Retinyl Palmitate Debate

What is Retinyl Palmitate?

June 21, 2010 (Be sure to read the update posted below)

We’ve been hearing a lot about retinyl palmitate (rp) lately. Just what is it and what is it alleged to do? Retinyl palmitate is an ingredient found in many sunscreens and skin products. It’s a form of Vitamin A that over the years has been shown to be very beneficial to the skin. Now, studies are showing otherwise. The FDA has just finished up a study (although it has not been released yet) about the effects of retinyl palmitate on the skin, using mice as their test subjects. Their findings suggest that RP stimulates lesion and tumor growth when in direct sunlight. And this is in many sunscreens, which is designed for use in direct sunlight! Read more about it here: EWG Retinyl Palmitate


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Retinyl Palmitate in Dr. Mercola’s Sunscreen?

I also found out that retinyl palmitate (third to last ingredient) was in one of my favorite sunscreens, Dr. Mercola’s Natural Sunscreen with Green Tea. So I went right to the horse’s mouth for a response on this. I completely trust Dr. Mercola to use the safest and purest ingredients in his products and I wanted to hear what he had to say about the new findings. Here is Dr. Mercola’s answer:

“The use of the word retinyl palmitate can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and cause confusion between retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid. Both of these are of the same family, but retinoic acid is a prescription ingredient used to exfoliate the skin, and can also cause the skin to become hyper sensitive to sunlight.
Retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) on the other hand, is the normal form used for application on the skin and has great anti-aging, superb antioxidant and moisturizing capabilities.
It accelerates cell renewal and stimulates the fibroblast and collagen in the skin, thereby reducing wrinkles and fine lines. Due to its antioxidant properties, it is also a great anti-aging ingredient, and helps promote a softer smoother skin.
The topical application of vitamin A on the skin, when formulated into creams and lotions, has a host of positive effects on the skin, which includes:

Increases the activities of enzymes found in the skin
Stimulates the mitotic activity in the epidermis and thereby helps with the process of cell division
Stimulates cell proliferation in the epidermis and thereby stimulates growth
Helps to thicken the epidermis, which becomes thinner in aging
Improves the elasticity of the skin
Helps to normalize sun-damaged skin
Helps in wound healing
Stimulates collagen formation in the skin
Reduces UV-induced wrinkle formulation
Regulates keratin formation

Exposure to sunlight, which includes both UVA and UVB radiation, reduces the amount of Vitamin A not only in the skin, but also the blood.”

In the above quote, Dr. Mercola does a pretty good job of differentiating between rp and retinol but he doesn’t really discuss the effects of rp in sunscreen.  For me personally, I am very disappointed that his sunscreen contains retinyl palmitate and I plan on finding a better sunscreen option, but I hope he will reformulate his future products to conform to the highest safety standards.


*UPDATE on Retinyl Palmitate* July 27, 2011

Newsflash! As of April 2011, Dr. Mercola reformulated his sunscreen and no longer includes retinyl palmitate. Hmmm, makes you wonder right? The quote above was taken directly from the doc…but now it leads me to believe he realized retinyl palmitate was not a beneficial ingredient and took it out of his sunscreen. The quote below is from the article where he discusses rp:

“The sunscreen industry uses vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that is thought to slow skin aging. However, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study found that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when used in sunscreen and therefore exposed to sunlight may actually speed the development of skin lesions and tumors.

This conclusion came from EWG’s analysis of the findings released by the FDA and the National Toxicology Program. As EWG stated in the 2011 report:

“EWG analysis of product labels finds retinoid ingredients in hundreds of sunscreens, skin lotions, lip sticks and lip sunscreens—all of which pose safety concerns for sun-exposed skin. At this point, the NTP [National Toxicology Program] and FDA have invested more than a decade in studying retinoids, concluding in January 2011 that both retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid speed the development of cancerous lesions and tumors.

A year after EWG sounded the alarm about retinyl palmitate, there is still no FDA position on the safety of retinoids in cosmetics. Sunscreen industry trade groups continue to dispute EWG’s warning. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products.

EWG recommends that consumers avoid products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate and retinol.”

Our sunscreen used to have vitamin A in it, as at the time it was felt to be a benefit, but when we learned of its potential health problems we immediately removed it. However many other brands still include it in their formulas, so beware, and always check the labels when shopping for sunscreen.”

Read that whole article here.

The updated ingredients look fantastic:

  • tintanium dioxide
  • zinc oxide
  • sunflower oil
  • lecithin
  • coconut oil
  • glycerine
  • jojoba oil
  • tocopheryl acetate (Vitamin E) [This was not in the formula I had based this article on. I suppose this is what he swapped out the retinyl palmitate for.]
  • shea butter
  • eucalyptus oil

I’ve also discovered another wonderful chemical free sunscreen chock full of natural ingredients such as shea butter, capuacu butter, and zinc oxide. Check it out here: Solis Botannical Sunscreen

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Robin started her career as an educator of children and has now become an educator for adults everywhere who want to know the truth about what they put into their bodies through the skin. She is passionate about educating people to make better health and beauty choices.
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  • Acne Remedy

    thanks for clearing it out. i also thought that retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid are one and the same

  • Mind Of Beauty

    Im agree with Acne Remedy(^_^)
    Mind Of Beauty´s last blog post ..A Composory Basic Skin Care For Every Woman

