Updated: Jul 17
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is an important anti-oxidant for the skin. Read more...
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Can you explain what vitamin E is and where it comes from?
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is an important anti-oxidant for the skin. An anti-oxidant is something that protects cells from damage. There are a number of sources for vitamin E. Almonds, peanuts, avocados, sunflower seeds, spinach, butternut squash and oils such as wheat germ oil are the most common sources.
What are the benefits of vitamin E for the skin?
There is some experimental evidence that suggests that Vitamin E may prevent tumors from developing and protect our skin from UV damage. Although the use of vitamin E is widespread and generally considered to be safe, there are actually very limited studies on vitamin E as an ingredient. However, the studies available do show it to be a promising ingredient to look for but not necessarily more effective than other products that have the same benefits. By protecting our skin from redness and swelling and other effects from sunburns, it may protect against cell damage that can lead to skin cancer and wrinkles.
Vitamin E applied topically can penetrate the skin effectively since it is a fat-soluble product. When it penetrates the skin it can make the superficial skin layers more hydrated to prevent dry skin that can lead to eczema. It has also been used to manage scars and burns given its ability to help soothe the skin.
Vitamin E applied to the skin does have an emollient or hydrating effect. Hydrating the superficial layers of skin, it can minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is not necessarily ‘reversing’ the signs of aging. It is more likely to hydrate the skin effectively to minimize the appearance of aging.
There is a study that combined vitamin E with other antioxidants in a topical product that did show an improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, skin firmness, and discoloration. This study did not compare vitamin E alone to the combination product so it is difficult to say the exact role vitamin E played in the improvement of aging.
For cuticles, rough skin, and dry skin, vitamins can provide a protective barrier to the skin and hydrate it effectively. It is generally safe, well tolerated, and inexpensive making it a reasonable ingredient to look for in products.
How should one infuse vitamin E into their skincare routine?
Vitamin E applied to the skin does not commonly have side effects. Irritation and itching have been noted to occur. If taken by mouth in high doses then nausea, diarrhea, headaches, bruising or bleeding, and blurred vision can occur.
Taken by mouth, the recommended amount to add to your routine is based on age. For most adults, 15 mg daily is recommended.
Topically, it is so mild with healing and hydrating properties and prevents damage from free radicals that applying it first after cleansing is helpful prior to adding in other moisturizers and sunblocks.
How about oral supplementation with Vitamin E?
Taking Vitamin E oral supplements has been studied in various scenarios. Studies suggest that it may reduce coronary events and improve immune response. Based on this, those with a history of cardiac disease or worries about immunosuppression should discuss the potential benefit of adding this supplement. Supplementing with a vitamin should always be done with consultation with your doctor to avoid adverse effects or interactions with your other medications.
There are different forms and dosages found for Vitamin E found in supplements. A multivitamin often has about 13.5 mg of Vitamin E while additional stand-alone supplements can have in excess of 67 mg. If your diet naturally contains a significant amount of Vitamin E in the form of leafy green vegetables, nuts, and vegetable oils then a multivitamin may be sufficient. If not, taking an additional designated vitamin E supplement may be helpful. It is important to avoid taking more than 400 IU of Vitamin E (about 268 mg) if you have a history of heart disease.
Take home points...
There are different forms of vitamin E. d-alpha-tocopherol is the most common one found and is the most potent. There is a synthetic form called dl-alpha-tocopherol that is not as active as the natural form. The other forms of supplements - gamma-tocopherol, tocotrienols, etc- are not known to be as active.
Be cautious about vitamin E supplementation if you are on a blood thinner. Vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding.
I generally do not recommend a particular brand for supplements as I have yet to find a safe and reliable option. I tend to ask patients to start with a routine multivitamin supplement and if they opt to add supplementation shop via the back of the bottle from the ingredient label and not based on packaging as many are misleading.