Vitamin E is known in the world of health and beauty for its potent antioxidant effects. In addition to its antioxidant effect, vitamin E also benefits the skin in many other ways. In this article, we will share the science behind the nutrient and its mechanism, as well as some practical ways to start reaping its benefits.
What is Vitamin E & Why is it Helpful for Skin Health?
Chemically speaking, vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is essential for many physiological functions; one being the maintenance of healthy skin. This vitamin occurs naturally in many foods but not as a single compound as you will see in many supplements. In fact, some years ago vitamin E supplements became refined, removing some of the beneficial “impurities”, which is why it’s important to get your vitamin E from whole food sources like egg yolks and olive oil.
The important thing to know is that these molecules have unique beneficial properties in the skin. Normally, vitamin E is provided to the skin through skin oils or serums. Because of this, topical application of vitamin E can supply the skin with forms that may not reach the skin through the diet. One of the main things that vitamin E does for the skin is that it provides a protective barrier. It specifically reacts with reactive oxygen species, “neutralizing” them and protecting the skin from oxidative stress or damage.
Additionally, vitamin E can absorb the energy from ultraviolet (UV) light, providing ATP or energy to the skin cells. As a result, vitamin E plays an important role in energizing the skin. It also provides immunity, protection, and photoprotection. This helps prevent damage from UV light, while still allowing you to reap the beneficial effects from the sun.
Lastly, vitamin E can exert profound anti-inflammatory effects in the skin, both through its promotion of energy production in the skin cells as well as its antioxidant effects. Taking all of these roles into consideration, it is easy to see why a deficiency of vitamin E can lead to many skin-related issues, including wrinkles, inflamed skin, accelerated aging of the skin and even sensitivity to sunlight.
This nutrient acts within the cellular regulatory systems, meaning it supports the health and integrity of the cell, preventing inflammation and excitatory cell death induced by stress. Through its ability to regulate excitation, it can protect the cell from destructive oxidations that lead to cell death.
While complex sounding, all this scientific lingo translates to this: Vitamin E protects your cells (skin cells included), preventing them from becoming damaged. Considering your body is a collection of cells, that means vitamin E will keep your body young and healthy!
The Many Ways Vitamin E Supports the Skin
Now that we have an overview of the broad range benefits of vitamin E, let’s take a closer look at the mechanisms behind these effects and the supportive science.
Anti-inflammatory effects: Vitamin E has been proven to be an anti-inflammatory agent to the skin. For example, several studies have found vitamin E can act sort of like a natural sunscreen, inhibiting or preventing inflammatory damage after UV exposure. Applying vitamin E topically can reduce UV-induced skin problems such as redness, swelling, thickness, erythema, and edema — all symptoms of skin inflammation.
In culture-based studies, two forms of vitamin E, α-tocopherol and γ-tocotrienol, have been found to decrease a wide range of pro-inflammatory molecules including prostaglandin D2, interleukin, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and NADPH. It was also found to limit inflammatory responses to lipid hydroperoxide exposure. Furthermore, the topical application of vitamin E was found to inhibit the induction of COX-2 and nitric oxide synthase after exposure to UV light. Lastly, numerous in vitro studies have shown similar anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin E. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
If these studies weren’t enough to validate vitamin E’s anti-inflammatory effects, there are actual reports of vitamin E being used successfully to treat chronic inflammatory skin conditions. 8, 9
Promotes Wound Healing: There are experiments that have found that various types of skin lesions tend to occur when rats are vitamin E deficient; likely due to the immunological roles of vitamin E. Something important to understand about vitamin E is that excess levels of iron (which accumulates with age) can destroy vitamin E in the body. Also, that injury can cause vitamin E to decrease rapidly at the site of the wound. 10
Since both oxidative stress and injury can deplete antioxidants like vitamin E, a topical or supplemental increase of vitamin E would naturally promote the healing process. And as it turns out, these observations have been Studies have shown that supplementing vitamin E prior to radiation can increase the breaking strength of wounds, largely through its antioxidant and protective effects. 11
Lastly, vitamin E, along with zinc and vitamin C, has been successfully used to treat pressure ulcers and burns.12, 13
Anti-Wrinkle: There is limited present time data on the use of vitamin E for treating wrinkles. However, if we connect a few dots, observing the research we have and its physiological mechanisms, we can suspect vitamin E would make a helpful agent for treating/preventing wrinkles.
First off, we know that through a variety of mechanisms vitamin E can inhibit photodamage, which is commonly involved in wrinkling. We also know that wrinkles are largely preceded by both oxidative damage and inflammation to the skin cell, two things that vitamin E can help with. 14
- Moisturizes: Although there are reports on the moisturizing properties of vitamin E, we probably do not need them. Anyone who has ever applied quality olive oil to their skin after a day in the sun knows how moisturizing vitamin E can be. However, there are two small studies that have shown topical application of vitamin E can improve skin water-binding capacity after only 2-4 weeks. The study concludes that vitamin E increased the stratum corneum hydration significantly. 15, 16
Vitamin E is more than just an “antioxidant”, but an integral ingredient of the skin’s innate defense system. It provides the skin with both energy and protection to defend against the many stressors of life. While we always suggest adhering to a nutrient-rich diet and consuming vitamin E-rich foods like olive oil, egg yolks and liver, keep in mind that oral ingestion alone may not provide the protection for the skin you’re looking for.
The skin has a unique requirement for vitamin E and has its highest affinity to it through the skin’s natural oils. This is why we recommend and use vitamin E rich oils like extra virgin olive oil, jojoba, and others in many of our products. Topical vitamin E is the most effective delivery mechanism for all of the effects we discussed in this article. If you don't know where to start, try the Alitura Moisturizer with an organic extra virgin olive oil base or the Alitura Gold Serum with a jojoba base to reap the many benefits.