Retinyl Palmitate: Effective as Retinol, but More Gentle

For those with sensitive skin, retinyl palmitate offers the same benefits as retinol (although it will take slightly longer).

Model poses to the side with a closeup of their face while they look away.
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Anyone with a skincare routine has probably heard of retinol. Also known as vitamin A, it's arguably the most famous and effective anti-aging ingredient, but it can also treat a handful of other common skin concerns including texture, dark spots, and acne.

Since using retinol products can 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. Dermatologists generally recommend easing into retinol by starting off only using a cream or serum once 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. It's a solid option for those with extremely sensitive skin who still want to experience the benefits of retinol in their skincare routines without irritation.

Despite the fact that retinyl palmitate is mild, it can still improve the same skincare concerns a retinol would. "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."

Ahead, find out 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 are four different types of retinoids used in skincare, and all of them are vitamin A derivatives. Retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin) is the most potent retinoid and is 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 the skin, retinyl palmitate is converted to retinoic with the help of enzymes," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara. Since this process isn't direct, it can take longer to see results when using retinyl palmitate.

How Does Retinyl Palmitate Benefit the 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.

"It [retinyl palmitate] speeds up cell turnover for a smoother, more even texture by producing new skin cells to replace old or damaged cells," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi. "It also works on deeper skin layers to stimulate collagen production and fight wrinkles."

Dr. Shirazi says you can generally start to see results with retinyl palmitate products in four to six weeks. However, it's best to state consistent in order to reap the long-term benefits

"In general, retinoids have the best benefits when used in the long term, so it's worth it to stick with it," adds Darden.

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Retinol vs. Retinyl Palmitate: What's the Difference?

"They're all retinoids, which means that they're converted to retinoic acid, the most active and effective form in the skin," Dr. Shirzi explains. The dermatologist compares retinoic acid to espresso while retinyl palmitate is green tea.

"Retinol only undergoes one conversion step to become retinoic acid while retinyl palmitate undergoes three steps," she further explains. "Retinyl Palmitate is the weakest version, but also the least irritating, so it's a better option for someone who is new to using retinoids or has sensitive skin."

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.

As with 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 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 such as itching, redness, and peeling are rare but tend to be minimal if they do happen. If you have extremely sensitive skin or a condition like rosacea and eczema, it's best to use it with caution or avoid retinyl palmitate altogether to ensure you don't experience irritation.

The Best Skincare Products With Retinyl Palmitate

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L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Eye Treatment

Retinyl Palmitate Products

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.

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Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Renewal Cream

Retinyl Palmitate Products

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.

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Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum

Retinyl Palmitate Products

When retinyl palmitate is alongside skin barrier-strengthening ceramides, it minimizes the risk of irritation. These single-dose capsules make it impossible to waste excess product. Bonus: they're TSA-friendly and perfect for travel.

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Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture

Retinyl Palmitate Products

Courtesy of Murad

Vitamin A and dry skin sound 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.

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Retrouvé Revitalizing Eye Concentrate Skin Hydrator

retrouve Revitalizing Eye Concentrate Skin Hydrator

While using retinol around the eye area can be beneficial for treating wrinkles, crow's feet, and dark circles, the ingredient can be harsh when used on this part of the face. That's why Retrouvé's retinyl palmitate-powered eye cream is a great option for anyone looking for anti-aging benefits.

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