Retinol is one of a number of vitamin A derivatives that is used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. When I wrote about it last time I glossed over one of its drawbacks. Along with the rest of the vitamin A family overdosing can have some very serious health issues. Vitamin A is fat soluble and as such it is possible for it to build up in the body’s fat deposits. In extreme cases this can lead to birth defects.
This is basically another example of where the dose makes the poison. Many things, even apparently wholesome things like vitamins, can be harmful at the wrong level. Overdosing on vitamin tablets is a real possibility. And in theory, you could get the same effect from an anti-ageing cream with a high retinol content.
I have to say the scenario is a bit far fetched. Retinol is expensive to buy as a raw material for the cosmetic manufacturer, so they tend to be fairly cautions about how much they put in the product. And the products themselves are sure as heck expensive for the end user. I can’t imagine many people having the cash to seriously overdose on them.
Nonetheless the diligent guys in the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment have done some sums and have come to the conclusion that the vitamin A in various forms, retinol being one of them, coming from cosmetics is contributing to the amount of vitamin A consumers are exposed to and it ought to be limited.
Nobody will want to use retinol if the maximum permitted level is too low to do any good to the skin, so that will effectively kill off one of the few effective anti ageing actives.
We are a long way from a Europe wide ban so there is no need to stock up on your favourite just yet. But these things build up momentum so it might well be that we will start seeing the negative press stories coming along soon when journalists pick up on it. I have to say that I am not convinced that anyone has ever come to any harm from using retinol containing products, but I am pretty sure a lot of people have bought them and not got any benefit from them. You need to use them for a long time to see much effect, and a lot of products simply don’t contain enough to do any good in the first place. It might be as well to get them off the market for those reasons.
Here is my post on retinol itself.