Unoccluded retinol penetrates human skin in vivo more effectively than unoccluded retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid

Elizabeth A. Duell, Sewon Kang, John J. Voorhees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


The formation of all-trans retinoic acid is an oxidative process whereby retinol is converted to retinaldehyde and then to retinoic acid. Because retinol causes qualitative molecular changes similar to those produced by retinoic acid, we compared potency of retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate to retinoic acid and assessed the effects of occlusion. Retinoids were prepared in an experimental vehicle of 95% ethanol:propylene glycol (7:3) with anti-oxidant. Induction of retinoic acid 4-hydroxylase activity was the end point for comparison. Retinoic acid concentrations from 0.001% to 0.05% under occlusion produced a linear dose-response induction of 4- hydroxylase activity. The concentrations of the other retinoids under occlusion required to achieve significant induction of enzyme activity were 0.6% retinyl palmitate, 0,025% retinol, and 0.01% retinaldehyde. The linear dose-response was lost with retinoid concentrations in excess of 0.25% retinol or 0.5% retinaldehyde. Statistical analyses showed no difference in 4-hydroxylase activity between unoccluded and occluded retinol treated sites. By contrast, however, unoccluded sites treated with retinoic acid or retinyl palmitate had less induction of 4-hydroxylase activity than occluded sites. Retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate did not produce erythema but did increase epidermal thickness. Although retinol is a weaker retinoid than retinoic acid, the increased penetration of unoccluded retinol in comparison to unoccluded retinoic acid with this prototypic vehicle confers on retinol a more effective delivery of a retinoidal effect than unoccluded retinoic acid. Retinol at 0.25% may be a useful retinoid for application without occlusion because it does not irritate but does induce cellular and molecular changes similar to those observed with application of 0.025% retinoic acid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-305
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • 4-hydroxylase
  • Cytochrome P-450
  • Percutaneous absorption
  • Vehicle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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