When it comes to skin care and the cosmetic industry, there is one unfortunate truth that we all quickly become aware of:
Marketing hype that doesn’t live up to reality is common.
Vitamin E is an ingredient that is commonly added to skin care products and prominently advertised as a selling point.
So when I heard that applying vitamin E oil to your face has beautifying and anti-aging effects it left me wondering:
What exactly are the benefits of vitamin E oil for skin?
And is this something I should consider adding to my skin care routine?
Many claims about vitamin E have been circulated but fortunately, the effects when applied to your skin have been the subject of many scientific tests.
In this article, I’ll put aside the hype to show you the truth of what it does for your skin, and bust some of the myths that surround it.
- 1 What Is Vitamin E?
- 2 Vitamin E As An Antioxidant
- 3 How Does Vitamin E Protect Your Skin?
- 4 The Sources Of Vitamin E For Your Skin
- 5 What Is Vitamin E Oil?
- 6 The Benefits Of Vitamin E Oil For Skin
- 7 Vitamin E Oil Uses – Lack Of Supporting Evidence
- 8 Possible Vitamin E Oil Side Effects And Precautions
- 9 Final Thoughts
What Is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is fat-soluble and has a key part to play in a number of areas of your general health, including your immune system, hormonal system, and your eyes.
It also has a very important role in protecting and repairing your skin.
When you use the term vitamin E you are actually referring to a group of related molecules that have similar structures.
The most common forms of vitamin E in your body are the tocopherols, that consist of four different types α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocopherol (1).
The tocotrienols also consist of four types α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocotrienol, and are found in your body to a lesser degree.
Vitamin E As An Antioxidant
Free radicals are particles that are damaging to your body.
Ordinarily, the atoms that make up your body exist in a stable state with an even number of electrons in their outer shell.
However, free radicals are highly unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron in their outer shell that try to react with molecules in your body that they come into contact with in an attempt to capture an electron and gain stability.
The molecule they react with then becomes an unstable free radical and a chain reaction occurs that causes damage to DNA and cellular structures (2).
Unfortunately, this process naturally occurs during metabolism, but your body can deal with it if sufficient antioxidants are around to neutralize the free radicals.
Because your skin provides a barrier between you and the outside world it deals with an additional process by which such damage can occur.
As your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, and other environmental pollutants that cause free radicals to occur, it steadily accumulates this damage until the signs of aging such as lines, wrinkles and sagging of the skin become visible to the human eye.
Vitamin E is one of the most important antioxidants in your body that can neutralize these harmful free radicals (3).
It does so by reacting with the free radical to stabilize it. The cascade of free radical reactions is ended and any further damage prevented. The vitamin E is then recycled by other antioxidants into an active state again.
How Does Vitamin E Protect Your Skin?
Lipids are a fundamental component of your skin that play an important part in its barrier function. They are very vulnerable to attack from free radicals.
Because vitamin E is lipid-soluble it can enter into the lipid membranes of your skin where it offers protection against the damaging effects of free radical induced lipid peroxidation (4).
The protective properties of vitamin E are enhanced by its relationship with the antioxidants vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid.
Vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid have the ability to reactivate vitamin E by reducing its oxidized form that is produced in free radical neutralization reactions.
This recycling of vitamin E makes it one of the most important antioxidants that protect your skin from damage.
The Sources Of Vitamin E For Your Skin
Your body can’t produce vitamin E, so it has to be introduced through your diet or by topical means.
The dietary advice given in the U.S. Is that the recommended daily amount that an adult requires is 15mg each day. This can be achieved by eating foods that are high in vitamin E such as nuts, cereals, vegetable oils, sweet potato, mangoes, avocados, olives, apples, spinach, asparagus, and tomatoes.
Estimates suggest that the majority of men and women in the U.S fail to meet these dietary requirements (5).
While it’s important for your general health to make sure you are consuming sufficient vitamin E in your diet, scientific studies have shown that the levels of this powerful antioxidant that are found in your skin can be significantly increased through topical application (6).
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What Is Vitamin E Oil?
Vitamin E oil that you buy in the shops and online is usually a preparation of pure vitamin E and other ingredients that act as a carrier. Usually, these are other natural oils like coconut oil, soyabean oil, jojoba oil, rice bran oil, almond oil etc.
Vitamin E oil on its own is too thick and sticky to be easily used, so mixing it with another natural oil helps to make it the right viscosity for easy use on your skin. You can check the label on a product you are considering using to find out the ingredients it has been mixed with.
The vitamin E that is used is either naturally or synthetically derived. The most common forms are d-α-tocopherol acetate, d-α-tocopherol, dl-α-tocopherol acetate, and dl-α-tocopherol.
The dl in front of the alpha shows that the vitamin E was derived synthetically. Studies have shown that natural vitamin E forms are stronger in their effects and are retained better in the skin than synthetic forms, but both have antioxidant capabilities (7).
The Benefits Of Vitamin E Oil For Skin
So, what is vitamin E oil good for?
