Is Retinyl Palmitate Dangerous?

Retinyl Palmitate (RP) is an ester form of a retinoid.  It has a bad reputation because it has been shown to cause skin cancer in mice.  Is the fear of retinyl palmitate toxicity justified? Is this Vitamin A palmitate cancer causing? Are skin care products with retinyl palmitate a danger? What is the controversy about retinyl palmitate safety? This blog will review the data so you can decide for yourself.  This brief video will tell you some of my thoughts about the dangers of retinyl palmitate.

 

Retinyl Palmitate vs Retinol

Both retinol and retinyl palmitate are in the retinoid family.  These forms of Vitamin A are very different however.  Retinyl palmitate is a combination of retinol and palmitic acid: a saturated fatty acids that comes from palm oil.

Retinol penetrates into the skin and is known to help acne and aging, while retinyl palmitate does not penetrate as well and may have dangerous side effects.  Retinyl palmitate is found in many skin care product that claim they have retinol because it is cheaper than retinol.  It is better for you to use skin care products with retinol instead of retinyl palmitate products.

Learn about retinol safety at this link.

We can help you find the best skin care products for your Baumann Skin Type.  Why guess what products are safe to use when we can give you specific advice from our dermatologists? We take all of this into account when designed your skin care routine and giving you product options form nay brands.

Why is retinyl palmitate considered toxic?

Retinyl Palmitate was also the subject of a controversial summer 2010 report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in which the organization warned of possible photocarcinogenicity associated with RP-containing sunscreens. The EWG rates it as a 9 on the safe scale (1 being the most safe or "best") and 10 being the least safe or "worst").

Retinyl Palmitate is fine unless it is used in the sun.  The problem is that the sun can change it into a cancer causing dangerous toxin.

When is it ok to use retinyl palmitate?

Retinyl palmitate is safer in these situations:

  1. Used at night and washed off in the am
  2. When used in the daytime and covered by sunscreen
  3. When it is in a very low concentration in a skin care product and not much of the product is used but we do not know what a safe amount is. (12)
  4. When it is in a product like a cleanser that is rinsed off before going in the sun
  5. Use it over an antioxidant serum to neutralize any free radicals

Retinoids and Cancer

The vitamin A family includes retinyl esters, retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene and oral Accutane in addition to four carotenoids, including beta-carotene, many of which have been shown to prevent or protect against cancer (1,2,3,4,5, ) That does not mean that Retinyl Palmitate prevents cancer just because oral retinol, beta-carotene, or tretinoin have been shown to. In fact, the study that the EWG refers to shows evidence that RP may lead to skin tumors in mice.

Why Does Retinyl Palmitate Turn Dangerous in the Sun?

Of the eight in vitro studies published by the FDA from 2002–2009, four revealed that reactive oxygen species were produced by retinyl palmitate after UVA exposure. (6,7,8,9,10)

Even though it seems clear that retinyl palmitate leads to free radicals, it is still not known if it causes cancer in human skin.

Using Sunscreen with Retinyl Palmitate

Sunscreens such as Avobenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate have been shown to stabilize the breakdown of retinyl palmitate that occurs with UV exposure. (11) So if you must use a retinyl ester like retinyl palmitate, use it with a sunscreen.

 

Our Recommendations

In 1997, Duell et al. showed that retinol is more effective at penetrating into human skin in  than retinyl palmitate. (13) So there is really no reason to use retinyl palmitate when you can use retinol instead! The slow penetration of RP into the skin allows RP to remain on the skin long enough to undergo a photoreaction and generate reactive oxygen species (Free radicals). These reactive oxygen species or free radicals can theoretically lead to increased skin cancer

In light of the controversy swirling around RP, the appropriate concern it has caused, and the weight of evidence, I advise patients to avoid daytime use of products with retinyl palmitate high on the ingredient list. I feel that it poses real risks while offering minimal benefits.

  1. Use retinol, tretinoin adapalene, tazarotene or trifarotene instead
  2. Use retinoids at night

 

Retinyl palmitate does not penetrate very well into the skin. Consequently, for cosmetic topical retinoid formulations, I recommend retinol instead. That said, sufficient evidence to establish a definite causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. 

Level up.jpg

References:

  1. L. Baumann Retinoids in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Wald, N. J., Thompson, S. G., Densem, J. W., Boreham, J., & Bailey, A. (1988). Serum beta-carotene and subsequent risk of cancer: results from the BUPA Study. British Journal of Cancer57(4), 428-433.
  3. Moon, T. E., Levine, N., Cartmel, B., Bangert, J. L., Rodney, S., Dong, Q., ... & Alberts, D. S. (1997). Effect of retinol in preventing squamous cell skin cancer in moderate-risk subjects: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Southwest Skin Cancer Prevention Study Group. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention: a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology6(11), 949-956.
  4. Epstein, J. H., & Grekin, D. A. (1981). Inhibition of ultraviolet-induced carcinogenesis by all-trans retinoic acid. Journal of Investigative Dermatology76(3), 178-180.
  5. Kligman, L. H., & Kligman, A. M. (1981). Lack of enhancement of experimental photocarcinogenesis by topical retinoic acid. Archives of Dermatological Research270(4), 453-462.
  6. Wang, S. Q., Dusza, S. W., & Lim, H. W. (2010). Safety of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens: a critical analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology63(5), 903-906.
  7. Yin, J. J., Xia, Q., & Fu, P. P. (2007). UVA photoirradiation of anhydroretinol–formation of singlet oxygen and superoxide. Toxicology and Industrial Health23(10), 625-631.
  8. Xia, Q., Yin, J. J., Cherng, S. H., Wamer, W. G., Boudreau, M., Howard, P. C., & Fu, P. P. (2006). UVA photoirradiation of retinyl palmitate—formation of singlet oxygen and superoxide, and their role in induction of lipid peroxidation. Toxicology letters163(1), 30-43.
  9. Cherng, S. H., Xia, Q., Blankenship, L. R., Freeman, J. P., Wamer, W. G., Howard, P. C., & Fu, P. P. (2005). Photodecomposition of retinyl palmitate in ethanol by UVA light formation of photodecomposition products, reactive oxygen species, and lipid peroxides. Chemical research in toxicology18(2), 129-138.
  10. Xia, Q., Yin, J. J., Wamer, W. G., Cherng, S. H., Boudreau, M. D., Howard, P. C., ... & Fu, P. P. (2006). Photoirradiation of retinyl palmitate in ethanol with ultraviolet light-formation of photodecomposition products, reactive oxygen species, and lipid peroxides. International journal of environmental research and public health3(2), 185-190.
  11. Scarpin, M. S., Kawakami, C. M., Rangel, K. C., Pereira, K. D. C., Benevenuto, C. G., & Gaspar, L. R. (2021). Effects of UV‐filter Photostabilizers in the Photostability and Phototoxicity of Vitamin A Palmitate Combined with Avobenzone and Octyl Methoxycinnamate. Photochemistry and Photobiology97(4), 700-709.
  12. Bernauer, U., Bodin, L., Chaudhry, Q., Coenraad, P. J., Dusinska, M., Ezendam, J., ... & Von Goetz, N. (2021). SCCS REVISION of the scientific Opinion (SCCS/1576/16) on Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate)-SCCS/1639/21-Preliminary version.
  13. Duell, E. A., Kang, S., & Voorhess, J. J. (1997). Unoccluded retinol penetrates human skin in vivo more effectively than unoccluded retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid. Journal of investigative dermatology109(3), 301-305.

© 2006 - 2022 Skin Type Solutions