Retinol, the popular ingredient found in drugstore and high-end antiaging skin products, promises to turn back time on your skin, or so as the cosmetic industries claim. It’s not difficult to obtain retinol as you can get them from your foods, specifically animal products. Retinol is one form of vitamin A and one of its jobs is to keep your skin healthy. Other functions include guiding your cells to reproduce normally, maintaining healthy vision and assisting the embryo and fetus to develop normally. Due to retinol’s importance in its role in normal cellular growth, researchers have been conducting studies to test whether retinol can help prevent skin cancer 5. Research studies have shown conflicting findings of retinol’s efficacy in skin cancer treatment and prevention 5. Some studies show retinol doesn’t help treat or prevent skin cancer, while other studies show opposite findings 5.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer, a condition of uncontrolled cell growth of the outer layer of the skin, or epidermis, with the ability to invade neighboring tissues, presents in three types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma 5. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, involves formation of cancer cells in the deepest layer of the epidermis, whereas squamous cell carcinoma concerns the formation of cancer cells on the superficial layer, or the most outer layer, of the skin 5. Environmental factors, such as the sun’s ultraviolet light and toxic chemicals, can induce squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma refers to uncontrolled growth of melanocytes, pigment-producing cells. This type of skin cancer is dangerous and can kill as it ranks as one of the top leading causes of death of skin diseases 5.
Ineffective Skin Cancer Prevention
Dr. Mary Clouser and colleagues revealed in a study published in the November 2010 issue of “Nutrition and Cancer,” that retinol did not help prevent squamous and basal cancer cells from recurring 2. The study participants, who all had a history of skin cancer, ingested 25,000 IU of retinol daily for three years as part of the intervention treatment study 5. At the end of the study, the participants developed new skin cancer cells, suggesting that retinol did not provide protection against the recurrence of skin cancer 5.
In the November 2007 edition of the “International Journal of Dermatology,” Dr. Mulazim Bukhari and colleagues discussed the efficacy of retinoids on skin cancer 35. The researchers induced skin tumor formation on albino mice, which they treated with retinoids orally and topically for 15 weeks. Researchers found cancer cells on the skin of albino mice, indicating that retinoids did not prevent skin cancer 5. However, retinoids did work effectively against benign and premalignant tumors.
Increases Skin Cancer Risk
The news hype of retinol’s risk in increasing skin cancer has produced concerns among customers of retinol-containing products 5. This idea stems from studies, such as one published in 2006 in the "International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health," with findings suggesting that retinols can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolet light 56. Dermatologists have urged the public to apply retinol only during night time or to apply sunscreen over retinol when used during day time. Avoid sunscreens with retinol, which is listed as retinyl palmitate.
At the end of the study, the participants developed new skin cancer cells, suggesting that retinol did not provide protection against the recurrence of skin cancer 5. Due to retinol’s importance in its role in normal cellular growth, researchers have been conducting studies to test whether retinol can help prevent skin cancer 5. The news hype of retinol’s risk in increasing skin cancer has produced concerns among customers of retinol-containing products 5.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin A -- Retinol
- "Nutrition and Cancer"; Dose Response of Retinol and Isotretinoin in the Prevention of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Recurrence; C. Mary Clouser, et al.; November 2010
- "International Journal of Dermatology"; Chemotherapeutic/Chemopreventive Role of Retinoids in Chemically Induced Skin Carcinogenesis ... ; Mulazim Hussain Bukhari, et al.; November 2007
- UC Berkeley -- University Health Sciences Tang Center: Acne
- PubMed Health: Skin Cancer
- "International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health"; Photoirradiation of Retinyl Palmitate in Ethanol with Ultraviolet Light ... ; Qingsu Xia, et al.; June 2006
- Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images