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Ingredient Spotlight: Retinol & Retinyl Palmitate - What Are They & Should You Avoid Them?

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There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the use of Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate in skin care and cosmetic products. Most of that talk centres around the safety of those ingredients, with arguments both for and against put forward by government bodies, researchers and health industry organisations.

Retinol & Retinyl Palmitate Use in Skin Care & Cosmetics

Once upon a time, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate were found mainly in skin care products designed for night-time use, like night creams and serums. These days, they can be found in a much wider range of products, including cleansers, day creams, sunscreens, body washes, shampoos, lipsticks, eyeshadows, mascaras - just about everything!

So, let’s take a closer look at these ingredients and discuss why there’s so much controversy surrounding them.

First of all: what are Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate?

Retinol is the technical or chemical name for Vitamin A. Natural Vitamin A is important for our health and is usually obtained through our diet. It supports our immune system, boosts vision and contributes to the health of our skin. From a general health point of view, most of us get enough Vitamin A from what we eat and drink each day.

Retinyl Palmitate is a chemical compound combining Retinol (Vitamin A) and Palmitic Acid (a saturated fatty acid, derived from palm oil).

It should also be noted that there are other types of esters, also Vitamin A derivatives, often described as Retinol, including Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate and Retinyl Proprionate.

Why are Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate used in skin care?

Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate are powerful antioxidants and have long been touted for their anti-ageing properties.

When Retinol is applied topically to the skin, it is converted to an active compound known as Retinoic Acid (also known as Tretinoin). Retinoic Acid has a small molecular structure that allows it to penetrate the outer layers of our skin to reach the deeper layers where collagen and elastin reside. It works to boost collagen and elastin production and increase cellular rejuvenation, promoting smoother, younger looking skin.

Retinyl Palmitate is considered to be a milder form of Vitamin A and, when applied topically to skin, it must first be converted to Retinol and then to Retinoic Acid before it can have the same anti-ageing effects as Retinol.

Are there any dangers associated with using products containing Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate?

You can find lots of information online about Retinol ingredients. It can be a little confusing because, unfortunately, there are conflicting views when it comes to their safety. If you're concerned, I urge you to do your own research and make up your own mind whether these ingredients are right for you and your circumstances. Some of the concerns surrounding the use of Retinoid ingredients in skin care products include:

  • Dry skin & irritation

There seems to be a general consensus that people with sensitive skin should take care using products containing Retinol or Retinyl Palmitate. Retinol is a potent exfoliating agent and regular use can cause a thinning of the skin, dryness, redness and irritation, particularly in people with sensitive skin.

  • Sun damage

There have been some studies indicating that Retinoid ingredients, although revered for their anti-ageing properties, can act as “photosensitisers” when exposed to sunlight, leading to free radical formation, skin damage and ageing (ironic, right?). Some studies have indicated that Retinyl Palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sulight, may speed the development of skin tumours and lesions. This begs the question: why is Retinyl Palmitate used in some sunscreens, foundations and lipsticks??? 

  • Pregnant women

High doses of Vitamin A during pregnancy can be harmful to the development of the foetus and experts recommend that pregnant women avoid using topical Retinoid products.

So, what's my take on all of this?

While ageing is a natural process which we all go through (if we’re lucky enough to live that long), many of us would like to maintain a youthful appearance for as long as possible. That doesn't necessarily mean we're vain. We just want to look and feel our best and there's nothing wrong with that! A skin care routine based on natural and organic skincare products can play an important role but there are other things you can do to benefit your skin's health and appearance, like:

  • Diet – eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit processed foods.
  • Water – drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day to keep your body and your skin well hydrated.
  • Exercise – exercising increases blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your skin cells, helping to keep them vital.

As for Retinol & Retinyl Palmitate, my personal opinion is: wait until the sun goes down. These ingredients do have amazing proven anti-ageing benefits, but until more research into their safety is carried out and more conclusive data becomes available - especially as regards exposure to sunlight - it might be best to restrict yourself to night-time products and let them work their magic for you while you sleep.

The writer is not a medical professional. Any information or advice in this article is of a general nature only and is the opinion of the writer, based on the writer's research into the topic at hand. Nothing in this article is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For medical advice regarding your own personal circumstances, it is recommended that you contact your GP or other healthcare professional.

Sources: truthinaging .com; ewg .com; webmd .com; safecosmetics .org

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