Why Our Skincare Products Don’t Contain Vitamin A-Retinyl Palmitate

In 1994, due to a lack of quality ingredients used in tanning and skincare products, we decided to produce our own skincare line. We began a partnership with a chemist in Chicago committed to formulating products using the safest and most effective natural and organic ingredients.  The chemically-based lotions that were available were not preparing the skin properly and some of our salon customers were getting skin allergic reactions and breakouts.  Many of those ingredients are now proving to be, not only ineffective, but photocarcinogenic as well. One of those is vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate. While our tanning and skincare products contain vitamin A, it is derived from beta-carotene and not retinyl palmitate.

Vitamin A-retinyl palmitate is used as an ingredient in most indoor and outdoor tanning lotions, moisturizers and other skincare products.  Most likely, some of the products you are now using contain this potentially cancer-causing ingredient.
Think of your skin as a large sponge....what you put on it is eventually absorbed into the bloodstream. Like everything we put on our skin, tanning and skincare lotion ingredients are absorbed and eventually end up in the bloodstream.

Vitamin A (as retinyl palmitate) May Speed Cancer Development

A 2009 study by U.S. government scientists suggests that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions (NTP 2009, 2011).  The sunscreen industry often adds vitamin A to its products because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. That may be true for lotions and night creams used indoors, but the FDA study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties raises the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Scientists have known for some time that vitamin A can spur excess skin growth (hyperplasia), and that in sunlight it can form free radicals that damage DNA (NTP 2000).

In 2010 EWG (Environmental Working Group) reviewed the study data, which were published on the website of the National Toxicology Program, the inter-agency federal research group that conducted the tests, along with the federal Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research. EWG’s analysis showed that when lab animals were coated with a vitamin A-laced cream and then exposed to the equivalent of just nine minutes of maximum intensity sunlight each day, the development of tumors dramatically accelerated, compared to two control groups. The first control group, exposed to sunlight on bare skin, showed “significant” skin lesions and tumors and decreases in survival. The second control group, treated with a cream but no retinyl palmitate, suffered more and earlier skin lesions and tumors and decreases in survival, compared to the untreated mice. Mice in the third category were treated with a cream containing retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid. They showed the most adverse effects of all.

In December 2010, the FDA and NTP teams published a joint draft report on the vitamin A study, titled “Photococarcinogenesis Study of Retinoic Acid and Retinyl Palmitate.” It concluded that retinyl palmitate resulted in earlier onset and greater numbers of skin lesions and squamous cell tumors – an interpretation consistent with EWG’s findings. On January 26, 2011, the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors reviewed the study and voted unanimously to support the FDA and NTP scientists’ analysis (NTP 2010, NTP 2011).

Despite broad scientific agreement that vitamin A appears to be associated with carcinogenic activity, the FDA has delayed taking action to restrict the ingredient in sunscreens. After the NTP advisory board registered its concern about the chemical, the FDA press office emailed a few reporters asserting that a solvent used in the cream applied to some of the mice might itself be photocarcinogenic. This cream was used to coat mice in one of the two control groups. (The second control group was left untreated.) The same cream was mixed with retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid and applied to mice in the test group. Both groups of mice exposed to the cream showed accelerated development of lesions and tumors compared to untreated mice. But the mice treated with cream plus vitamin A suffered the most dramatic damage. The email said the agency planned follow-up studies to test vitamin A and the solvent separately, not in combination.

While it is important that scientists thoroughly explore causes of sunlight-stimulated illness, the FDA’s decision to conduct additional studies will almost certainly delay any definitive conclusion and regulatory action on vitamin A for months, perhaps years.

EWG analysis of product labels found retinoid ingredients in hundreds of sunscreens, skin lotions, lip sticks and lip sunscreens – all of which pose safety concerns for sun-exposed skin. At this point, the NTP and FDA have spent more than a decade studying retinoids, concluding in January 2011 that both retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid speed the development of cancerous lesions and tumors.  Sunscreen industry trade groups have continued to dispute EWG’s warning. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products. EWG recommends that consumers avoid products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate and retinol.

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The products featured on our website contain a complete ingredients list with explanation of the purpose and benefit of the ingredients used.  Many skincare products claim to be “Natural” and sell from $50.00 to $150.00 yet the product manufacturers will not disclose their full list of ingredients on their websites.  What Are They Afraid Of?
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