Vitamins of many types play important roles in skin care. From A to D (and K!), vitamins have the ability to improve skin health. Vitamin E is one of the most common ones found in skin care. Whether ingested or applied topically, it can help support the health and appearance of skin, protecting it from UV damage and possibly slowing down the aging process. Here, we’ll take a deeper look into exactly how vitamin E can be beneficial in skin care.
What Is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E (also known as tocopherol, and is often written in ingredients list by this name) is a very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with various skin benefits. It can be found in numerous skin care products, particularly moisturizers. There are eight different vitamin E compounds. Alpha-tocopherol is the most common and effective one in humans.
Vitamin E can also be found in a variety of foods including salmon, green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, nuts like hazelnuts and vegetable oils like sunflower and wheat germ. Vitamin E can be made synthetically, though this form is less effective than the natural form.
Most people don’t necessarily need to supplement their diets with vitamin E – the amount they get from everyday foods is usually enough. Approximately 15 milligrams a day is recommended for teens and adults. Keep in mind that excessive use of vitamin E supplements has been shown to prevent blood from clotting, resulting in the possibility of dangerous bleeding. In men, too much vitamin E supplementation has increased the risk of developing prostate cancer. Thus, it’s best to simply get your vitamin E from food.
Vitamin E and Skin
People with oily skin may have more vitamin E than those with dry skin. When ingested, vitamin E is carried to the skin through the sebaceous glands. Topically, vitamin E is added to a variety of skin care products, including eye creams, serums, anti-aging lotions, sunscreens and some types of makeup.
It is rather easily absorbed by the skin when applied topically, whether it’s in capsules or creams. In fact, capsules of vitamin E can be applied to very dry areas, like the elbows, for an added boost of hydration. Though vitamin oil is rather thick, it can nonetheless be helpful for dry patches. If you want something easier to spread along the epidermis, choose vitamin E creams rather than oils.
In addition to its moisturizing abilities, vitamin E is known as a very potent antioxidant. This means it has the ability to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms. They have the potential to damage perfectly healthy cells. In the skin, they can degrade collagen and elastin, two proteins that keep skin bouncy and firm. Without collagen and elastin, skin wouldn’t be as taut and springy as it is. Instead, it would sag and become excessively wrinkled. In fact, as we age, our stores of collagen and elastin get depleted, and this is why our skin starts showing those telltale signs of aging.
On top of its free radical scavenging prowess, vitamin E can help reduce skin damage caused by UV exposure thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. This damage includes sunburn, pigmentation and even skin cancer. Animal studies on mice have shown that there was lesser incidence of cancer, as well as mitigation of sunburn, inflammation and pigmentation. There is also evidence that vitamin E can help with chronic inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis. When combined with vitamins C and D, it is even more powerful.
The Truth About Vitamin E and Scars/Wounds/Stretch Marks
Some companies market topical vitamin E as a potential treatment for scarring. However, clinical studies have shown that vitamin E actually does not improve scarring, and can even lead to contact dermatitis (redness, itchiness). With this in mind, we wouldn’t recommend buying vitamin E oil or capsules to apply to any parts of the body that have scars, whether they are new or old. There is a strong chance nothing but grief will come of it.
Studies on rats have shown that vitamin E deficiency can result in wound formation/skin lesions. Because of this, studies have been done on vitamin E’s ability to accelerate the healing of wounds. This is due to the fact that antioxidants in general increase during the process of wound healing. Thus it stands to reason that vitamin E can potentially help heal wounds. However, additional studies have shown that this is not true.
Vitamin E has also been marketed as a preventative treatment for stretch marks, along with plant oils like almond oil and olive oil. Unfortunately, no studies have shown this to be the case. Vitamin E can neither prevent nor treat existing stretch marks, although some people continue to use it. For treating stretch marks, you’re much better off using retinol, which helps with cell turnover and can help fade hyperpigmentation associated with stretch marks.
