can cause painful and dangerous side effects when applied topically and skin is exposed to sunlight.
Like other retinoids, retinyl palmitate increases photosensitivity. When applied to the skin, it exacerbates a person’s risk of developing sunburn, signs of photoaging and skin cancer. This is because when retinoids come into contact with ultraviolet (UV) light, they produce free radicals, unstable compounds that create a state of oxidation damaging to the skin.
In order to avoid these risks, retinyl palmitate should never be applied immediately before sun exposure. It is generally safest to apply at nighttime, or as part of an evening skin care routine.
Use of Retinyl Palmitate during pregnancy
Oral retinyl palmitate is associated with an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications. The oral dosage required for treating acne far exceeds the recommended intake limit for pregnant women, and can alter blood chemistry in a manner that worsens the risk of birth defects in developing fetuses.
Topical retinyl palmitate is absorbed into the bloodstream far less effectively than oral supplements. As such, it does not carry the same risk for pregnant women, and can be used safely.
Retinyl Palmitate Alternatives
There are several alternatives to retinyl palmitate that can provide similar benefits.
- Retinyl acetate, like retinyl palmitate, can effectively increase collagen production and treat mild acne, and is milder than other retinoids
- Retinol is a slightly stronger retinoid that can treat acne and reduce the appearance of wrinkles; it carries a slightly higher risk of skin dryness and irritation
- Tretinoin and other prescription-strength retinoids can treat severe acne unresponsive to OTC treatments; these should only be used by following your provider’s instructions
- Benzoyl peroxide is an acne treatment that functions by killing bacteria, increasing cell turnover and regulating sebum production
- Hyaluronic acid encourages moisture retention in the skin and softens the appearance of visible signs of aging
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals, reduces the appearance of signs of aging and soothes acne inflammation.
- Bakuchiol is a plant extract that provides similar anti-aging benefits to retinoids with little to no risk of harmful side effects
Retinyl palmitate is a retinoid that can treat mild acne and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It functions by stimulating cell turnover and collagen production. It is available in several forms, including OTC creams, gels, lotions and oral supplements.
Topical retinyl palmitate is safe for all skin types, but may still cause mild irritation in dry or sensitive skin. Pregnant women should avoid the use of oral supplements due to their reproductive toxicity and high potential of causing birth defects.
This retinoid also has a photosensitizing effect, and may increase a person’s risk of developing sun damage and skin cancer. As such, sun exposure should be avoided after it is applied with nighttime application as the ideal.
Retinyl palmitate is less potent than other retinoids, and although this makes it a better choice for sensitive skin, its effects are comparatively mild. Other more powerful alternatives include retinol and prescription retinoids such as tretinoin.
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