Vitamin E in Skin Care

Vitamin E (Tocopherols) in Skin Care

Vitamin E is used in skin care products as parts of anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and skin lightening products.

It is a potent antioxidant and is consumed regularly as part of a normal diet.

If you are looking for a studied and safe antioxidant for your sun damage or wrinkle treatments, read below to see if vitamin E is right for your skin type!

What is vitamin E?

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is actually a group of compounds made up of chemicals like tocol and tocotrienol derivatives. In particular, the four compounds medicine generally recognizes as "vitamin E" are the α-, β-, γ- and δ- tocopherol varieties. (a, b, g, d)

Of these four varieties, a-tocopherol is the most efficiently processed in the body and most prevalent in common plant species. For this reason, a-tocopherol is the most common form of vitamin E used in skin care product formulations.

Interestingly, a person's daily recommended intake of vitamin E is based exclusively on a-tocopherol recommendations, not the other 3 varieties.

Vitamin E is an effective antioxidant that is soluble in fats, meaning it is able to penetrate deep into the skin to reduce free radicals caused by radiation. (2)

Synthetic varieties of vitamin E exist in medicine, but they are less easily absorbed by the body than naturally occurring vitamin E compounds. (23)

How does it work?

Vitamin E, (specifically a-tocopherol in skin care) expresses antioxidant properties through its ability to bind to and eliminate free radicals on the skin.

The structure of a-tocopherol allows it to bind multiple free radicals at once, making it extremely effective for sun damage or anti-aging treatments.

Vitamin E is fat soluble, able to penetrate deep into the skin. (31)

This compound is vital for your body's normal regulation of free radicals, and low levels of vitamin E are considered early signs of oxidative damage. (7,8)

It's good to use vitamin E alongside ingredients like vitamin C or Coenzyme Q10, which donate electrons to vitamin E, turning it back into an antioxidant after it has eliminated a bunch of free radicals so it can eliminate even more of them. (1) 

Studies have also found that Vitamin E slows the synthesis of prostaglandin E2; this gives the compound anti-inflammatory effects in skin care.

Research suggests that the inhibition of prostaglandin E2 can also result in increased collagen synthesis, resulting in stronger and less wrinkle-prone skin.(6)


Vitamin E is one of the most broadly beneficial ingredients in skin care, with uses as an antioxidant, anti-aging ingredient, anti-inflammatory, and a skin lightener.

As a potent antioxidant, vitamin E is great for treating/preventing wrinkles and scavenging free radicals that cause genetic damage and skin aging.

Studies have found that a-tocopherol is effective at protecting the skin from UVB radiation when combined with ingredients like ferulic acid. (28)

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, has demonstrated positive reactions to vitamin E treatments in many studies. (9,29)

A-tocopherol has a small impact in dark spots as well, interfering with melanogenesis through multiple mechanisms we will cover in more detail below. (41,42)

If you have concerns regarding facial lines, deep wrinkles, or rough skin, vitamin E can also be used to treat those. (22)

Vitamin E has also demonstrated boosts to collagen synthesis, anti-inflammatory effects, and immunostimulatory properties. (6)

Oral Vitamin E has been said to help decrease skin dryness from Accutane.


Even though vitamin E is an important, common compound present in many normally consumed products, there are still a few considerations to make before including it in your skin care routine.

Studies have found that vitamin E can cause a skin allergy in nearly 20% of patients. (33)It is found on lists of skin allergy causing ingredients.

Reactions to topical Vitamin E an include stinging, dryness, or redness.

Certain forms of tocopherol, including a-tocopherol, have demonstrated significant rates of contact irritation as compared to many other ingredients. (33)

If you have sensitive or dry skin, there is a chance that products with high concentrations of vitamin E can exacerbate concerns of eczema or red skin. (40)

One study found that vitamin E preparations can worsen the severity of certain surgery-related scars. (33)

Is vitamin E safe?

Is it safe?

Vitamin E is safe in cosmetic formulations, having no significant health risks associated with its use.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has conducted extensive studies on the ingredient's use in skin care, and has graded it safe for commercial formulations.

The EWG gives tocopherol a score of 1-2 meaning it is safe.

Vitamin E is considered a clean ingredient, however it is not always gluten free.

If you do not express contact sensitivity or an allergy to vitamin E products, it is likely a safe addition to your custom skin care regimen.

Vitamin E for specific concerns:


Vitamin E is one of the most common ingredients used in the formulation of anti-aging products. Antioxidants are one of the best categories of anti-aging ingredients.

