Difference Between Retinyl Palmitate & Retinol

Written by glenna h. fisher
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Difference Between Retinyl Palmitate & Retinol
Woman applying face cream (applying cream #7 image by Adam Borkowski from Fotolia.com)

Retinyl palmitate and retinol are both retinoids, forms of Vitamin A. Retinyl palmitate is a compound of the esters (the result of a reaction of an acid and an alcohol) of vitamin A and palmitic acid (derived from palm oil). Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A from animal sources such as liver, eggs, dairy products, and fatty fish. Both retinyl palmitate and retinol are used in non-prescription over-the-counter skin care preparations.


Both retinol and retinyl palmitate must be converted by the body to retinoic acid to affect skin cells. Retinol is converted in a two-step process, while retinyl palmitate requires three steps. Each step yields less retinoic acid. To produce cell changes, large amounts of retinol and even larger amounts of retinyl palmitate are needed. The small size of the resulting molecules allows them to deeply penetrate skin and stimulate collagen, elastin, and cell production.

Difference Between Retinyl Palmitate & Retinol
Molecules (molecules image by chrisharvey from Fotolia.com)


To produce sufficient retinoic acid to achieve results, skin care preparations must contain very high concentrations of retinyl palmitate. Most over-the-counter skin care products do not contain sufficient concentrations of retinyl palmitate to achieve significant results.

Retinol, one metabolic step closer to retinoic acid, is available in concentrations ranging from .15 per cent to 1 per cent. Concentrations of at least .3 per cent produce similar, though less effective, results to retinoic acid, available only by prescription.


Topically applied retinoids stimulate increased collagen and elastin production in the body. Collagen and elastin decline with age and sun exposure. This increased production caused by the retinoides results in smoother, firmer skin. Retinoids treat acne by increasing cell production and turnover. Dead skin cells slough off more quickly, and new cells develop before acne pimples can develop. Dead skin cells also tend to make skin look dry and flaky; increased cell production removes those dead cells.


Retinyl palmitate and retinol, along with the other retinoids, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, increase skin thickness and hydration and stimulate skin cells to repair damaged skin. They also improve skin tone, reduce skin discolouration and decrease pore size.

However, these products also irritate the skin, causing redness, burning and peeling. Most people who use them report some degree of irritation. Individuals with sensitive skin are especially vulnerable, and higher concentrations cause greater irritation.


While skin care products containing retinol produce significant results, they are also more likely to produce irritation and are generally more expensive than those containing retinyl palmitate.

Retinyl palmitate is less likely to irritate skin, and for those with sensitive skin, can improve skin condition, though less dramatically than retinol. It's also widely available at significantly lower cost.

Also, retinoids must be packaged and stored properly, without exposure to light, to avoid losing effectiveness.

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