Can Retinyl Palmitate cause cancer?


Dear Dr Des,

I have your book "Your Skin Factory" and I love this book. I am 32 years old and am wanting to do all I can to look youthful.

I mix my own beauty products and am using Retinyl Palmitate in my evening serum, in your book you state how good Vitamin A (including Retinyl Palmitate) is for the skin and looking youthful. There is a lot of controversy and different opinions around the safety of Retinyl Palmitate and that it can cause cancer, what is your opinion on these claims? In your opinion is it safe to use in my evening beauty routine? 

Thank you

*Anne Carter


Dear Anne,
Thank you for your email and congratulations on using vitamin A‎ in your skin care.
There is nothing to worry about with retinyl palmitate. That's absolute nonsense about it causing cancer. Even the research worker who wrote the paper has written other papers supporting the clinically established fact that retinyl palmitate protects skin from cancers. No one notes that the author said he did not know what to make of the results of his study. He did chose a special hairless mouse to test on.

Retinyl palmitate is normally in the skin at concentrations at least equivalent to‎ the levels he tested. The vitamin A is higher in the epidermis where it absorbs UVA and UVB rays and thus protects the skin. in fact, if you are using a contraction of about 20.000 i.u. G% then you would have a protective effect equivalent to SPF 4.

It is also well established that skins rich in retinyl esters (about 90% are found as retinyl palmitate in skin) then non melanoma  skin cancer is eliminated.

Retinyl palmitate is extremely sensitive to ‎light. Especially UVA and UVB. So that is why it is advisable to formulate under red light and avoid daylight or fluorescent light.  It is sensitive to oxygen and since air contains 20% oxygen it is recommended to mix with a "blanket" of nitrogen gas to eliminate air.
Retinyl palmitate is also available  in various concentrations so please check that detail as it will guide you as to the contraction you will use in the cream.
Retinyl palmitate products not made under these conditions will probably lose 50% activity within just a few weeks. I would not be surprised if after "home mixing" conditions one could find only 50% activity immediately after mixing. 

When one wants‎ intensive effects of vitamin A then one needs up to 50,000 i.u. G% to make real rejuvenation, depending on the state of the skin. In younger less sun damaged skins  there is less damage to reverse so lower doses can maintain good skin.

Unless you are working in laboratory conditions, I suspect that you are not getting your money's worth‎ out of the vitamin A you are putting into your product. Fortunately, you might say, retinyl palmitate is not expensive so you could use higher doses. That would automatically mean that you would be doubling the concentration of the photo- and oxygen induced degradative derivatives of retinyl palmitate - exactly the same photo-degrative products that came into question in the matter of carcinogenesis. If in fact we have a balancing act between the good effects of retinyl palmitate and the bad effects of the photo-degrative molecules that cause cancer, then maybe home-made retinyl palmitate products might not in the long run be a good idea.  I am too cautious and I like to use only products made under ideal conditions.

I hope I have reassured you about the safety of properly made vitamin A products. Retinyl palmitate can safely be used in the morning as well as the evening.

Before I close I should‎ point out that many people avoid sun damage to maintain youthful skin and run into the problems of low vitamin D status. That can be fatal or debilitating so please check your serum vitamin D levels: strive for levels of about 50 ng/ml and somewhat above.  

Kind regards



*names have been changed to protect privacy

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