Anyone who follows some sort of skincare routine has probably heard of retinol. Also known as vitamin A, it's arguably the most famous and effective anti-aging ingredient, but can also treat a handful of other common skin hang ups including texture, dark spots, and acne.
Since using retinol products can truly produce extraordinary results, dermatologists regularly recommend it, celebrities sing its praises, and beauty editors swear by it. The only problem is that retinol comes with some side effects, especially if you have sensitive skin. While dermatologists generally recommend easing into retinol by starting off only using a cream or serum one or twice a week until your skin builds up a tolerance, if you have extremely sensitive skin, going slow can still cause redness and peeling.
That's where retinyl palmitate comes in.
Sometimes called vitamin A palmitate, it's the least powerful retinoid and an option for those with extremely sensitive skin who want to experience the benefits of retinol in their skincare routines, without the irritation. Despite the fact that retinyl palmitate is mild, it can still improve the same skincare concerns a retinol would. But there is one catch. "Retinyl Palmitate boosts collagen in the skin, minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, and smooths the texture of the skin," says celebrity esthetician Shani Darden, "Gentler retinoids like retinyl palmitate are effective and you still get the benefits, just at a slower rate." Darden's epoynmous skincare line includes Texture Reform, a serum formulated with retinyl palmitate that she created as gentler alternative to her cult-favorite Retinol Reform.
Here, Darden and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara share what makes retinyl palmitate such a special ingredient, why it's the best retinoid for sensitive skin, and how to use it in your skincare routine.
What Is Retinyl Palmitate?
Typically, there's four different types of retinoids that are used in skincare, and all of them are vitamin A derivatives. Retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin) is the most potent retinoid and only available with a prescription. On the other side of the spectrum is retinyl palmitate, the weakest retinoid, which is available in over-the-counter products.
"Once it's absorbed into skin, retinyl palmitate is converted to retinoic with the help of enzymes," explains Dr. Gohara. Because this process isn't direct, it can take longer to see results when using retinyl palmitate.
What Does Retinyl Palmitate Do for Your Skin?
Retinyl palmitate treats a long list of skincare concerns including fine lines, wrinkles, uneven texture, and dark spots. It also boosts collagen production, the proteins responsible for keeping skin firm and smooth.
How Do You Use Retinyl Palmitate?
Even though retinyl palmitate is mild, it's still recommended you introduce it into your skincare routine slowly. "It’s best to start with one night a week and build up slowly, adding just one additional night each week," suggests Darden. "Build up to as often as your skin can tolerate. If you’re experiencing a little irritation or dryness, then back off a little from there." While some people can use retinyl palmitate every night, other people can only handle it three times a week. "It really just depends on your skin and what it can tolerate," says Darden.
Like other retinoids, it's best to include retinyl palmitate in your nighttime skincare routine. Dr. Gohara says to use a pea-sized amount of product and apply it on clean skin before your moisturizer. If you need extra hydration, follow with a hyaluronic acid serum before using moisturizer.
Darden also recommends using a vitamin C serum in the morning so your skin gets the antioxidant benefits during the day. And when using any type of retinoid, it's important to wear sunscreen, since vitamin A can increase sun sensitivity.
What Are the Side Effects of Retinyl Palmitate?
Since retinyl palmitate is so gentle, side effects like itching, redness, and peeling are rare, but typically minimal if they do happen. If you have extremely sensitive skin or a condition like rosacea and eczema, it's best to use with caution or avoid retinyl palmitate all together to ensure you don't experience irritation.
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How Long Does it Take for Retinyl Palmitate to Work?
You can start to see results with retinoid products in four to six weeks, but it can take up to 12 weeks with a gentle vitamin A derivative such as retinyl palmitate. "In general, retinoids have the best benefits when used in the long term, so it’s worth it to stick with it," says Darden.
The Best Products With Retinyl Palmitate
1. L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Eye Treatment
On top of retinyl palmitate, this eye cream includes vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. Together, these ingredients hydrate, brighten, and firm the entire eye area.
To buy: $17; Walmart.com.
2. Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Renewal Cream
Retinyl palmitate targets fine lines and wrinkles, while the vitamin E, allenton, and pantheon found in the cream nourish skin so it's soft and smooth. Even better: It's a super affordable option.
To buy: $12; Walmart.com.
3. Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum
When retinyl palmitate is alongside skin barrier-strengthening ceramides, it minimizes the risk of irritation. These pre-dosed capsules make it impossible to waste excess product. Bonus: They're TSA-friendly and perfect for travel.
To buy: $80; Ulta.com.
4. Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture
Vitamin A and dry skin sounds like a straight shot to redness and irritation. However, Murad's rich moisturizer is an exception. Specifically formulated for extremely thirsty skin, it contains nourishing avocado, sunflower, and olive fruit oils, plus shea butter. These hydrating ingredients act like a cushion for skin-firming retinyl palmitate.
To buy: $75; Sephora.com.
5. Shani Darden Texture Reform
When Shani Darden's A-list clients found her cult-favorite Retinol Reform serum too harsh for their sensitive skin, she created Texture Reform. "I formulated my Texture Reform with lactic acid to provide immediate smoothing and brightening benefits so you get the best of both worlds," she says.
To buy: $95; Net-a-porter.com.