Various causes of aging can only be treated with antioxidants. (43)

Antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C are have demonstrated the ability to protect both collagen and elastin from glycation, (damage from exposure to sugars, like those in honey). (44)

Studies have found that topical applications of tocopherols can reduce the depth of already existing wrinkles. (21)

Since there are many causes of aging, and not all of them are related to oxidative damage, the best anti-aging products contain combinations of ingredients that cover each others shortcomings.

Some great anti-aging ingredients you can use in combination with vitamin E are:


A-tocopherol, vitamin E, is a good additive for products designed to treat hyperpigmentation concerns such as melasma, PIH, or discoloration from sun damage.

Vitamin E interferes with melanin production in keratinocytes without damaging normal cell development. This means that vitamin E can be a good addition to dark spot treatments. (42)

Vitamin E has also been shown to interfere with tyrosinase receptors in certain concentrations. (41) In particular, tocopherols are useful for lightening dark spots caused by sun damage.

If you are looking for a safe, natural, and proven addition to your skin lightening routine, vitamin E is a great candidate for your consideration.

That being said, skin lightening ingredients are best used in combination with other skin lighteners for increased effects.


Vitamin E has anti-inflammatory properties because it inhibits the production of various prostaglandins, compounds that trigger redness, puffiness, and other symptoms of inflammation on the skin.

Irritation and sensitivity on the skin can also be caused by free radicals from UV radiation damage, which can be treated by antioxidants like tocopherols. (44)

For this reason, many anti-inflammatory products contain vitamin E.

There are many causes of inflammation, so it is important to understand the science of inflammation before you purchase a skin care product.

Different kinds of inflammation are caused by different reactions in the body; vitamin E is best for inflammation related to prostaglandin or oxidative stress on the skin.

Sun damage

Antioxidants like a-tocopherol are great for treating sun damage because they can remove gene-damaging free radicals from the skin and protect from UVB radiation.

Studies have shown that vitamin E deficiencies can result in increased oxidative stress and genetic damage. (2) Genetic damage in the skin can lead to skin cancer.

Vitamin E protects your skin from free radicals when used either topically or orally, which means a vitamin E rich diet is a good step towards preventing sun damage.

Many popular sun damage treatments contain ingredients rich in vitamin E for these antioxidant effects.

In addition, studies have found that topical applications of vitamin E prevent your skin from producing damaged, sunburned cells. (12,13)

Other studies on a-tocopherol have found it significantly reduces damage from daily UVB exposure. (14,15)

Vitamin E is not well suited to treating damage caused by UVA radiation. (21)

Vitamin E is one of the most studied antioxidants used for sun damage treatment formulations, and is considered one of the best at protecting from UVB radiation.

Vitamin E for sun damage

Vitamin E supplements for skin care

Vitamin E expresses many of the same benefits for skin care when used orally instead of topically.

Studies have found that orally ingested tocopherols can interfere with UV radiation induced redness and stinging. (23)

It has also been found that oral supplements of vitamin E can interfere with elastin degradation, keeping the skin stretchy and healthy. (24)

Unfortunately, the benefit you lose when taking oral tocopherol supplements is it UV protection. Vitamin E supplements do not protect your sun from radiation like topical applications can. (25)

In general, vitamin E supplements are perfectly fine to take and have some benefits for your skin health as well.

If you're on vitamin E supplements, they shouldn't interfere with your skin care regimen.

Vitamin E benefits for men's skin care

Vitamin E is great for men's health products in both topical and consumable formulations.

Vitamin E is known for being critical to normal production of testosterone and other reproductive hormones in both males and females. (45)

There is no common risk specific to men when discussing vitamin E products in skin care.

If you're looking to add a great antioxidant into your skin care routine, take our quiz to find your skin type before you choose a vitamin E product.


Serums are highly concentrated liquid forms of specific ingredients. Serums of vitamin E express all of the properties of tocopherols in high concentration.

If you need a very potent antioxidant in your skin care routine, a vitamin E serum can be a good choice for you.

Serums are often among the most expensive types of skin care products, so make sure they really fit your regimen before you buy them.

Vitamin E Serums

Vitamin E rich oils

Many natural ingredients commonly used in skin care contain vitamin E (a-tocopherol) in their chemical compositions.

Five of our favorite natural oils in skin care that are rich in vitamin E are:

  1. Almond oil
  2. Grapeseed oil
  3. Peppermint oil
  4. Rosehip oil
  5. Sunflower oil


Vitamin E is commonly found in many types of skin care products. Before checking out our favorites below, take our skin type quiz to find your Baumann Skin Type!

