Retinyl Palmitate

Posted by Dr Davin Lim on

By Dr Davin Lim

Best used: PM


Caution: UV exposure

Best for: Anti-aging, pigmentation, acne, enlarged pores

Comments: Least irritating of all the retinoids

Mode of action: Chemical exfoliation, pigment corrector & collagen builder

Science Score: ☆ ☆ ☆ 


What Is Retinyl Palmitate?

Retinyl palmitate, retinoic acid, retinol and retinaldehyde all belong to the retinoid family of molecules, and today's topic of conversation is retinyl palmitate. While they're all vitamin A-derivatives with similar benefits, they're definitely not identical. There are some important differences between them, particularly when it comes to how well your skin can tolerate each - a super important factor since retinoids are notorious for their side effects.

Retinyl Palmitate The Formulated

What Are The Benefits Of Retinyl Palmitate For Skin?

Like other retinoids, retinyl palmitate acts both on the surface and within deeper layers of the skin.

Speeds cell turnover: It causes the cells in the outermost layer of the skin—to rapidly turnover, acting as a chemical exfoliant. This results in smoother, brighter & more radiant skin with less pigmentation and overall more even texture.

Stimulates collagen & elastin in the dermis: Retinoids also hinder the breakdown of collagen and thicken the deeper layer of the skin (or the dermis) where wrinkles begin to form.  And besides inhibiting collagen breakdown, it also stimulates new collagen. Retinyl palmitate is converted to retinoic acid in the skin. It then binds to specific receptors in collagen producing cells that lead to increased collagen production.

Keeps pores clear:  In speeding up cell turnover and acting as a chemical exfoliant, it also helps unclog pores and keep them clear, which is why it's often found in acne & blackhead treatments.

Why Is Retinyl Palmitate The Best Retinoid For Sensitive Skin?

Retinoids are infamous for flaring up sensitive skin, including patients who are predisposed to eczema, dermatitis, rosacea or those who just have ‘reactive skin’. Expect the same ones you'd have with any retinoid, namely: itching, burning, and peeling, all of which are more likely the more sensitive your skin is. When it comes to the types of retinoids that can cause skin irritation the order goes something like this (from least to most irritating)...

Dr Davin Lim Retinol Guide

What Skin Care Products Should I Not Combine With Retinyl Palmitate?

Since retinyl palmitate is a chemical exfoliant, avoid combining it with other exfoliants, such as glycolic, lactic, citric, mandelic or salicylic acid, as well as harsh scrubs with abrasive ingredients. This holds especially true if you fall into the super sensitive skin camp. It can also cause some dryness, so it's a good idea to pass on toners and astringents, too. 

Sunburn warning: Retinoids may cause sun sensitivity, so it is always important you up your sun protection when using retinyl palmitate. 

What Skin Care Products Are Compatible With Retinyl Palmitate?

Retinoids have a synergistic effect with antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E & ferulic acid. Pairing any retinoid with a sunscreen is also important, since they can make your skin more susceptible to the sun. Hyaluronic acid & squalene are other power players that can reduce retinoid induced dryness & skin sensitivity.

How Often Can I Apply Retinyl Palmitate?

As with all retinoids, it's important to start slowly, once a day use is enough and preferably as part of your night skin care routine. Whilst it is important to ease into things in order to let your skin gradually become accustomed to the ingredient, it can ultimately be used daily. A sensible starting point is to start by apply a pea size amount every second night and increase as tolerated. 

What Are The Side Effects Or Retinyl Palmitate?

Retinyl palmitate is pretty gentle compared to other retinoids such as retinol, retinaldehyde & retinoic acid. Although side effects are rare, they can still occur. You can expect the same ones you would experience with any retinoid like itching, buring, sensitivity and flaking. Side effects are more common if you have rosacea, dermatitis or just super sensitive skin. Here are a few helpful tips to troubleshoot sensitive skin:

  1. Perform a test patch, small amount in front of your ear.
  2. Apply every second or third night
  3. Dilute half a pea size amount with your bland moisturizer of choice
  4. Moisturise more frequently
  5. Check to see if there are other skin care actives that can irritate your skin
  6. Make sure you are not using a physical exfoliator whilst on retinoids
  7. Apply a very mild steroid ointment for 3 days ONLY to reduce irritation
  8. Consult a medical dermatologist if symptoms persist

*Disclaimer: I am a procedural not a medical dermatologist. Why see a medical dermatologist? Because they can help by finding out the cause of sensitive skin. In some patients it may be intrinsic, in others it may be due to allergic contact dermatitis; hence patch testing may be indicated.  

Retinyl Palmitate

How Do I Incorporate Retinyl Palmitate In My Daily Skin Care Routine?

A sensible skin care routine that incorporates retinyl palmitate goes something like this;

AM: Gentle cleanser, antioxidants*,  SPF, make up. (*Tocopherol, ferulic acid, ascorbic acid)

PM: Cleanser, actives such as Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid, Retinyl Palmitate or Retinylaldehyde or Retinol or Retinoids. Option for ascorbic acid (*Refer to below)

*There are many sensible options to combine skin care ingredients with endless combinations. The use of other acids such as AHAs, BHAs, retinoic, etc. should not be attempted with retinaldehyde. This is a relative, not absolute contraindication.

A sensible starting point is to use a good formulation of retinyl palmitate every other night and gradually incorporate it into your routine. If in doubt, dilute the active with a moisturiser, & conduct a test patch. Be guided by your skin care expert. 

Davin’s Skin Pro Tip

Retinyl palmitate is a sensible starting point for patients who have super sensitive skin, as the potential side effects on this class of retinoids is much lower compared to medically prescribed retinoic acid. The use of other sensible skin care actives including niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, & squalene can be complementary as these compounds cause very little skin irritation. With skin sensitivity on the increase, this form or retinoid therapy will be more relevant in the future!

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