Vitamin E in Skincare
Vitamin E is a generic term for 8 different molecules—four tocotrienols and four tocopherols. Tocotrienols and tocopherols have different structures, giving them different biological properties. Both have α, β, γ, and δ forms that have varying chemical side chains in their structures . The generic term “vitamin E” usually refers to α-tocopherol. α- tocopherol is the most abundant molecule found in natural vitamin E, with tocotrienols in lesser quantities, around 15% . High amounts of α-tocopherol are excreted in sebm [oil], which is highly concentrated in exposed areas such as the forehead and nose where there are more sebum-producing glands .
Vitamin E must be supplemented, as the body cannot make it. It is present in limited quantities in the skin and readily depleted by UV exposure [more than 50% after 30 min exposure], creating a natural deficiency [2, 9]. Additionally, ozone has been shown to deplete natural levels of vitamin E in the skin .
Vitamin E, discovered in 1922, is one of the first known antioxidants . It is the predominant skin barrier anti-oxidant, one of the first lines of defense against sun damage . It protects the skin by preventing the breakdown of lipids [waxy molecules necessary to retain moisture and skin barrier function] by scavenging harmful free radicals. Free radicals are known to induce skin aging . Tocotrienols are thought to have higher antioxidant potential than tocopherols . Additionally, increased levels of lipid breakdown were found in patients with acne . This suggests vitamin E might play a role in acne treatment.
Vitamin E has potential to enhance the effect of preventative sunscreens and help heal sun damage. Application of tocopherols and tocotrienols before UV exposure preserves the amount of vitamin E in the skin . Application of vitamin E before UV exposure reduces edemas [fluid under the skin], redness, inflammation, and sunburn . It reduces wrinkles due to sun exposure and protects against photoaging, chronic damage due to excessive sun exposure . There is 56% less α-tocopherol in the skin of people with photoaging . Topical α-tocopherol applied to the skin of mice before UV radiation showed significant anti-oxidant activity and reduced lasting damage when applied after sun exposure . Similar results were seen in humans. A cream containing 10% tocopherols and 0.3% tocotrienols reduced photosensitivity [high skin sensitivity to sunlight] with a single application . Additionally, vitamin E has been shown to have a greater effect when combined with vitamin C to protect against sun damage .
Both tocotrienols and tocopherols have shown to have anti-aging properties . Treating fibroblasts [collagen producing cells] with tocotrienol and tocopherol increased collagen levels and reduced the activity of matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs] which degrade collagen and deteriorate the skin . This shows both tocotrienols and tocopherols may help protect the skin from aging by increasing the amount of collagen.
Vitamin E plays a role in protecting skin barrier function and synthesizing cholesterol, a component of skin that helps retain moisture . It is useful for treating burns, eczema, dryness, and ulcers . In clinical studies, α-tocopherol was shown to reduce the symptoms of eczema, an inflammatory skin disorder [5, 10].
Vitamin E also aids in wound healing [5, 10]. A study in rats shows a mixture of tocopherols and tocotrienols increases collagen at the wound site and tensile strength of the wound more than α-tocopherol alone .
Vitamin E may enhance skin penetration . Topical application of vitamin E has been shown to increase vitamin E levels in the skin better than dietary supplementation . This high absorption shows potential to enhance the penetration of other molecules.
Key benefits of Vitamin E in skin care:
- Antioxidant [2-11]
- Sun damage protection [2, 6, 9, 10, 11]
- Sun damage repair [2, 10]
- Anti-inflammatory [2, 6]
- Wound Healing Support [4, 5, 10]
- Moisturizing and hydration [5, 7, 10]
- Matrix Metalloproteinase [MMP] inhibitors 
- Collagen synthesis [3, 10]
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 S. Makpol, F.A. Jam, S.C. Khor, Z. Ismail, Y.A.M. Yusof, and W.Z.W. Ngah, “Comparative Effects of Biodynes, Tocotrienol-Rich Fraction, and Tocopherol in Enhancing Collagen Synthesis and Inhibiting Collagen Degradation in Stress-Induced Premature Senescence Model of Human Diploid Fibroblasts,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, pp. 1-8, 2013.
 M. Musalmah, M.Y. Nizrana, A.H. Fairuz, A.H. NoorAini, A.L. Azian, M.T. Gapor, and W.Z. Wan Ngah, “Comparative Effects of Palm Vitamin E and a-Tocopherol on Healing and Wound Tissue Antioxidant Enzyme Levels in Diabetic Rats,” Lipids, Vol. 40, no. 6, pp. 575-580, 2005.
 G. Panin, R. Strumia, and F. Ursini, “Topical α-Tocopherol Acetate in the Bulk Phase: Eight Years of Experience in Skin Treatment,” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. vol. 1031, pp. 443–447, 2004.
 V.F. Pedrelli, M.M. Lauriola, and P.D. Pigatto, “Clinical evaluation of photoprotective effect by a topical antioxidants combination [tocopherols and tocotrienols],” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, vol. 26, pp. 1449-1453, 2012.
 M. Podda, C. Weber,' Maret G. Traber, and Lester Packer, “Simultaneous determination of tissue tocopherols, tocotrienols, ubiquinols, and ubiquinones,” Journal of Lipid Research, vol. 37, pp. 893-901, 1996.
 S.S. Shapiro and C. Saliou, “Role of vitamins in skin care,” Nutrition, vol. 17, issue 10, pp. 839–844,October 2001.
 A. Tavakkol, Z. Nabi, N. Soliman, and T.G. Polefka, “Delivery of vitamin E to the skin by a novel liquid skin cleanser: Comparison of topical versus oral supplementation,” J. Cosmet. Sci., vol. 55, pp.177-187, March 2004.
 J.J. Thiele, S.N. Hsieh, and S. Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, “Vitamin E: Critical Review of Its Current Use in Cosmetic and Clinical Dermatology,” Dermatol Surg,vol. 31, pp. 805-813, 2005.
 C. Weber, M. Podda, M. Rallis, J. J. Thiele, M.G. Traber, and L. Packer, “Efficacy of Topically Applied Tocopherols and Tocotrienols in Protection of Murine Skin from Oxidative Damage Induced by UV-Irradiation” Free Radical Biology & Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 5, pp. 761–769, 1997.