Skincare can sometimes be a touchy topic as we all have our product preferences from high-end to drug-store as well as natural, all of which may be based on an individual’s skincare needs or particular lifestyle factors. However, sometimes we often overlook some simple ingredients or products that may not only enhance the skin but give it that natural or youthful glow. One such ingredient is that of vitamin E.
Vitamin E or its most biologically active natural form, alpha-tocopherol, is regarded as a powerful antioxidant in line with vitamin C and A. Antioxidants are compounds that can help the body to manage oxidative stress and other free radicals that can cause the development of certain diseases such as cancer, etc. (brittanica.com). In skincare though, antioxidants can help to protect the skin from oxidative damage which can occur due to the rampage of free radicals and environmental maladies such as ultraviolet (UV) rays and pollution.
Additionally, antioxidants, due to their potent nature, are also used to help in the fight against aging as they help the skin at the cellular level and thus they are usually incorporated into products designated as ‘anti-aging.’ So, you get an idea as to how this vitamin can benefit the skin as part of a wholesome skincare regimen, right? Well, let’s discuss!
Vitamin E really refers to a set of eight (8) fat-soluble compounds that are found in nature (Traber, 2006). The compounds are divided into two (2) categories – tocopherols and tocotrienols. These compounds are identified by their particular prefixes – alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The prefixes indicate the level of potency and biological activity as per the respective compounds (Traber, 2006).
Alpha-tocopherol (or ‘α-Tocopherol’) is the most common form as it is considered the most biologically active of all the other naturally occurring compounds of this vitamin. Additionally, it is also the form that is found most abundant in the blood and tissue of the human body and is thus recognized as the best form to meet human health needs (Traber, 2006).
Vitamin E is one of the potent antioxidants of the human diet. Due to the fact that it is synthesized by plants, its benefits to humans must be through dietary means (Bunnel et al. 1965). Some of the richest sources of vitamin E via the diet are that of nuts (almonds and peanuts), whole grains, olive oil, spinach, chard, avocado and even sunflower seeds and oil (Bunnel et al. 1965).
As it relates to skincare, vitamin E acts as a free-radical scavenger as it protects the skin from solar radiation (Keen and Hassan, 2016). As such, it is the most abundant lipophilic antioxidant in the human skin (Rhie et al. 2001; Shindo et al. 1994). Therefore, it is found first in the epidermis and then the dermis (Rhie et al. 2001).
Vitamin E is usually higher in individuals whose skin produced a lot of sebum as well as skin types that are inclined to produce more sebum naturally, for example, those with oily skin (Rhie et al. 2001; Thiele et. al.1999). One of the main reasons for those with more sebum production to have more vitamin E, is due to the fact that this vitamin accumulates in the sebaceous glands of the skin before it is delivered to the surface through the sebum (Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage et al. 2004; Weber et. al. 1999). As such, the sebum behaves like a delivery mechanism for vitamin E.
As indicated, vitamin E occurs in several forms. However, the form that occurs naturally in food is in the form ‘a-tocopherol (a-toc) as such, it is found abundantly in the body’s tissues. Due to the fact that the natural form of vitamin E easily oxides when it is exposed to air, it has to be converted to other forms, for skincare so as to maintain stability and efficacy (Thiele JJ & Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, 2007). One such form is that of vitamin E conjugates, which are esters of tocopherol which are able to resist oxidation and help with stability while still being able to penetrate the layers of the skin (Thiele J & Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, 2007).
Therefore, to tell the difference between natural and synthetic vitamin E products, you may see the label marked with the words ‘natural’ or ‘d-alpha-tocopherol’. On the other hand, synthetic vitamin E is usually a mixture of Eight (8) isomeric forms with the label ‘all-rac’ or ‘dl-alpha-tocopherol.’ (https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/).
As such, the typical application of vitamin E, is a formulation that can deliver the highest non-esterified concentration and as such, will be able to inhibit acute ultraviolet (UV) damage to the skin due to oxidative stress, skin cancer as well as UV photoaging of the skin (Burke et. al. 2000).
In this article, we will be discussing three (3) main benefits of using vitamin E or vitamin E-related products as part of a skincare routine, especially one geared towards antiaging. The benefits to be discussed include its ability to reduce the appearance of scars and acne, melasma (de-hyperpigmentation), and photoaging or skin otherwise exposed to excessive ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Three (3) major benefits of Vitamin E for skin:
- Photoaging/Premature aging.
