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Vitamin E in Skincare

3 Nov 2017
by S. Safa

Not long ago I wrote a post on vitamin C in which I mentioned how vitamin C and E can potentiate each other’s actions and I promised I’d do a separate post on vitamin E. So here it is. Today we’re going to discuss (topical) vitamin E and its benefits in Korean skincare!

(Please read the Vitamin C post before you read this post)

Vitamin E is an antioxidant like vitamin C. Naturally occurring vitamin E is not a single compound, but 2 classes of fat-soluble molecules with similar structures comprising a family of 8 compounds; 

-4 tocopherols (α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocopherol)
-4 tocotrienols (α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocotrienol)

In skincare however, the most typical forms include: d-alpha-tocopherol, d-alpha-tocopherol acetate, dl-alpha tocopherol, and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate. ‘d’ indicates that the compound was derived from a natural source, and dl indicates that the compound was synthesized chemically. All have antioxidant activity, but the natural ones seem to be more effective according to studies.  

Vitamin E in natural skin

Vitamin E is naturally present in the skin. After ingestion, vitamin E accumulates in the sebaceous glands before it’s delivered to the skin through sebum, where it exerts its antioxidant effects. Because the delivery of vitamin E is dependent on sebum, vitamin E levels are higher in the skins of individuals with increased sebum production (oily skin). Like all antioxidants, exposure to sunlight and air quickly destabilizes vitamin E and depletes vitamin E levels. These levels can be replenished through topical application of vitamin E.

Vitamin E effects; UVR damage

Like vitamin C, vitamin E prevents ultraviolet radiation (UVR)-induced skin damage by neutralizing free radicals. But, unlike vitamin C, vitamin E also has ‘sunscreen’ activity. Vitamin E doesn't only neutralize free radicals, it also blocks the formation of free radicals by absorbing UV light. But don’t throw away your sunscreens just yet, because this activity is limited to lower wavelengths of the UVB spectrum, so vitamin E cannot fully replace conventional sunscreens.

Vitamin E; other effects

A few studies have reported some anti-inflammatory and wound healing effects of topical vitamin E on the skin. But additional research is needed to confirm if these effects are significant, and if so, what the exact mechanisms are in which vitamin E exerts these effects. For now, the skincare benefits of vitamin E are mainly attributed to it's photoprotective properties. 

Topical Application of vitamin E

Typical concentrations of vitamin E range between 0.1%-1.0% and are generally considered safe and effective to increase vitamin E levels in the skin, although higher levels of α-tocopherol have been used in skincare with no side effects. Because vitamin E is unstable, much of a topically applied dose of vitamin E alone will be destroyed in the skin following exposure to UV light. The good news is that destabilized vitamin E can be ‘restabilized’ and regain its activity. Vitamin C has been shown to regenerate destabilized vitamin E, and vice versa, vitamin E can regenerate destabilized vitamin C. This is what I was referring to in the post about vitamin C, when I said that vitamin C and E potentiate each other’s action. Products containing both vitamin C and E have been shown to have much greater efficacy than either vitamin alone. They have been shown to decrease sunburned cells, decrease DNA damage, inhibit erythema (redness of skin), and decrease skin pigmentation after UV exposure.

How to use vitamin E

Again, make sure that you use only those products that are packaged protected against light and air. Vitamin E is safe to use on a daily basis alone or in conjunction with other topical anti-ageing agents like sunscreens, tretinoin (retinol), alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA’s), and other antioxidants like vitamin C and Coenzyme Q10. Just make sure that your skin can tolerate the combinations. Because vitamin E has 'sunscreen' activities, it can be used during the day. In fact, there are many sunscreens that feature vitamin E to increase sunscreen activity. But vitamin E can also be used at night as a night-time serum treatment.

Roshni Mudliyar
21 Jan 2020
Nice insights, I have been using The Body Shop Vitamin E night cream and it really helped me to improve my skin texture.
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