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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Nov;121(5):1163-7.

Vitamin A exerts a photoprotective action in skin by absorbing ultraviolet B radiation.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.


Retinyl esters, a storage form of vitamin A, concentrate in the epidermis, and absorb ultraviolet radiation with a maximum at 325 nm. We wondered whether these absorbing properties of retinyl esters might have a biologically relevant filter activity. We first used an in vitro model to assess the photoprotective properties of retinyl palmitate. We then applied topical retinyl palmitate on the back of hairless mice before exposing them to 1 J per cm2 ultraviolet B, and assayed the levels of thymine dimers produced in epidermal DNA 2 h following ultraviolet B exposure. Finally, we applied topical retinyl palmitate or a sunscreen on the buttocks of human volunteers before exposing them to four minimal erythema doses of ultraviolet B; we assayed the levels of thymine dimers produced 2 h following ultraviolet B exposure, and determined the intensity of erythema 24 h after ultraviolet B. In vitro, retinyl palmitate was shown to be as efficient as the commercial filter octylmethoxycinnamate in preventing ultraviolet-induced fluorescence or photobleaching of fluorescent markers. The formation of thymine dimers in mouse epidermis was significantly inhibited by topical retinyl palmitate. In human subjects, topical retinyl palmitate was as efficient as a sun protection factor 20 sunscreen in preventing sunburn erythema as well as the formation of thymine dimers. These results demonstrate that epidermal retinyl esters have a biologically relevant filter activity and suggest, besides their pleomorphic biologic actions, a new role for vitamin A that concentrates in the epidermis.

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