The term vitamin E refers to a group of eight compounds: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. All of these compounds have similar structures yet slightly different functions. Out of these eight compounds, alpha-tocopherol is the most abundant and biologically active form in the human body.
Vitamin E is included in a wide variety of skin care products, primarily as alpha-tocopherol, due to its powerful antioxidant activity. It is considered to be a “chain-breaking” antioxidant for its role in hindering the chain reaction induced by free radicals. Specifically, vitamin E works by delivering a hydrogen atom to free radicals, which minimizes their damaging effects. Since vitamin E is fat-soluble, it is incorporated into cell membranes in order to protect from oxidative damage. This is important because free radicals contribute to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin E also helps the skin retain moisture by strengthening the skin’s barrier function. When vitamin E is delivered to skin through the sebaceous (oil) glands, it improves water-binding capacity and hydrates the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of skin). Vitamin E is also considered an effective ingredient for providing skin protection and treating atopic dermatitis (eczema).