Vitamin E and the Skin Barrier
Vitamin E can help protect and nourish the skin barrier. Think of the skin barrier as a wall that prevents harmful toxins from entering your skin where they can cause damage. A damaged skin barrier can lead to redness, inflammation, flaking and other problems. When your skin looks and feels soft without any problems, your skin barrier is healthy. When you’re having issues like dry patches, you can be certain your skin barrier has been compromised somewhat. Vitamin E helps prevent this by keeping the natural lipids in your skin fresh. These lipids are an essential part of the skin barrier. You can think of them as the mortar in that aforementioned wall, while the skin cells are the bricks. Together, they form the skin barrier and keep it strong.
Vitamin E and Blackheads
Vitamin E has the potential to prevent the sebum in your pores from oxidizing. In case you didn’t know, oxidation is what causes blackheads to turn black. When the oil that has risen to the surface of your pore comes in contact with oxygen, it turns that ugly grayish black color that characterizes blackheads. (That black color doesn’t come from dirt as some may believe). Vitamin E, with its antioxidant abilities, can help prevent this. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean your pores have become unclogged, however. In fact, in some cases vitamin E can even lead to pore clogging.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C
Think of these two vitamins as best friends, or maybe simply colleagues who work very well together. When combined in various skin care products, vitamins E and C are far more effective at helping to prevent and reduce UV damage. These two are excellent anti-aging ingredients that can help keep skin looking its best. As an added bonus, vitamin C also has the ability to stimulate collagen production. Combined with vitamin E’s ability to scavenge free radicals, you can see why these two vitamins together are so essential for skin health.
Additionally, oral ingestion of vitamin C and vitamin E has also shown photoprotective (protection from sun damage) results. This combination was further associated with minimal DNA damage after sun exposure.
Vitamin E’s Cons
Vitamin E oil for skin and vitamin E capsules for the face can sometimes cause dermatitis when applied directly. Dermatitis is a skin condition that can manifest as a red, itchy and scaly rash. It is essentially a type of skin inflammation. It can be very uncomfortable for the sufferer. For this reason, it is recommended that you avoid using vitamin E oil and capsules on sensitive skin areas like around the delicate eye area. Moreover, for those with oily skin, using such a pure form of vitamin E may lead to clogged pores and issues with acne, especially if you are already prone to having blemishes.
Vitamin E is also not a very stable vitamin. Most of it will even be depleted when the skin is exposed to sunlight. This is why combining it with vitamin C is so important. When looking for the best vitamin E product, consider choosing one with vitamin C in the formulation as well.
Vitamin E and You
With all of the above information in mind, you can see why vitamin E has many benefits and is worth adding into your skin care routine. However, you don’t have to use straight vitamin E oil or capsules – you can easily use creams or lotions that already contain the ingredient with great results. Remember also that vitamin E is a great antioxidant that can help with aging concerns, so it’s a good weapon to have in your anti-aging arsenal. For best results, try a product that contains both vitamin E and vitamin C. Don’t bother using vitamin E to treat scars or stretch marks (a type of scarring, in fact), as it likely won’t help and may worsen the conditions.
References: Journal of the American Medical Association, “Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results of The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial”; Indian Dermatology Online Journal, “Vitamin E in Dermatology”; National Institutes of Health, “Vitamin E”; Nutrition and Cancer, “Effects of topical and oral vitamin E on pigmentation and skin cancer induced by ultraviolet irradiation in Skh:2 hairless mice”; PubMed, “The Effects of Topical Vitamin E on the Cosmetic Appearance of Scars”; American Academy of Dermatology, “Stretch Marks: Why They Appear and How To Get Rid of Them”; Indian Dermatology Online Journal, “Vitamin C in Dermatology”; Linus Pauling Institute, “Vitamin E and Skin Health”; Byrdie, “This Is Exactly What Vitamin E Does For Your Skin”;