The Retinyl Palmitate Controversy
There has been controversy for some time about the wide use of Retinyl Palmitate (RP), a form of Vitamin A, in cosmetic products—including sunscreen. The information below is in response to problems critics have raised about the safety of Retinyl Palmitate. As with all of the information we publish on sunscreensafety.info, we recommend our readers not hesitate to do additional research as they seek to reach a conclusion about any sun safety issue we talk about.
Most of the criticism about RP comes from a large well funded lobby group (The EWG) who cites a National Toxicology Program(NTP) study for it’s warning that retinyl palmitate can actually increase the risk of skin cancer, and faults the FDA for not releasing the study. However, the FDA is yet to release the study precisely because it has not gone through proper peer review. Thus, the EWG based its criticisms on an unapproved 10-year-old study of mice that has never been published in any journal. To date, there is no scientific evidence that retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) is a carcinogen in humans. What’s more, the trace amount of retinyl palmitate used in most sunscreens is staggeringly less than the amount that was used in the study (Study: 0.1 grams per oz. compared to Sample Sunscreen: 0.0000029 grams per oz.).
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) releases statement that quells fears about the safety of Vitamin A in sunscreen products—
When the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) recently published (Aug. 2010) an independent report about the safe use of Vitamin A in sunscreen products, droves of blogs, print and online articles flooded nearly all media channels-across the nation and world. Doctors and scientists are continually going on record to support the AAD’s findings that sunscreens with Retinyl Palmitate are NOT harmful to our health.
Some Experts Weigh In—
Dermatologist Henry W. Lim, MD, FAAD, chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit states his position in an August, 2010, press release from the AAD:
- “Retinyl palmitate is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and it is also usedas a food additive (e.g., to fortify low-fat milk, dairy products and breakfast cereals with vitamin A).”
- “When used in sunscreen, retinyl palmitate is not an active drug ingredient (unlike sunscreen filters), but rather a cosmetic ingredient. In sunscreen, it can serve as an antioxidant to improve product performance against the aging effects of UV exposure or to enhance the aesthetic qualities of sunscreen.”
Dermatologist and lead investigator Steven Q. Wang, MD, FAAD, director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center makes important distinctions about the animals studied and the subsequent findings.From the AAD August, 2010 press release, Dr. Wang says:
- “It is important to note that the mice in the NTP study are highly susceptible to the effects of UV radiation and can develop skin cancer or other skin abnormalities within weeks of UV exposure, even in the absence of retinyl palmitate,” said Dr. Wang. “That is why extreme caution is needed when extrapolating these animal study results to humans.” Click here to read the full Press Release
The Tampa Bay Newspaper ran a story about questions surrounding UV rays, sunscreen and Vitamin A authored by Dr. Frank Armstrong who touts Vitamin A as a safe ingredient used in sunscreen
- “…most sunscreens have trace amounts of this Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).
Many experts feel that Vitamin A is actually an antioxidant that may provide additional protection form harmful UV rays,” says Dr. Armstrong. Click here to read the article
Sunscreen Benefits Beat Risks In Pregnancy—
Dr. Gideon Koren dismisses theoretical risks of Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A) to pregnant women.
- “Pregnant women should not be scared of using sunscreen to protect themselves from skin cancer….
…despite safety concerns raised in animal studies, Canadian doctors say” because the dose and concentration in sunscreen is miniscule “you need to poison yourself with vitamin A almost,” Koren said, adding the “misinformation” scares women against using sunscreen and increasing their risk of melanoma. Click here to read the article
What does the Skin Cancer Foundation say about Vitamin A?
Responding to questions about exaggerated reports concerning the safety of sunscreens containing retinyl palmitate, the Foundation points out that the EWG based their conclusions on an “unapproved 10-year old-study” that the FDA did not publish as it was awaiting peer review. Responses by the Skin Cancer Foundation included:
- “To date, there is no scientific evidence that vitamin A is a carcinogen in humans…”
- “After reviewing the recently released NTP report, The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Photobiology Committee,…..have come to the conclusion that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) is a photocarcinogen in humans.”
- “Recent comments alleging a relationship between vitamin A in sunscreen and increased risk of melanoma are not supported by published scientific evidence. “
- “Only trace amounts of retinyl palmitate appear in sunscreens, and some evidence suggests that it is actually protective against cancer.” Click here to follow more conversations with the Skin Cancer Foundation
According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, aka The Skin Guru, Retinoids (of which retinyl palmitate is a member), “lose efficacy upon sun exposure”. For that reason, she says it doesn’t make sense to add it to sunscreens.
She also sites the fact that retinyl palmitate is only one of many Vitamin A derivatives, including beta carotene, which has actually been shown to PREVENT cancer. Dr. Baumann sites this as an “issue” when the EWG overlooks this distinction in their report.
Even though we are confident that retinyl palmitate is still a safe cosmetic ingredient, we tend to agree with Dr Baumann, that since it’s efficacy in sunlight is in question, why use retinyl palmitate in sunscreen? From our research their are many quality sunscreens that do not use retinyl palmitate so it’s really a non issue for the consumer.