- Fighting acne.
1. Vitamin E and Photoaging/Premature aging
Vitamin E is purported to be able to prevent ultraviolet (UV) rays damage to the skin, which is one of its primary roles in skincare. As such, it is said to have a ‘sunscreen’ preventative activity effect on the skin and thus able to prevent photo-damage. Photo-damage or photo-aging is a situation that causes the skin to carry many of the signs of aging (wrinkles, rough skin texture, etc.) due to the exposure or excess thereof to the sun. As such, photo-damaged skin can contribute greatly to the premature aging of the skin. However, its sunscreen effect is considered limited due to its inability to absorb ultraviolet A (UVA) light or lights that are at a higher wavelength of the ultraviolet B (UVB) spectrum (Kagan et. al., 1992).
Supplementation with vitamin E has also shown in some cases to have some level of reduction in ultraviolet (UV) induced lipid peroxidation (oxidative decline of lipids) in the skin. However, no real photo-protective effect on the skin was observed (McArdle et al. 2004). This study was conducted with participants consuming 400 IU per day of a-tocopherol. Similar results were also observed in another study conducted over a six (6) months period with 400 IU per day of a-tocopherol (Werninghaus et . al. 1994).
While the topical application of vitamin E has shown to be able to prevent photo-damaged to the skin, research has not shown such application to have any effects on the prevention of the occurrence of skin cancers (van der Pols et al. 2009; McNaughton, et. al., 2005). However, multiple studies have shown that the topical application of vitamin E was able to reduce ultraviolet (UV) induced tumor formation (Bissettt et al. 1990; Burke et. al., 2003; Gensler et. al., 1996). However, most of these studies were conducted on mice. Therefore, the effects on humans may result in a different outcome.
Other studies have also shown UV reduction effects of the topical application of vitamin E after the immediate application of vitamin E after one’s initial exposure to UV radiation, especially as it relates to skin swelling and thickening (Trevithick et. al. 1993; Trevithick et. al., 1992).
Nonetheless, the best results were observed in studies that used a combination of vitamin E and other antioxidants such as vitamin C. This combination was shown to enhance the photo-protective benefits than when vitamin E is used alone (Sander et al., 2002).
You can read more on photoaging of the skin and skincare products and ingredients that have proven effective here and here
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2. Vitamin E and Melasma
Melasma is a skin condition that causes darkened patches on the skin. These darkened patches can be seen as brown or grayish-brown blotch, which is even more visible on lighter skin tones. While the darkened blotches can occur on any part of the skin, it is typically found on the forehead, cheeks, chin, upper lip or even the nose (health.harvard.edu).
Some of the causes of melasma include sun exposure as well as changes in hormones, especially during pregnancy. Additionally, some of the products that we use on our skin can also irritate the skin which can further worsen the condition. As such, always try to use gentle ingredients when it comes to your skincare routine. If abrasive treatments are to be applied, for example, skin peeling, ensure that this is done by a licenced professional. While the condition may fade or go away on its own if it occurs due to pregnancy (aad.org), it can become a mainstay for many people, even lasting for years or throughout one’s lifetime.
Importantly, melasma can affect anyone; however, this condition is usually associated with pregnant women due to an increase in hormones. However, research has shown that vitamin E could help in the treatment of this condition as it has been shown to cause depigmentation of the skin. This is due to vitamin E’s ability to interfere with lipid peroxidation (degradation of the lipids) of melanocyte membranes.
It is also able to increase the production of glutathione in the body at the cellular level which then inhibits the production of tyrosinase (Badreshia-Bansal et. al. 2007). Tyrosinase is an enzyme that catalyzes the production of melanin in the skin (Sciencedirect.com). However, according to (Hayakawa et al. 1981), vitamin E alone may not produce the heightened effect in the treatment of melasma.
Therefore, to boost its efficacy, researchers have added it to other antioxidants such as vitamin A and C (Handog et al., 2009). This was observed in a study with Sixty (60) Filipino women who were suffering from a type of melasma condition known as ‘bilateral epidermal.’ The research showed a significant reduction in the severity of the melasma and pigmentation when the combined mixture of antioxidants was applied to the affected areas twice per day over an Eight (8) week period.
