Retinol Vs. Retinyl Palmitate

iAlliance/iStock/Getty Images

Aging, the sun, pollution and smoke can damage your skin, making you look older or causing breakouts. Topical vitamin A is one way to slow the effects of aging and turn back the hands of time. Sold in creams, gels and medicated pads, topical vitamin A comes in several forms, including retinol and retinyl palmitate. Each ingredient has differences in terms of their effectiveness, yet both are use frequently in anti-aging skin care products.

Vitamin A

Both retinol and retinyl palmitate are forms of vitamin A.. Retinyl palmitate is an ester -- or chemical compound -- 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.

Exfoliating Effects

Retinol is used in a variety of skincare preparations as an exfoliant to stimulate cell turnover in your skin. Products with retinol help you to look younger because retinol stimulates collagen fiber growth. While retinyl palmitate is an earlier form of retinol, it does not have the same effects. Instead, retinyl palmitate can be effective in boosting collagen fiber production in your skin, which can help you look younger. However, retinyl palmitate does not have the same exfoliating effects as retinol.

Concentration Clues

Retinyl palmitate is about 20 percent less potent than retinol, according to the website If your skin is very sensitive, retinyl palmitate may be a better option for you. However, this depends upon the concentration of each product that is used. If retinyl palmitate is high on an ingredients listing, it can be just as potent as retinol.

Dos and Don'ts

You can purchase retinol in both over-the-counter and in prescription preparations. Some people may be especially sensitive to retinol, however, and should not continue its use if you have severe symptoms. Side effects can include peeling, redness and dryness. Because retinol can be excreted into breast milk, you may wish to discontinue its use when pregnant or breast-feeding. Retinyl palmitate is more controversial in terms of its safety. The website Environmental Working Group says that retinyl palmitate can accelerate the growth of tumors in rats. However, researchers such as Richard Glogau, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, are doubtful the results would be duplicated in humans, according to a July 2010 article on the website of "Wall Street Journal."