Why Retinyl Palmitate?
Retinyl Palmitate is an ester of vitamin A and is an essential nutrient found in the skin to regulate growth, replicate skin cells and renew and rejuvenate the skin.
Vitamin A for the skin is fundamental in controlling normal DNA activities (the blueprint of the cell) in the nucleus and the mitochondria (the energy source of the cell).
So wait, what? Why is DNA so important?
The DNA of your cell determines how each cell will replicate and reproduce itself.
Think of your DNA as the architect of the blueprints held within every cell.
Your skin is particularly vulnerable to an altering of your DNA blueprint when exposed to the sun.
Just like the blueprints for an architecturally designed home, if a saboteur meddled with the blueprints, the house won’t be as anyone expected. Why is that shower in the middle of the living room? Exactly, it’s just not right, and the results, well, could be disastrous.
But I know you’re not a house! But your skin does house you, so we’ll use it as an analogy for what’s going on when your skin’s blueprint goes awry.
Constant exposure to the sun will change the DNA blueprint of your skin. Subtle at first and barely noticeable, but over time, many skin conditions appear due to a loss of vitamin A in the skin and DNA damage.
What happens when the skin is deficient in vitamin A?
Skin conditions like premature ageing, lines and wrinkles, chronic dehydration, sensitivity and the blotchy brown patches of hyperpigmentation are signs of DNA damage. And, even difficult skin conditions like rosacea, acne and eczema can be linked to a deficiency of vitamin A in the skin.
Sun damage will permanently alter how your skin cells reproduce and perform unless you take action to restore the vitamin A found in the skin to repair and reverse the signs of sun damage.
Enter Retinyl Palmitate.
Retinyl palmitate is an ester of vitamin A and the dominant vitamin found in the epidermis (the top layer of the skin).
Retinyl palmitate is your skin’s natural sunscreen.
It’s there for its antioxidant protection and minimises the oxidising impact of free radicals. And, most importantly, it provides natural protection from the harmful damage caused by the sun. Yep, it’s worth repeating; retinyl palmitate is your skin’s natural sunscreen.
The Sun and Vitamin A for skin health.
Now that we know vitamin A is your skins first line of defence and will protect your skin from the sun’s ongoing assault, it makes sense to have a continuous supply of vitamin A in your epidermis. All the time.
Here’s the rub. While vitamin A protects the skin, sun exposure destroys it. Yep, the vitamin A found naturally in the epidermis, known as retinyl palmitate, is sacrificed to the sun gods every time you go outside.
Once destroyed, retinyl palmitate takes many days to make its way from the storage supply found in your liver back to the outermost layer of your skin, where it’s needed to keep protecting your skin.
As you can imagine, especially if you tend to go outdoors every day, there’s a high chance you have a deficit in the amount of vitamin A naturally protecting your skin.
What about sunscreen protection?
It’s important to note that even though retinyl palmitate is your skins natural sunscreen, you should not forgo a broadspectrum sunscreen anytime soon; you need that too.
Sunscreen is essential in protecting against UVB and UVA radiation damage, but it doesn’t protect against vitamin A loss in your skin. You need to apply retinyl palmitate to your skin every day.
But you’ve been told you shouldn’t apply vitamin A during the daytime?
I know, but that’s a myth that needs to be busted wide open.
Emphatically YES! You should apply a topical low or mild concentration of a retinyl ester every day to protect your skin.
But of course, no point going to all this trouble if you’re not wearing a broadspectrum sunscreen during the day; think of retinyl palmitate and sunscreen as a double act—rain, hail or shine.
However, if you’re having a retinoid reaction? Your skin is vulnerable and inflamed. So, stop using the topical retinoid causing the reaction. Apply an occlusive moisturiser, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and if possible, avoid sun exposure altogether until your skin settles down.
How to avoid a vitamin A deficiency in your skin?
If you want great skin for a long time, you must ALWAYS wear sunscreen—every day, that’s a given. But, you may not have been aware you need to make sure you have a constant supply of vitamin A for your skin up until now.
Vitamin A comes from the foods you eat and stored in the liver as retinyl palmitate until it’s needed. So a balanced diet is essential.
But as we know, it can take many days for the body to restore vitamin A in the skin, making a daily topical application necessary to keep the skin in a healthy and normalised state of being.
If you’re applying retinyl palmitate every day, both morning and night, rest assured your skin always has what it needs to protect itself.
Playing and winning the long game.
Retinyl palmitate has fewer side effects than other forms of vitamin A such as retinoic acid. When used every day, it gives your skin long-term protection and a fighting chance to win the war on skin damage caused by the sun.
And, as retinyl palmitate is less irritating, there is a greater chance you’ll continue with the application of vitamin A. In contrast, retinoic acid or pure retinol can cause troubling redness and irritation and increase the likelihood of you stopping cold turkey.
But you’ve heard retinol is your best option?
It can be, but not necessarily for daily protection. Retinol has a more direct conversion into the cell is great for targeting DNA repair.
