Chemical Profile: Vitamin A & Retinol Derivatives

What Is It?

Vitamin A is naturally found in many animal foods like butter and cheese. It’s an essential nutrient, which means our body needs a healthy dose without overdoing it, like many vitamins.

While we often think of vitamins as single compounds, vitamins can actually be groups of related compounds. This is the case with Vitamin A, which includes multiple compounds including retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and some carotenoids.

Synthetic (human-made) versions of vitamin A compounds and derivatives of those compounds are common in personal care products. In addition to “vitamin A,” these go under many different names on product labels, including retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinol. Another vitamin A compound, retinoic acid (also called all-trans-retinoic acid), is a prescription-only treatment for acne.

Vitamin A compounds and their derivatives are most common in “anti-aging” products, but also appear in moisturizers, anti-acne products, and foundation.

The Health Concern

In some forms found in personal care products, vitamin A compounds and derivatives can be harmful. Retinyl palmitate has been associated with photocarcinogenicity, or the potential to cause cancer when exposed to sunlight.

Retinoic acid has also been associated with photocarcinogenicity, in addition to developmental toxicity. It also does not readily break down in the environment.

Using vitamin A compounds and some of their derivatives in skin products has the potential to cause an excess of vitamin A in the body, which can lead to liver damage, birth defects, and more.

How to Avoid It

  • Read labels. Look for vitamin A listed on the label, as well the prefix “retin” in ingredient names, like retinyl, retinoic, or retinol.
  • Double check ingredient lists on anti-aging and acne products, as these are where vitamin A and derivative ingredients appear most frequently.
  • Don’t forget that in its natural form, this ingredient is necessary for a healthy diet! Talk to your doctor to learn more about how much vitamin A you should be getting in your food.
  • Choose MADE SAFE® certified products. Vitamin A derivatives are not permitted in our process.

Try out these MADE SAFE Certified swaps without vitamin A derivatives:

For mature skin:

For acne-prone skin:

For most skin types:

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