Formulating With Retinyl Palmitate

Formulating With Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is part of the  famous retinoid family, which are supreme antiagers in the cosmetics world. The head of this family is retinoic acid which you may have come across as tretinoin (which needs a doctor’s prescription). But other family members include retinol and today’s subject, retinyl palmitate.

Retinyl palmitate is an ester of retinol, and is converted to retinol and then the key active, retinoic acid, in the skin. Because this multi-step process takes longer, retinyl palmitate is much gentler than retinol or pure retinoic acid. Because of its gentle nature, retinyl palmitate is ideal for those with sensitive skins, or whose skin struggles with plain retinol, which is a known irritant.

Once converted, the active component, retinoic acid, contributes to skin renewal, and promotes collagen and elastin, which in turn prevent the signs of aging in the skin like wrinkles and fine lines. Not bad!


Retinyl palmitate comes stabilised in an oil, and is oil soluble, so when working with it you will add it to either your cold process oil phase, or the cool down phase in emulsions.


Typical usage is 0.5% - 1% but if your skin can handle it you can go higher. I sometimes even apply it neat on the skin and then layer over that with a moisturiser. Use at night, and use sunscreen during the day. 


Retinoids are known irritants, and while I don’t find retinyl palmitate to be irritating, please reduce usage if you experience any irritation.

Retinyl palmitate is sensitive to light, oxygen and heat. Please use a dark glass bottle or other light-protecting bottle for your products containing retinyl palmitate. It is also advised to use a pump cap so as to minimise oxygen entering, which is common in a jar with a normal lid.


As retinyl palmitate is oil soluble you don’t need to work with a specific pH in mind - just keep it skin friendly.

Combinations With Other Ingredients

Retinyl palmitate works synergistically with Vitamins C, E and ferulic acid. We have a great oil soluble version of Vitamin C so you can easily combine those two if you like (plain ascorbic acid is otherwise water soluble so you would need to combine it with retinyl palmitate in an emulsion).

Niacinamide - yes

Other acids - technically yes but just watch out for any irritation factor.

Hyaluronic acid - yes.

I also like using it together with lecithin as lecithin is a penetration enhancer. For more about lecithin, make sure to read our awesome blog on it  here.

Types Of Products That Use Retinyl Palmitate

Serums, oils and moisturisers most commonly use retinyl palmitate. Use it in leave-on products.

I don’t recommend incorporating it into wash-off products as it won’t have time to work in the skin and will be wasted.

Formulas Using Retinyl Palmitate

This luxurious moisturiser uses retinyl, ascorbyl palmitate (Vitamin C), Vitamin E and ferulic acid to pack a punch. We’ve also used lecithin as a follow up to  last week’s blog - read it for all the benefits!

Retinyl Night Moisturiser

Heated water phase

3%  propanediol

68% freshly boiled water

0.3%  xanthan gum

Heated oil phase

4%  Eco E wax

0.5%  lecithin

1%  cetyl alcohol

15%  oil of choice 

0.5%  Vitamin E

2%  ascorbyl palmitate

Cool down phase

1%  retinyl palmitate

0.5%  ferulic acid

3.2%  propanediol

1%  Geogard 221Saliguard BDHA

Pump or  serum bottle


Stick/hand blender



In one beaker, mix the xanthan gum with the propandiol to make a slurry, then blend in the water to form a light gel.

In another beaker, add all the heated oil phase ingredients and heat until completely melted.

Pour the melted oil phase into the water phase, and homogenise with the blender for a minute or two. Allow to cool.

While the emulsion is cooling down, mix the ferulic acid with the propanediol and heat it gently to dissolve. Add this to the emulsion and stir. Then add the preservative and the retinyl palmitate. Homogenise with the blender to combine everything. Test the pH, but you shouldn’t need to adjust it. Mine came out to 4.5 which is fine.

Decant into a pump/serum bottle and apply at night.



About the author:

Juliette van der Meer

BSc, BScH, PGCE, Adv Dip Cosmetic Science

Cosmetic scientist