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Vitamin E Might Be The Missing Piece of Your Skincare Routine

Everything about vitamin E in skincare.

Vitamin E has become a skincare buzzword as of late, just like its antioxidant counterparts, such as vitamin C and resveratrol. Most likely, you have used it at some point, as it can be found in everything from toners to serums and moisturizers. And if you haven’t used it yet, it’s big time you incorporate vitamin E into your routine because it can do so much for your skin. Vitamin E skin benefits revolve around its antioxidant power, but there is way more it can do.

Now, let’s break down everything there is to know about vitamin E benefits for the skin and why you should incorporate it into your routine.

What is vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found in different forms, whereas alpha-tocopherol is the only one that can be metabolized by the human body. Although this form can be synthetically produced, alpha-tocopherol can be found in foods like nuts, seeds, spinach, pumpkin, and avocado.[1] When ingested, either from supplements or foods, vitamin E is transported into the facial skin by the sebaceous glands, fulfilling its photoprotective and antioxidant roles while creating a protective barrier that hinders transepidermal water loss (TEWL).[2]

Is tocopherol the same as vitamin E?

So, is tocopherol the same as vitamin E? Yes, whenever you see tocopherol or alpha-tocopherol on your skincare products, that’s vitamin E. The same goes if you spot tocopheryl acetate — it’s the most common form of vitamin E used in skincare that’s more stable and has a longer shelf life, though is more poorly absorbed by the skin.

Vitamin E benfits for skin

Due to its oil-soluble nature, when applied to the skin, vitamin E sinks into the deeper layers, where it has a few key roles in protecting and maintaining great skin. These vitamin E skin benefits are the reason you should keep this ingredient on your radar:

  1. It’s an antioxidant: the main role of vitamin E in skincare is its antioxidant ability, which allows it to protect cells against free radical damage and reduce the production of free radicals in certain situations. Meaning, that vitamin E neutralizes free radicals, protecting collagen in the skin and helping prevent oxidative stress that leads to early wrinkles and dark spots.[3]
  2. Softens skin: as an emollient, vitamin E softens skin and relieves dry patches, making it feel comfortable and soft. This makes vitamin E a go-to whenever your skin is irritated, itchy, or rough.
  3. Shields against sun damage: due to its antioxidant activity, vitamin E has photoprotective action, countering damage caused by UV exposure. 
  4. Strengthens the protective barrier: by replenishing skin with moisture and reinforcing the lipid barrier, vitamin E aids in preserving a resilient barrier that helps skin retain more moisture and keep external foes out.

Despite the common belief that topical vitamin E speeds wound healing and improve scars, that is not the case.[4] For that, vitamin E should be taken orally, along with vitamin C and zinc, the trio allowing less time for wound healing.[3]

Vitamin E side effects

Even if rare, there were cases when the pure form of vitamin E triggered allergic reactions and dermatitis, especially for reactive skins.[3] To avoid that from happening, do a patch test whenever you add a new skincare product to your regimen. Another downside of vitamin E is that it can possibly clog pores in case of breakout-prone skin. As such, if you’re prone to blemishes, use vitamin E products with extra care, applying it no more than twice weekly and ensuring the product is non-comedogenic.

How to use vitamin E in skincare

Since this compound can be found in various products, the key to reaping vitamin E skin benefits comes down to choosing your product selection wisely. For top-notch results, choose oils, serums, or moisturizers.

As a fat-soluble compound, when used in oils and serums, vitamin E delivers its perks straight into the deeper skin layers, strengthening the antioxidant defense system and softening skin. In case your skin is sensitive, look out for vitamin E moisturizers, which usually contain about 0.5% to 1% vitamin E, working gentler and counteracting possible irritating effects.[3] When vitamin E is used in a cream, it works more on the surface layer, forming a protective veil that hinders pollution and irritants get into the skin while keeping it soft and the barrier integer.

While vitamin E can be used twice a day, we recommend applying vitamin E in your AM skincare routine for antioxidant protection during the day and leaving the repairing actives (think retinol, vitamin C) for night use.

It has been shown that combining vitamin E and vitamin C has greater efficacy in photoprotection, decreasing hyperpigmentation, and neutralizing free radicals.[5] Also, when this combination is used under sunscreen, it gives better protection against UV damage than sunscreen alone.[6]

For enhanced antioxidant protection, vitamin E should be paired with vitamin C and ferulic acid. This combination works synergistically to improve antioxidant defense and protection against oxidative stress and photoaging up to four to eight times more.[7]

The best products with vitamin E

  1. National Institutes for Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Vitamin E
  2. Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S, Thiele J. DieTalgdrüse als Transporter für Vitamin E [Sebaceous glands as transporters of vitamin E]. Hautarzt. 2006 Apr;57(4):291-6. German. doi: 10.1007/s00105-005-1090-7.
  3. Keen MA, Hassan I. Vitamin E in dermatologyIndian Dermatol Online J. 2016;7(4):311-315. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.185494
  4. Baumann LS, Spencer J. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatol Surg. 1999 Apr;25(4):311-5. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.1999.08223.x. PMID: 10417589.
  5. Oregon State Unversity, Vitamin E and Skin Health
  6. Darr D, Dunston S, Faust H, Pinnell S. Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants. Acta Derm Venereol. 1996 Jul;76(4):264-8. doi: 10.2340/0001555576264268.
  7. Lin FH, Lin JY, Gupta RD, Tournas JA, Burch JA, Selim MA, Monteiro-Riviere NA, Grichnik JM, Zielinski J, Pinnell SR. Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin. J Invest Dermatol. 2005 Oct;125(4):826-32. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-202X.2005.23768.x.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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