Vitamin E is considered an antioxidant superstar and that, coupled with its natural origin, has made this ingredient very popular. So popular, in fact, that most beauty products on the market seem to include a form of Vitamin E. But Vitamin E can do a lot more than just fight free radicals and that’s why it’s an ingredient that everyone should try to incorporate in their beauty routine. But it can also have some side effects… So, what’s the deal with Vitamin E? Read on to find out…
What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E refers to a group of fat-soluble compounds that naturally occur in the skin and in a lot of foods, including margarine, green and yellow vegetables, nuts, meat, corn, oils and some diary products. It will be too long (and boring) to list all of these compounds here but the most common types include alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols and alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocotrienols. They can be derived both naturally (from vegetable oils) or synthetically in a lab. To know the exact origin, you need to look at the name. If it is preceded by the d prefix (such as d-alpha-tocopherol for example), it comes from natural sources, while, if it is preceded by the dl prefix (such as dl-alpha tocopherol), it is derived synthetically. Both types are very effective, but the naturally derived types just seem to work that little bit better.
Vitamin E has antioxidant properties
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. Free radicals, which are caused by several factors including metabolism, pollution and uv radiation, are oxygen molecules that have lost an electron and need to find another one quickly. They do so by robbing another molecule of it, and this molecule in turn becomes a free radical in need of another electron, thus initiating a chain reaction that causes havoc on the skin and leads to premature aging. Vitamin E is capable of breaking this chain reaction.
Although Vitamin E is naturally present in the skin, it depletes when exposed to the sun (and also with age) so it’s important to include this powerful ally in our skincare routine. It doesn’t really matter what type of Vitamin E you use as they all have antioxidant properties, although scientific studies (performed on animals and in vitro and taken orally, not topically applied on human skin) have shown that tocotrienols are more effective. In addition, Vitamin E also has anti inflammatory properties that soothe irritations, thus helping keeping skin in good condition and looking younger for longer (irritations are another cause of premature aging).
Vitamin E has photoprotective properties
Vitamin E also offers some sun protection. Studies have shown that applying tocopheryl on animal skin provides protection against UV damage (J. Invest. Dermatol. 104:484-88, 1995). In addition, it reduces the severity of sunburns and even improves the efficacy of the active ingredients used in sunscreens! And Vitamin E works even better at protecting skin from the sun when used together with Vitamin C. However, don’t you even think of throwing away your sunscreen and rely solely on Vitamin E for sun protection. Vitamin E can help limit the damage done by the sun rays but it isn’t a sunscreen, it doesn’t work as a sunscreen and shouldn’t be used as such (but in conjunction with it)!
Vitamin E has moisturizing properties
In addition to help fight premature aging and protecting skin from the sun, Vitamin E (and a-tocopherol acetate in particular) is also an excellent moisturizer. It strenghtens the skin’s natural barrier, reducing water loss. This improves the levels of hydration in the skin. The result? Skin is moisturized for hours, and looks soft, smooth and overall better.
Vitamin E as a preservative
Vitamin E is often used as a preservative in a wide variety of beauty products, especially natural/organic ones. It works by preventing the light from deteriorating the active ingredients in the products (especially those that come in see-through packaging or jars that are frequently exposed to light), thus improving their shelf life. It is also important to note that in most products Vitamin E can be found towards the end of the ingredient list and, in this case, it is used in the product as a preservative and not for its antioxidant, photoprotective or moisturizing properties (unlike what the label may lead you to believe).
Vitamin E and scars
A lot of people apply Vitamin E on scars because they are convinced it helps, but unfortunately this is a claim that current research doesn’t support. On the contrary, “this study shows that there is no benefit to the cosmetic outcome of scars by applying vitamin E after skin surgery and that the application of topical vitamin E may actually be detrimental to the cosmetic appearance of a scar. In 90% of the cases in this study, topical vitamin E either had no effect on, or actually worsened, the cosmetic appearance of scars. Of the patients studied, 33% developed a contact dermatitis to the vitamin E. Therefore we conclude that use of topical vitamin E on surgical wounds should be discouraged.”
Vitamin E side effects
Although Vitamin E being a vitamin and a natural substance may lead some people to believe that it is also completely safe and doesn’t have any side effects, this is not really true. Like all ingredients, regardless of their origin, used in cosmetics, Vitamin E too when applied topically can cause adverse reactions such as allergies, contact dermatitis and contact urticaria. If you experience a negative reaction, stop using it immediately. However, most people will be able to use it without problems so there is no need to get all worried about Vitamin E.
Do you use Vitamin E in your skincare routine?