Retinol (Vitamin A):

Retinol (Vitamin A): Retinol and retinyl palmitate (a.k.a. retinol palmitate) are among the most widely used active ingredients in skin care, but they are often misunderstood, and are not equivalent in producing beneficial effects on the skin. It is important to understand the basic differences between retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinoic acid (Retin-A), so you don’t get misled when evaluating different crèmes.

Retinol is the whole vitamin A molecule, and is therefore just a fancy name for Vitamin A, whereas retinyl palmitate is an ester (chemical form) of retinol combined with another chemical called palmitic acid. Retinol (Vitamin A) can be broken down or converted into smaller components, one of which is the active substance retinoic acid (Retin-A), and it belongs to the family of chemical compounds known as retinoids; which many consider the “gold standard” of anti-aging products. According to an article by the beauty editors of Allure magazine, “We’ve looked at more close-up before and after pictures than we ever thought possible, and the one family of ingredients that reduces wrinkles and firms skin is retinoids”. One of their editors goes on to state that they have tried just about every new anti-aging product, but the creams that earn a permanent place in their medicine cabinets all have one thing in common, retinoids.

Retinol (retinoids) helps bring the skin back to a normal pH, and has the ability to penetrate the skin and increase elasticity. It makes the skin look smoother, reduces pore size, and improves wrinkles. Retinol aids in the resurfacing and rejuvenating of skin, helping to impart a clearer, more vibrant complexion for all ages and skin types. It removes the top layer of dead skin, while also generating collagen (the skin’s structural fiber) in the skin. As we get older, collagen breaks down, creating lines and large pores. Retinol penetrates deep into the skin, where it becomes fully operative as the enzymes in the skin convert it to retinoic acid. Wrinkles and lines are gradually smoothed, moisture and elasticity increase, pore size is decreased, the complexion glows and damage is diminished.

Now it is important to understand that only retinoic acid (a small component of retinol) is active, and has a direct effect on the skin. Unfortunately, pure retinoic acid (Retin A) requires a prescription, is relatively expensive, and often causes skin irritation, which limits its use. Fortunately, our skin cells have enzymes (chemicals) which can easily convert retinol and to a lesser extent retinyl palmitate to retinoic acid. As a result, retinol and retinyl palmitate can deliver the same well established skin benefits of retinoic acid, while in theory, producing fewer side effects. In fact, studies conducted by Drs. Kang and Voorhees at the University of Michigan indicated that retinol mimicked the activity of retinoic acid without the irritation often seen with pure retinoic acid. However, retinol and retinyl palmitate are not equivalent, as the conversion to retinoic acid (the active substance) is much easier (shorter) for retinol compare to retinyl palmitate (see below):

Retinyl Palmitate <= = > Retinol <= = > Retinoic acid

Therefore, compared to retinol, much more retinyl palmitate is needed to produce the same amount of retinoic acid. So in general, if you are looking to maximize the benefits of retinoids, you should most likely use a cream that contains retinol, not retinyl palmitate. Furthermore, to be effective, a cream should probably contain at least 0.2% retinol, whereas for retinyl palmitate, the amount would need to be significantly higher, because of the reduced conversion rate. Lower concentrations of retinol and retinyl palmitate may still improve the skin’s appearance, but it will take longer. Therefore, when purchasing a creme promoting the effect of retinol, it is important to know the concentration, as well as the type of retinol used. Be careful if the concentration is not listed, as it is probably low, especially if it is near the end of the listed ingredients.