Vitamin E is an essential nutrient required for the proper functioning of many systems in the human body. It plays a key role in the health of the skin, eyes, blood, and brain, as well as the reproductive and immune systems.
What is Vitamin E?
Similar to how vitamin A has different forms, vitamin E is actually a generic term for a group of similar molecules, not just a single compound. You may recognize the terms tocopherol or tocotrienol. There are actually four different forms of each of these, for a total of eight different compounds that classify as vitamin E. All of them are fat-soluble and primarily function as antioxidant protection within our bodies, defending against cellular damage.
Specifically in the skin, vitamin E’s main function as an antioxidant is to help protect cell membranes, proteins, and DNA against lipid peroxidation and oxidative damage from free radicals. It basically stops oils in your skin from decomposing and turning rancid. Important, right?
Like most vitamins, vitamin E cannot be synthesized within the body, so it must be acquired from outside sources through diet. We attain most of our nutritional vitamin E from foods like nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Nutritional supplements are also available, though not usually recommended unless advised by a health professional for specific deficiencies.
So where does topical vitamin E come in?
Skin Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is found in skincare formulas for two main reasons: its before-mentioned antioxidant properties and its moisturizing capabilities.
Antioxidant Benefits of Vitamin E
As a cosmetic ingredient, vitamin E is typically included to replenish and protect other vitamins, both in the skin and in the formula itself. As an antioxidant, it readily donates an electron to stabilize other molecules. This protective ability ensures that other active ingredients maintain their efficacy, including the preservative system.
Moisturizing Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is also an excellent emollient, providing softness and smoothness to the skin, as well as a humectant that helps the skin retain and preserve moisture levels. In this capacity, it contributes to a healthy skin barrier.
Between its antioxidant capability and its barrier protective ability, vitamin E can be considered a vital skincare ingredient.
One Thing to Consider
Vitamin E compounds play an important role in properly formulated skincare, but it should be noted that using vitamin E from a nutritional capsule does not have the same effect. Despite anecdotal reports that straight vitamin E can help with scar healing, the clinical evidence does not support this claim and in fact, has found increased incidents of irritation and/or dermatitis from this method of application.
Better with Friends
It is important to note that while vitamin E is considered a superstar antioxidant and must-have skincare ingredient, the reality is that it is only able to perform its protective duties once before it must be reactivated. This is where another potent nutrient, vitamin C, comes into play. Vitamin C has the unique ability to recycle and regenerate vitamin E, extending its protective abilities for further use. These two should be found together in a well-rounded skincare routine.