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Retinyl acetate is one of the principal forms of vitamin A used in nutritional supplements. Vitamin A is not one vitamin but actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins of which retinol is the more useable form. The synthetic alternate for retinyl acetate is retinyl palmitate, or retinol palmitate as it is often written. Vitamin A, otherwise referred to as retinol, is essential for normal skin development and its active presence in cosmetics is said to alter skin composition. This active component is usually in the form of retinol palmitate.
Vitamin A is critical in many of the processes in the body such as vision, growth, bone and brain development, reproduction and immune system function. Retinyl acetate and the other retinoids are popular as antiaging chemicals because vitamin A is easily absorbed through the skin. This seems to result in an increase in collagen which then leads to younger looking skin. The different types of retinoids include retinyl acetate, palmitate, retinoic acid and retinaldehyde.
The weaker forms are retinyl acetate and palmitate and while they are usually recommended for those who have sensitive skin, their anti-aging action is not considered to be as good as retinol and retinaldehyde. Retinoic acid, more commonly known as retin A, is cheap and effective but usually only available by prescription. It is also often used as an acne treatment.
An excessive dosage of vitamin A can be harmful and symptoms include fatigue, decreased appetite, vomiting, headache and hair loss. A deficiency, on the other hand, can cause blindness in children and an increased vulnerability to complications from common childhood infections. There are animal and vegetable sources of the vitamin with the former category including eggs, meat and dairy products and the latter from vegetables such as carrots, apricots, broccoli and most dark green, leafy vegetables. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin which means it is stored in the body's tissues. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, these can accumulate to toxic levels easily.
The most common form of vitamin A used in vitamin supplements is acetate, while palmitate is more often found in fortified food products as it is a much more stable form. Both are important commercial forms and are often added as food improvers and colorants. As vitamin A is sensitive to heat and light, care must be taken in the storage of retinyl acetate even to the extent that many skin experts recommend that creams containing it be applied only at night.
I want to remind everyone that because vitamin A is fat soluble, it *is* possible to poison yourself if you take too much! Multivitamins and a regular American diet are really unlikely to cause problems, but you don't want to take huge doses of just vitamin A.
Liver is a good source of vitamin A, but I watched a nature program once that explained that the livers of a lot of carnivores art actually toxic because they contain too much vitamin A. Apparently, the Inuit have known for centuries (at least) that polar bear and seal liver, for instance, are too dangerous to eat. And that's even though vitamin A wasn't discovered until the 19th century!