Posted: July 7, 2012

Does Vitamin A (most commonly used as retinyl palmitate) cause skin cancer?

Retinyl palmitate has been added to over-the-counter sunscreens which are marketed as preventing the damaging effects of sun exposure on the skin: premature aging and skin cancer.  Last month a widely touted study was published which purports to show that this agent can cause skin cancer!  What is this all about?  Do we all need to stop using retinyl-palmitate-containing sun screens?

In 2000 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a study to look at the cancer causing potential of topical Vitamin A derivatives.  A study was commissioned that studied mice given various doses of retinyl palmitate and various amounts of ultraviolet light (simulating sun exposure).  There was a clear relationship between retinyl palmitate and skin cancer (squamous cell carcinomas) at doses that simulated human use.  On that basis the Environment Working Group issued a strong report calling retinyl palmitate a carcinogen.  This conclusion has come under brisk attack because what happens in mice is often not applicable to humans.  I know of no plans on the part of drug companies to take retinyl palmitate out of sun screens, but the issue is not settled.

+ Read more about tanning booths and Dr. Stark’s comments at the BS 757 blog.