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The short answer to this question would be synthetic vitamin A, as the ester of retinol. Not to be confused with retinol, its formulation provides the distinction. The process involves combining vitamin A, or the ester of retinol with palmitic acid, which comprises the bulk of palm oil, and is a saturated fatty acid. In skin treatments, it is applied directly to the skin, where through the process of absorption, it’s converted to retinol, and then the retinol is converted to retinoic acid, which is the active ingredient. As a chemical compound, retinyl palmitate is classified as a retinoid, valued highly due to the small size of its molecules, which are the ideal size to be capable of fully penetrating the skin’s outer layers, in order to reach the deeper layers of the skin. It’s there — where the skin champions collagen and elastin are stored — that retinyl palmitate performs its very effective job of repairing tired skin that’s lost its youthful resilience.
What About Retinol?
While retinol is still being used, with retinol palmitate’s specific formulation, it is less of a skin irritant, believed to be due to the manner in which more time is required for the product to fully convert to the active ingredient of retinoic acid–which is alternately referred to as tretinoin. Upon completion of the conversion process, the retinoic acid facilitates cellular regeneration and the process of the skin’s exfoliation. From its work as a catalyst for cross communication at the cellular level, the aging cells are mobilized to a level of performance similar to the more effective job they performed as younger cells. They begin to regenerate the skin’s production of collagen and elastin, which works at both a restorative and a protective level, revitalizing the skin and reducing the typical manifestations of skin that is aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol palmitate has demonstrated its efficacy in repairing scarring damage to skin by acne. It’s only after Retinyl palmitate has been successfully converted into retinoic acid that the effective, skin-healing benefits are possible. Once converted, because of the amazing process of repair that is conducted at the cellular level, the new production of healthy skin cells means that there is real hope for damaged skin in recovering from a number of issues. As the cells respond by increasing the rate at which they turn over, the symbiotic production level of collagen is pushed to mirror the corresponding rate and volume toward healing, undoing earlier damages and preventing the most commonly associated future issues from ever becoming a problem.
The Hayflick Limit and Retinyl Palmitate
The quest to defy the aging process was, for a long time, operating from a theory which stated that it’s possible for cells to continue replicating themselves infinitely. The man behind the theory was Alexis Carrel, an early 20th-century French surgeon who claimed to have conducted experiments using chick heart tissue that supported his theory. No such experiments conducted within the science community following Carrel’s claims were able to produce the same supportive evidence. In 1965, Leonard Hayflick developed a concept that would significantly revise Carrel’s theory, stating that normal human cells can only replicate and divide 40 to 60 times before they can no longer divide. He went on to share that at this point, a cell begins to break down by a process known as apoptosis, or pre-programmed cell death. While the Hayflick Limit exists as a concept still to be fully proven, there have been concerns about retinyl palmitate ultimately expediting the aging process, once the Hayflick Limit is reached.
Use With Caution
As with many powerful chemical compositions, there is a long list of possible side effects from use. The Cosmetics Database gives it a rating of moderate hazard. It should not be used by pregnant women as there have been reproductive effects linked to it in animal studies.