What is Retinol? Anti-Aging Skin Care

February 2016

What is Retinol?

Retinol is one of the animal forms of Vitamin A. It is a diterpenoid and an alcohol. It is convertible to other forms of Vitamin A, and the Retinyl ester derivative of the alcohol serves as the storage form of the Vitamin in animals. The chemical form of Retinol is C20H30O and you will find it listed on an ingredient label as Retinol. Retinol, Retinyl palmitate, Retinoic acid and Retinoids are all ingredients that have been used for decades for anti-aging. This group of ingredients are all Vitamin A derivatives. Retinol and Retinyl palmitate are available in cosmetic preparations, but the majority are only available with prescription – such as Retinoic acid (used frequently as a component in chemical peels). Tretinoin, Tazarotene and Adapalene are also retinoids that are found in prescription skin creams, lotions and gels. This blog post will focus only on Retinol and Retinyl palmitate found in cosmetic skin creams. To learn more about bio-retinol alternatives, read Reasons to Switch to Bio-Retinol Anti-Aging Products.

How does Retinol look like?

Retinol is bright yellow in appearance. Typically if used at a concentration that will actually deliver results to the skin, the cream/lotion/gel that the Retinol is contained in will be tinted yellow. If your skin cream says it contains Retinol, but is pure white in color, chances are it does not contain enough Retinol or the retinol has already broken down (it is not a stable molecule) so you will not see any changes in your skin.

What is Retinyl palmitate?

Retinyl palmitate is an ester formed from the reaction of Retinol and Palmitic acid. In order to use any form of topical Vitamin A, the body must convert it first into Retinoic acid. Retinyl palmitate must be broken down into Retinol, then Retinaldehyde and finally Retinoic acid. Retinyl palmitate is estimated to be about 20% weaker than Retinol and works by stimulating collagen production, whereas Retinol is stronger and also increases skin cell turnover as well as stimulating collagen production.

Retinol side effects:

  • It is listed by the FDA as “category X,” meaning it should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Clinical studies carried out on rats suggest that Retinol palmitate might accelerate the growth of tumor cells.
  • Many scientists believe that as Retinol increases cellular turnover, it also causes thinning of the skin with prolonged use.
  • Due to photochemical and hydrolytic instability, use of products that contain Retinol is primarily restricted to night time.
  • Physical side effects include redness, irritation, stinging, burning, itching, skin flaking, and significant sensitivity to sunlight.

If you’re looking for an ingredient like Retinol that works for anti-aging skin care, read more about Why Bio-Retinol Is The New Retinol Alternative.