  • Jeni

    When that study came out a week or two ago, I was surprised to find that none of my sunscreens have Retinyl Palmitate in them, despite the EWG saying 70% of sunscreens contain that ingredient. Anyway, some of my skin care products contain it, or retinol, and I slather on tons of sunscreen every day, but even more so because I know retinol (and retinyl palmitate) can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. So the study’s results didn’t really surprise me because somehow I had already read it somewhere else years before.
    Jeni´s last blog post ..Discontinued Makeup And Beauty Products

  • Holistic Dad


    Like you, I have long found Dr. Mercola to be a highly credible source of information on the safety and efficacy of personal care products and supplements. For this reason, I am troubled by his seemingly inconsistent stance on the safety of retinyl palmitate as an ingredient in sunscreen (note the dates for each of the following posts and be sure to click the View Comments button, for the second one, below, to read what Dr. Mercola had to say about retinyl palmitate just four days after your post, above):

    Could you share the date on which Dr. Mercola sent you the correspondence quoted in your post above? If he was aware that retinyl palmitate was under investigation by the FDA, NTP, and EWG (and even put out a blog posting that included a quote about its potential dangers) as early as May 27, 2010, that begs the question why he would paint such a rosy picture, of retinyl palmitate as a beneficial and safe ingredient, to you, after the fact. I, for one, would like to see Dr. Mercola issue a new blog posting with his personal take on the particulars of the ongoing toxicology study of retinyl palmitate in sunscreen, made public by the EWG.

  • Robin Adler

    Hi Holistic Dad,

    Did you notice there was no “Dr. Mercola’s response” after these two postings? He usually does this….seems odd considering retinyl palmitate is found in his own sunscreen product! I received the correspondence directly from a representative on June 17. I agree, I would also like to see a new blog post with his more in depth analysis of this ingredient. I went ahead and re-ordered my Mercola sunscreen right after I posted this.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Brian

    Dr. Mercola did not clear anything up. Yes he indicated that retinyl palmitate is completely different from retinoic acid. Ok thanks but I already knew that. Yes he did indicate what retinyl palmitate does to our skin and what retinoic acid does to our skin. Thanks, that’s great information. But he does not address the tests the FDA did using retinyl palmitate on mice and finding lesion and turmor growth as a result of them exposed to sunlight. Has Dr. Mercola done similar tests of his own and found different results? Seems like he’s avoiding responding directly about the FDA study because he uses retinyl palmitate in his sunscreens.

  • http://ToxicBeautyBlog Monica

    Retinyl palmitate is, as its name suggests, a major component of palm oil – the palmitate comes from the pith of the palm tree. The palm oil industry is driving orang utans to the brink of extinction. Even if the product is considered to be ‘safe’, surely there are major ethical reasons why you should avoid using any product with Retinyl palmitate in it. A lack of demand creates a drop in supply allowing the poor old orang utan a few more years with us.

  • Wawa

    I’m surprised that you say that Dr. Mercola’s suncreen contains retinyl palmitate. I’ve checked the labels on all the sunscreens and tanning oils he sells on his website and none of them contain retinyl palmitate. Please check the link that you provide.

  • Robin Adler

    Hi Wawa,

    At the time of this post, his sunscreen did contain retinyl palmitate as listed on his ingredient label. However, he may have decided to take out that ingredient in more recent formulas. I will check on this! Thanks for pointing it out. :-)


  • Robin Adler

    OK, just did my checking and you are absolutely right, Wawa. In the latest mixture, Dr. Mercola has removed the retinyl palmitate. This ingredient has been controversial for a while now…back when I wrote this post, I got the quote directly from him regarding rp. The bottle I have is from last June and still has rp on the ingredient listing. Since I have now done more research on rp, I will update this post to clarifiy for future readers. Thanks again for commenting and notifying me. :-)


    I followed your link for the sunscreen you recommend. The reason people keep buying chemically laden products is because they are not willing to pay fifty bucks for sunscreen. It is especially true for people with limited incomes or several children to cover. It is a universal problem I see with natural products. Even though they may have a few dollars invested in the product they think it is necessary to charge outrageous prices. I know because I make my own lotion, and they do not cost that much to make.

  • Natural Organics


    I hear you! It’s a real shame that the safer sunscreens are not more affordable, but even so, there are still brands in the lower price range (even though they are still probably more pricey than the conventional brands.) If these brands are not an option, you can always make your own sunscreen. Check out Gorgeously Green’s You Tube Channel. Sophie Uliano had a fantastic sunscreen recipe on there which I still haven’t had a chance to try.


  • Boop

    Just so you know, tocopheryl acetate is Vitamin E, not Vitamin A.

  • Natural Organics

    Hi Boop,
    Thanks for your comment. This article is about retinyl palmitate which is Vitamin A, not E.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Robin,
    Like you I’ve been following this issue for a while – but recently found this press release which laid my fears to rest (which was good because a large number of my family’s skin products, including some good sunscreens, contain retinyl palmitate, so I was getting frustrated). Here’s the link:

    There is also some interesting info on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website responding to some of the concerns being raised around sunscreen ingredients:

    I think I’m reassured?!

  • Natural Organics

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for this information! It’s wonderful to have readers like you!