But here’s the thing.
The more sun damage, the more likely reduction of retinoid receptors, which means the higher vitamin A-concentrations cannot enter the cell. They’re shut out instead of being welcomed into the cell’s cytosol (the inner liquid world of the cell), where they’re needed for DNA repair.
The Retinoid pathway.
Think of it this way. You’ve got the key to your new home, but you’re still sitting on the stoop, unable to get inside because the lock’s broken, and no jiggling of that key is going to get you inside.
Let’s suppose your skin has sun damage and is unable to accept retinoic acid or retinol. In that case, an ester of vitamin A is going to be a far better option as a steady daily supply will slowly activate or wake up retinoid receptors to open the door to the internal world of your skin cells.
There’s no way you can know if the vitamin A you’ve chosen for your skin routine is entering the cell, except it may be the reason why your skin gets overly irritated when using high concentrations of vitamin A. If it’s not getting into the cell and left to sit outside, it’s likely to become an irritant to the skin.
And if you’re in this for the long haul, and you should be, then a retinyl ester is an excellent non-irritating option.
When retinyl palmitate is applied daily to the skin, its function is twofold.
Firstly, retinyl palmitate provides your skin with environmental protection. Secondly, once stored in the skin, retinyl palmitate is converted to retinoic acid, where it’s picked up by vitamin A receptors and delivered into the cell and onwards to the cell’s nucleus to repair your DNA (See diagram above).
Vitamin A receptors are like the front door of your home, you hear a knock, you answer the door and if you recognise the person at the door as a friend you’ll invite them in.
Pretty cool, right?
But let’s go a little deeper to the dermal layer. In this layer, specialised cells known as fibroblasts require vitamin A to synthesis collagen.
And while your fibroblasts make collagen, enzymes are roaming around in your dermis, breaking down collagen.
It’s an enzymatic process called collagenase. Vitamin A disables these enzymes to protect your collagen.
If you’d like to know more about how collagen breaks down in the skin, you might like this article: Vitamin A for the skin: Activate your youth enzymes.
Vitamin A produces new collagen and protects existing collagen. This is a win on all counts. You’ve won the skincare lottery with your daily supply of vitamin A.
It’s important not to wait for problems to occur. Start using an ester of vitamin A every day, no matter your age. In fact, the sooner, the better.
The Esters of vitamin A for your skin.
Think of them as siblings, great together but equally do well on their own and all need to be converted to retinoic acid in the retinoid pathway.
Retinyl Palmitate: Found naturally in the epidermis layer of the skin. As a topical ingredient, it is retinol + palmitic acid and is essential for skin health.
Retinyl Propionate: This is another ester of vitamin A. It’s retinol + propionate acid and is a gentler option with good results. Impressive.
Retinyl Acetate: Another ester of vitamin A, a smaller molecule and slightly more active giving it a bit more bite than its siblings but gives the other two a boost of confidence when they all go out together.
hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR): It’s an ester but not as well known, and not enough substantive research to support it. It has absorption enhancers added and doesn’t irritate the skin, which is great in theory, but I’m a little sceptical, so I’ll keep you posted on this one when more research comes to light.
Vitamin A alcohols, acids and aldehydes.
Retinol: The alcohol form of vitamin A, it’s an excellent choice, but it can be irritating if you go hard early or you don’t have the retinoid receptors to accept it. Keep this one up your sleeve and apply a couple of times a week for a more intense result, but don’t forgo your daily dose of a retinyl ester.
Tretinoin: It is what it is, the active (carboxylic acid) form of vitamin A, also known as retinoic acid*, and in Australia, it’s only available on prescription. Your skin recognises it, but for some, the benefits are outweighed by the potential for a retinoid reaction.
*Please note: Retinoic acid is not to be used while pregnant as it may cause congenital disabilities.
Retinaldehyde: An aldehyde form of vitamin A and another excellent source, but it’s expensive, and some say not stable enough to do the job.
All forms of vitamin A work on the skin but in varying degrees of intensity, speed, tolerance and comfort.
Retinyl palmitate is already found in the skin, and it’s a good place to start your vitamin A journey. It’s there to protect your skin, primarily from the sun, but also airborne pollutants that mess with your skin, activating free radicals causing damage wherever they go.
It makes perfect sense to top up daily with a retinyl ester like retinyl palmitate to prevent long-term damage and slow down premature ageing, stop the enzymes that break down collagen and protect your skin barrier from moisture loss and other marauding environmental invaders.
And now you.
Phew, that was a long post. But, I wanted to give you an inside look at vitamin A for skin, specifically the ester, Retinyl Palmitate. Vitamin A esters are often dismissed when they really shouldn’t be.
You might also like this interview with Dr Des Fernandes, the founder of Environ and a pioneer in using vitamin A in skincare and Beauty Editor Nadine Baggott.
If you’d like more on the subject of vitamin A, you may find these articles helpful:
Or, if this article presents you with more questions, then don’t hesitate. You can book an online consultation with me.
See you next time,