Here are some of our favorite skin care products containing vitamin E

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Here are some of the best references on Vitamin E in skin care:

  1. Packer L, Colman C. The Antioxidant Miracle. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999, p. 9.
  2. Nachbar F, Korting HC. The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. J Mol Med (Berl). 1995;73(1):7-17.
  3. Halliwell B. The antioxidant paradox. Lancet. 2000;355(9210):1179-80.
  4. Tanaka H, Okada T, Konishi H, Tsuji T. The effect of reactive oxygen species on the biosynthesis of collagen and glycosaminoglycans in cultured human dermal fibroblasts. Arch Dermatol Res. 1993;285(6):352-5.
  5. Diplock AT, Xu GL, Yeow CL, Okikiola M. Relationship of tocopherol structure to biological activity, tissue uptake, and prostaglandin biosynthesis. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1989;570:72-84.
  6. Palmieri B, Gozzi G, Palmieri G. Vitamin E added silicone gel sheets for treatment of hypertrophic scars and keloids. Int J Dermatol. 1995;34(7):506-9.
  7. Thiele JJ, Schroeter C, Hsieh SN, Podda M, Packer L. The antioxidant network of the stratum corneum. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2001;29:26-42.
  8. Naidoo K, Birch-Machin MA. Oxidative stress and ageing: the influence of environmental pollution, sunlight and diet on skin. Cosmetics. 2017;4(1):4.
  9. Knekt P, Aromaa A, Maatela J, Aaran RK, Nikkari T, Hakama M, et al. Vitamin E and cancer prevention. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;53(1 Suppl):283S-286S.
  10. Menkes MS, Comstock GW, Vuilleumier JP, Helsing KJ, Rider AA, Brookmeyer R. Serum beta-carotene, vitamins A and E, selenium, and the risk of lung cancer. N Engl J Med. 1986;315(20):1250-4.
  11. Chevance M, Brubacher G, Herbeth B, et al. Immunological and nutritional status among the elderly. In Nutrition, Immunity, and Illness in the Elderly, Chandra RK, ed. New York: Pergamon Press, 1985, pp. 137-142.
  12. Darr D, Combs S, Dunston S, Manning T, Pinnell S. Topical vitamin C protects porcine skin from ultraviolet radiation-induced damage. Br J Dermatol. 1992;127(3):247-53.
  13. Pathak MA, Carbonare MD. Photoaging and the role of mammalian skin superoxide dismutase and antioxidants. Photochem Photobiol. 1988;47:7S.
  14. Pinnell SR, Murad S. Vitamin C and collagen metabolism. In Cutaneous Aging, Kligman AM, Takase Y, eds. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1988, pp. 275-292.
  15. Bissett DL, Majeti S, Fu JJ, McBride JF, Wyder WE. Protective effect of topically applied conjugated hexadienes against ultraviolet radiation-induced chronic skin damage in the hairless mouse. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1990;7(2):63-7.
  16. Gensler HL, Magdaleno M. Topical vitamin E inhibition of immunosuppression and tumorigenesis induced by ultraviolet irradiation. Nutr Cancer. 1991;15(2):97-106.
  17. Jurkiewicz BA, Bissett DL, Buettner GR. Effect of topically applied tocopherol on ultraviolet radiation-mediated free radical damage in skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1995;104(4):484-8.
  18. Slaga TJ, Bracken WM. The effects of antioxidants on skin tumor initiation and aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase. Cancer Res. 1977;37(6):1631-5.
  19. Meydani SN, Barklund MP, Liu S, Meydani M, Miller RA, Cannon JG, et al. Vitamin E supplementation enhances cell-mediated immunity in healthy elderly subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990;52(3):557-63.
  20. Trevithick JR, Xiong H, Lee S, Shum DT, Sanford SE, Karlik SJ, et al. Topical tocopherol acetate reduces post-UVB, sunburn-associated erythema, edema, and skin sensitivity in hairless mice. Arch Biochem Biophys. 199;296(2):575-82.
  21. Bissett DL, Chatterjee R, Hannon DP. Photoprotective effect of superoxide-scavenging antioxidants against ultraviolet radiation-induced chronic skin damage in the hairless mouse. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1990;7(2):56-62.
