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Is retinyl palmitate a safe ingredient in sunscreens?

Retinyl palmitate is an ingredient composed of palmitic acid and retinol (Vitamin A). Retinols are anti-oxidants that slow skin-aging and are typically found in nightcreams. When exposed to UV light, however, retinol compounds break down and produce toxic free radicals that can damage DNA and cause gene mutations, a precursor to cancer. Recently available data from a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study indicate that retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.

Why is this “inactive ingredient” -- found in nearly one-quarter of all sunscreens -- allowed in products intended for use in the sun? Good question.

While the FDA has yet to rule on the safety of retinyl palmitate in skin care products, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens, lip products and skin lotions containing vitamin A, often labeled “retinyl palmitate” or “retinol.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.