3. Vitamin E and Acne
Acne has been treated as an enemy by many of us, especially if it occurs on the worst possible occasion. However, acne is a part of life and something that can be managed in many ways including diet and lifestyle. One of the ways in which one can manage this little culprit (here we go again) is by the use of vitamin E or vitamin E-related products. This is because research has shown that both vitamin E and C may be able to correct keratinization of the sebaceous follicles of the skin (Ayres &, Mihan, 1981) which in turn can prevent the formation of comedones.
The act of preventing the formation of harmful comedones is one that can inhibit the formation of certain types of bacteria, particularly, ‘propionibacterium acnes’ (a slow-growing bacterium). Additionally, the antioxidants – vitamin E and C were also able to prevent the inflammation of the sebaceous glands which can lead to the development of acne vulgaris (Strauss et al. 2000; Kus et al. 2005).
Topical Application of Vitamin E
The topical application of vitamin E has been a very popular treatment of some skin disorders due to its potent antioxidant properties. This includes its ability to alter the biosynthesis of collagen as well as glycosaminoglycan in the skin (Tanaka et al. 1993). Glycosaminoglycans are substances in the body that support and maintain the protein structure of the skin such as its collagen and elastin levels (sciencedirect.com).
Research has also shown that topical application of products, particularly gel with at least 0.11% vitamin E along with other ingredients such as vitamin C (0.11%), retinol (0.11%) and phytonadione, (2%) were effective in reducing dark under-eye circles especially in cases of hemostasis (Mitsuishi et al., 2004). As such, it’s best to always ensure that your vitamin E products contain at least 0.1 percentage or higher for them to be effective. Additionally, research contends that other antioxidants such as Vitamin A and C can actually boost expected results.
Cautionary Tale of Vitamin E
Research has not shown any adverse effect if one decided to take vitamin E internally at recommended doses. However, high doses can cause certain side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, stomach cramps, nausea, headaches, and even weakness. Additionally, due to the fact that vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, higher than daily recommended doses can cause an accumulation inside the body (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Accumulation of vitamin E in the body can cause a condition called hypervitaminosis E.
Hypervitaminosis E can cause a chain reaction of several health issues. For example, research suggests that, if a healthy individual take a daily dose of 100 mg or higher of vitamin E, he /she will likely develop hypervitaminosis E, which could interfere with the metabolism of vitamin K and thus cause bleeding issues, especially if that individual suffers from certain bleeding disorders or are on certain bleeding medications (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
So, be mindful of supplementation, and always consult with your healthcare provider if you are considering starting a supplementation regimen with vitamin E. However, topical application of vitamin is not known to cause or rarely cause contact dermatitis (Goldman & Rapaport, 1986) or other skin reactions.
You can read more about the skin and how to take care of it here and here as well as how to create a skin care regimen that works here.
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Here is a summary of Three (3) awesome ‘must know’ skincare benefits of Vitamin E.
Let’s Sum Up!
As discussed, vitamin E can cause a significant stir to your skincare regimen, in a very good way! However, your regimen must be targeted to your particular skincare needs so as to experience maximum benefits and expected results. As such, if you are suffering from acne, melasma, or photodamage, skin, then vitamin E supplementation or vitamin E-related products could be a worthwhile consideration.
Another major benefit of vitamin E in skincare is its protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays and as such, provides an antioxidant defense against photoaging and other free radicals that can create havoc on the skin and cause premature aging concerns.
Further, just supplementing with vitamin E alone may not provide adequate protection for the skin. As such, a co-supplementation regimen of both vitamin A and E may be more effective according to research, especially as it relates to photo-protection of the skin via diet.
Nonetheless, as with anything, caution must be taken into consideration, as over-consumption of vitamin E supplements can cause a buildup in the body which can lead to serious health conditions such as hypervitaminosis E. In addition, try to include other antioxidants products in your skincare regimen so as to achieve optimal results.
Therefore, a healthy diet of vitamin E-rich foods coupled with an effective skincare regimen consisting of noteworthy ingredients like vitamin E can help to get you the glowing, acne-managed skin you desire, especially as the years pile on. So, with all that was said….Are you skintimate yet!
For further guides in skincare, check out these other posts:
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