Form of vitamin A. It is a combination of retinol (pure vitamin A) and palmitic acid. There is research showing it to be effective as an antioxidant and skin-cell regulator (Sources: European Journal of Medical Research
, September 2001, pages 391–398; and Journal of Investigative Dermatology
, September 1997, pages 301–305).
Retinyl palmitate received some negative publicity in May 2010 when a press release was issued stating that it is linked to skin cancer and tumor growth. The FDA was implicated in this scare-tactic report, but as it turns out the assertions made against retinyl palmitate were not conclusive or firmly supported by published research. In fact, retinyl palmitate is one of the primary antioxidants found naturally in skin (Source: Toxicology and Industrial Health, May 2006, pages 181-191). Moreover, when retinyl palmitate is properly formulated in sunscreens (meaning stabilizing ingredients are included, which is typical) it does not pose a problem or health risk (Source: Photochemistry and Photobiology, November-December 2010, pages 1,390-1,396).
Some additional facts to consider:
- Retinyl palmitate is approved by the FDA as a food additive, as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, and a prescription drug. To achieve premarket approval, the FDA requires extensive and rigorous testing. This vitamin wouldn’t be widely used if pre-market tests showed it to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
- Retinyl palmitate has been shown in UVB exposure studies to offer sun protection all by itself, and it is a potent antioxidant (Sources: International Journal of Pharmaceutics, October 2007, pages 181–189; and Journal of Investigative Dermatology, November 2003, pages 1,163–1,167).
- In vitro (test tube) research showed that pure vitamin A (retinol) has a mutagenic effect on cultured skin cells when exposed to UV light. However, the conclusion reached was as follows: “Vitamin A in the skin resides in a complex environment that in many ways is very different from the chemical environment in solution and in vitro test systems. Relevant clinical studies or studies in animal models are therefore needed to establish whether the pro-oxidant activity of photoexcited vitamin A is observed in vivo [on human skin], and to assess the related risks.”
- The studies examining vitamin A’s role in the presence of UV light did not involve the use of a well formulated sunscreen or credible sunscreen actives. Although damaging effects upon exposure to UV light were tied to vitamin A, there was no comparison to see what would happen if the lab samples were treated with sunscreen prior to UV exposure (Sources: Toxicology and Industrial Health, November 2007, pages 625–631; Toxicology Letters, May 2006, pages 30–43; and International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, June 2006, pages 185–190).
You may have read information from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) concerning their study which concluded that retinyl palmitate is a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) in the presence of UV light. Dermatologists who analyzed this study and its conclusions had the following comments, as published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:
“There is no conclusive evidence to indicate the combination of retinyl palmitate and UV radiation causes increased rates of skin cancer.”
"It is important to note that the mice in the NTP study are highly susceptible to the effects of UV radiation and can develop skin cancer or other skin abnormalities within weeks of UV exposure, even in the absence of retinyl palmitate," said Dr. Wang. "That is why extreme caution is needed when extrapolating these animal study results to humans."
“Although there are no published human studies on the potential of retinyl palmitate or other retinoids to cause cancer, the commentary concludes that observations from decades of clinical practice do not support the notion that retinyl palmitate in sunscreen causes or promotes skin cancer. First, dermatologists routinely prescribe various forms of topical and oral retinoids to treat a number of skin conditions (e.g., acne, psoriasis and photoaging).”
Finally, “...years of research suggests that retinoids are helpful in reducing your risk for skin cancer. The bottom line is that people should continue vigilantly using sunscreens along with other sun-safe practices such as limiting sun exposure, seeking shade, and wearing sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging."
Additional sources to support the conclusions above: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0781.2011.00557.x/full; and www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/sunscreens-remain-safe-effective-form-of-sun-protection.