Vitamin E (Tocopherol) in Skincare, Explained

Vitamin E in Skincare, Explained

For some reason, we’re drawn to problematic skincare ingredients and we tend to ignore the nice ones. We love vitamin C even though it has a track record for being irritating and sensitizing for the skin. We skip vitamin E even though it’s the nice guy of the skincare family. Well, I’d like to draw your attention to this refreshingly gentle skincare ingredient. Because vitamin E has more to offer, especially if you have dry, sun-damaged skin. And don’t worry, it’s actually as edgy as vitamin C! Keep reading to learn more about the use of vitamin E in skincare, its benefits, and how to properly use it.

What is Vitamin E?

First things first! Vitamin E is an umbrella term used to describe the many forms or esters of the vitamin (1). And some popular names you’re probably familiar with are alpha tocopherol, tocopherol, and tocopherol acetate.

Vitamin E is present in the sebum your skin produces. And in your sebum, it functions as an oil-soluble antioxidant (2). But the vitamin E content in your skin is constantly challenged in the face of external stressors like UV and pollution, which causes a decrease in vitamin E.

That’s why we have topical vitamin E products in the form of serums, creams, and oils. In skincare, vitamin E is used to protect the skin against free radicals and to maintain the integrity of the lipid barrier.

Though vitamin E can be produced synthetically, it’s commonly derived from natural sources like sunflower oil and olive oil (3).

Though not relevant to this article, vitamin E is actually a very common preservative used in skincare products. Chances are you already have it in your products where it functions as a stabilizer.

What Are The Benefits of Vitamin E For Skin?

Below are the most important benefits of vitamin E for your skin.

1. Vitamin E is an antioxidant.

As an antioxidant, vitamin E neutralizes the free radicals in the lipid barrier. Free radicals form when outside sources like sun exposure and pollution damage your skin. That damage shows up in your skin in the form of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and inflammation. So by neutralizing free radicals, vitamin E helps maintain a healthy lipid barrier and prevents premature skin aging.

2. It’s anti-inflammatory.

Vitamin E also possesses anti-inflammatory properties (4). And because of that, vitamin E reduces redness and inflammation on the skin, which is something people with sensitive skin deal with all the time.

3. It’s moisturizing.

Remember that vitamin E is present in the skin’s sebum. By nature, vitamin E is an oil. And because of that, it has moisturizing effects on the skin when applied topically. So if you have dry skin, vitamin E can be of great use to keep the skin replenished and soft and to prevent moisture loss.

What Are The Side Effects of Vitamin E For Skin?

Irritation, though not very common, is a side effect of vitamin E. So your skin may be irritated, and get itchy after you use a vitamin E product. Because of that, it’s best to patch test your products. This is something to keep in mind if you already have sensitive skin too.

Who Should Use Vitamin E?

Generally speaking and assuming your skin doesn’t react to it, people with dry skin and people who are dealing with wrinkles should use vitamin E.

It’ll help dry skin by increasing the lipid content, which results in better moisture, improved skin barrier, and reduced moisture loss.

It’ll help aging skin by keeping free radicals at bay. As a result of increased protection, your skin becomes more resilient to wrinkle-causing elements.

Additionally, and this is something I personally benefit from, you can use vitamin E to help your skin bounce back from irritation due to over-exfoliation.

Because vitamin E is moisturizing and soothing for the skin, I’ve seen it to be helpful in accelerating skin repair. But the overall formulation of the product has to be sensitive-skin-friendly.

Does Vitamin E Cause Acne?

We mentioned that vitamin E is present in sebum, which is something oily skin types produce abundantly. So using vitamin E when you have oily skin is not the most sensible thing or the most pleasing feeling.

Additionally, vitamin E usually comes in oil-based products. And oil-based products are usually bad for oily skin as they can clog pores and cause breakouts.

If you want the antioxidant or anti-inflammatory benefits of vitamin E, you can collect those benefits from other sources like vitamin C, which is less likely to cause congestion.

Does Vitamin E Reduce Scars?

It’s unclear who or what started this but there is, for the lack of a better word, a rumor that’s been going around with claims that vitamin E reduces scarring on the skin and increases wound healing.

The reason why I’m curious as to how it all started is that there are numerous studies on the subject with disappointing results. Apparently, someone made a convincing enough case that made people want to test it out.

But I digress. Vitamin E doesn’t seem to help with the look of scarring, or wounds. In fact, a study claims that in 90% of their cases, vitamin E either had no effect on the scarring or made the look of scars even worse (5).

How To Use Vitamin E in Skincare?

As an oily substance, vitamin E usually comes in oil-based or emollient products. Think face oils, thicker moisturizers, and creams. Though serums are generally water-based, there are some oil-based serums that are light enough and don’t feel greasy.

If you’re worried about wrinkles or aging, you can consider using vitamin E in the form of a face serum that also contains other antioxidants like vitamin C. Because these two work in a synergy that results in enhanced antioxidant benefits.

Additionally, if you have sensitive skin and can’t tolerate vitamin C, you can incorporate a daily cream into your routine made with vitamin E and other gentle antioxidants.

If you have dry skin or a damaged barrier, you can incorporate a vitamin E serum or cream into your routine to prevent water loss and repair the skin barrier.

And lastly, you must have heard about vitamin E capsules. Some people use these capsules, which contain pure vitamin E, on the face to reduce scarring. This has no base.

And given the fact that vitamin E can actually cause irritation, you might end up making things worse. So avoid using products on your skin that are not meant for your skin.

So this is how vitamin E works in skincare, its benefits, its drawbacks, and the proper way to use it. And I think it’s ‘edgy’ enough to make us go for it!

Read Next: The Best Vitamin E Skincare Products

References:

  1. Michalak, M., Pierzak, M., Kręcisz, B., & Suliga, E. (2021). Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review. Nutrients13(1), 203. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13010203
  2. Manela-Azulay, M., & Bagatin, E. (2009). Cosmeceuticals vitamins. Clinics in dermatology27(5), 469–474. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2009.05.010
  3. Fiume, M. M., Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C. D., Liebler, D. C., Marks, J. G., Shank, R. C., Slaga, T. J., Snyder, P. W., Andersen, F. A., & Heldreth, B. (2018). Safety Assessment of Tocopherols and Tocotrienols as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology, 37(2_suppl), 61S-94S. https://doi.org/10.1177/1091581818794455
  4. Baran, R., & Maibach, H. I. (2017). Antioxidants [E-book]. In Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology (p. 80). Taylor & Francis. https://doi.org/10.1201/9781315160504
  5. Baumann, L. S., & Spencer, J. (1999). The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatologic surgery : official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et al.]25(4), 311–315. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1524-4725.1999.08223.x
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