  22. Mayer P, Pittermann W, Wallat S. The effects of vitamin E on the skin. Cosmet Toilet. 1993;108(2):99-109.
  23. Keller KL, Fenske NA. Uses of vitamins A, C, and E and related compounds in dermatology: a review. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998;39(4 Pt 1):611-25.
  24. Chung JH, Seo JY, Lee MK, Eun HC, Lee JH, Kang S, et al. Ultraviolet modulation of human macrophage metalloelastase in human skin in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 2002;119(2):507-12.
  25. Werninghaus K, Meydani M, Bhawan J, Margolis R, Blumberg JB, Gilchrest BA. Evaluation of the photoprotective effect of oral vitamin E supplementation. Arch Dermatol. 1994;130(10):1257-61.
  26. Chan AC. Partners in defense, vitamin E and vitamin C. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1993;71(9):725-31.
  27. Lin JY, Selim MA, Shea CR, Grichnik JM, Omar MM, Monteiro-Riviere NA, et al. UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003;48(6):866-74.
  28. Murray JC, Burch JA, Streilein RD, Iannacchione MA, Hall RP, Pinnell SR. A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;59(3):418-25.
  29. Thiele JJ, Hsieh SN, Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S. Vitamin E: critical review of its current use in cosmetic and clinical dermatology. Dermatol Surg. 2005;31(7 Pt 2):805-13.
  30. Martin A. The use of antioxidants in healing. Dermatol Surg. 1996;22(2):156-60.
  31. Kamimura M, Matsuzawa T. Percutaneous absorption of alpha-tocopheryl acetate. J Vitaminol (Kyoto). 1968;14(2):150-9.
  32. Pehr K, Forsey RR. Why don’t we use vitamin E in dermatology? CMAJ. 1993;149(9):1247-53.
  33. Jenkins M, Alexander JW, MacMillan BG, Waymack JP, Kopcha R. Failure of topical steroids and vitamin E to reduce postoperative scar formation following reconstructive surgery. J Burn Care Rehabil. 1986 Jul;7(4):309-12.
  34. Baumann LS, Spencer J. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatol Surg. 1999;25(4):311-5.
  35. Alberts DS, Goldman R, Xu MJ, Dorr RT, Quinn J, Welch K, et al. Disposition and metabolism of topically administered alpha-tocopherol acetate: a common ingredient of commercially available sunscreens and cosmetics. Nutr Cancer. 1996;26(2):193-201.
  36. Gensler HL, Aickin M, Peng YM, Xu M. Importance of the form of topical vitamin E for prevention of photocarcinogenesis. Nutr Cancer. 1996;26(2):183-91.
  37. Matsumura T, Nakada T, Iijima M. Widespread contact dermatitis from tocopherol acetate. Contact Dermatitis. 2004;51(4):211-2.
  38. Oshima H, Tsuji K, Oh-I T, Koda M. Allergic contact dermatitis due to DL-alpha-tocopheryl nicotinate. Contact Dermatitis. 2003;48(3):167-8.
  39. Perrenoud D, Homberger HP, Auderset PC, Emmenegger R, Frenk E, Saurat JH, et al. An epidemic outbreak of papular and follicular contact dermatitis to tocopheryl linoleate in cosmetics. Swiss Contact Dermatitis Research Group. Dermatology. 1994;189(3):225-33.
  40. Hunter D, Frumkin A. Adverse reactions to vitamin E and aloe vera preparations after dermabrasion and chemical peel. Cutis. 1991;47(3):193-6.
  41. Ichihashi M, Funasaka Y, Ohashi A, Chacraborty A, Ahmed NU, Ueda M, et al. The inhibitory effect of DL-alpha-tocopheryl ferulate in lecithin on melanogenesis. Anticancer Res. 1999;19(5A):3769-74.
  42. Funasaka Y, Komoto M, Ichihashi M. Depigmenting effect of alpha-tocopheryl ferulate on normal human melanocytes. Pigment Cell Res. 2000;13 Suppl 8:170-4.
  43. Baumann L. How to prevent photoaging? J Invest Dermatol. 2005;125(4):xii-xiii.
  44. Pillai S, Oresajo C, Hayward J. Ultraviolet radiation and skin aging: roles of reactive oxygen species, inflammation and protease activation, and strategies for prevention of inflammation-induced matrix degradation - a review. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2005;27(1):17-34.
  45. COOPER, D. R., KLING, O. R., & CARPENTER, M. P. (1987). Effect of vitamin E deficiency on serum concentrations of follicle-stimulating hormone and testosterone during testicular maturation and degeneration. Endocrinology, 120(1), 83-90.

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