Vitamin E is one of the most heavily researched antioxidants, and the scientific studies that have been performed have shown a number of benefits for your skin:
Photoprotection And Anti-Aging
The main function that vitamin E has in your skin is to protect it from the damaging effects of UV exposure. As a powerful antioxidant, it neutralizes the free radicals that cause damage to cellular membranes and DNA.
This damage can potentially result in cancer, and contributes towards the formation of lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
Scientific studies have proved that applying vitamin E to the skin is successful in increasing protection from the sun’s rays (6).
Consequently, the use of topical vitamin E on your skin can slow the rate at which damage leading to visible signs of aging accumulates.
Studies have also shown that when combined with vitamin C the antioxidant and photoprotective effect of vitamin E is amplified significantly, as vitamin C recycles oxidized vitamin E molecules.
Research suggests that oral consumption of vitamin E shows no photoprotective benefit for your skin (8).
Topical vitamin E can improve the appearance and texture of rough and dry skin due to its role in maintaining skin barrier function and helping the skin to retain water.
Because of this some people also find it useful to put on chapped lips.
Studies have shown a significant increase in the hydration of the skin and its ability to bind water when vitamin E was applied over a two to four week period (9).
Do you know that vitamin E can also be applied after you’ve spent time in the sun to reduce its harmful effects?
When you spend time in the sun, damage continues to occur in your skin for many hours after you retreat into the shade.
Studies have shown that applying vitamin E to the skin after exposure to sunlight reduces the formation of sunburn cells and the swelling and inflammation associated with UV damage (10).
While the greatest effects are gained from applying vitamin E soon after exposure, one study showed that it still had significant benefits even when applied 8 hours later (11).
Dermatitis is a skin condition that many people experience at some point in their life. It’s caused by inflammation of the skin in response to an allergen or irritant.
Vitamin E shows anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to successfully treat chronic inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis.
Studies have shown that oral supplementation with vitamin E can improve the severity of symptoms and quality of life in sufferers of atopic dermatitis (12).
As levels of vitamin E in the skin can be significantly increased through applying it directly to your skin, the use of a vitamin E oil may help to alleviate symptoms for those who are struggling with this skin condition.
Age Spots, Melasma, Hyperpigmentation, And Skin Lightening
Melanin is the pigment that is found in your skin that gives it its color.
Excessive production of melanin can result in skin discoloration disorders like melasma and age spots.
Studies show that Vitamin E can have a depigmenting effect on the skin that can lighten dark patches where melanin has accumulated (13).
Another study showed that when combined with vitamin C the depigmenting effect is significantly increased compared to either vitamin E or C on their own (14).
An uncomfortable and unsightly affliction that presents itself on the skin as small blisters, no treatment exists that can cure you of the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores.
But experiments show that topical vitamin E can be used to help relieve the pain and heal the affected area.
In two scientific studies that have been carried out, cotton soaked in vitamin E oil was applied to cold sores for a 15 minute period.
It was demonstrated that pain relief occurred within a period of 15 minutes to 8 hours, and the appearance of the blisters was significantly reduced.
In another study 50 volunteers had vitamin E oil applied to their cold sores every 4 hours, with fast and lasting pain relief and an increased rate of healing (15).
Vitamin E Oil Uses – Lack Of Supporting Evidence
There are many tips and claims online about the healing and restorative powers of vitamin E oil on the skin.
However, scientific evidence to support some of these claims is lacking. In some cases, studies even indicate the opposite.
It’s worth knowing the truth about these claims so that you can avoid wasting your time and money on a treatment that might not work.
At the very least, you can make a better decision about whether or not you want to give it a try.
Some people report that using vitamin E oil has helped them with stretch marks and scars.
This doesn’t mean that these people are wrong but it’s good to be aware that these uses for vitamin E oil are not currently supported by science.
Vitamin E Oil Can Prevent And Treat Stretch Marks
Unfortunately, there is no hard scientific evidence to support the claims that topical vitamin E can be useful for preventing and treating stretch marks.
Six studies that were carried out involving 800 women volunteers found that there was no significant difference in the development of stretch marks when using topical preparations containing vitamin E (16).
Another study that used a topical preparation containing vitamin E, rosehip oil, hydroxyprolisilane-C and Centella Asiatica triterpenes did show an effectiveness at preventing the formation of stretch marks during pregnancy (17).
But it’s difficult to determine from this study the role that vitamin E played.
Vitamin E Oil Can Be Used To Remove Scars
Many websites recommend vitamin E as a treatment for scar removal, but this is lacking credible support.
Scientific studies indicate that topical vitamin E has no benefit in improving and reducing the appearance of scars. In fact, in some cases the appearance of the scar worsened (18).
According to dermatologist Dr. Philip Artemi, the Honorary Secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, it’s now considered ‘a proven scientific fact’ that vitamin E will not help remove scars (19).
Vitamin E Oil Stimulates Collagen Production
As the claim goes, vitamin E oil stimulates the production of collagen, which provides your skin with its strength and firmness. This helps to reverse skin damage caused by aging and sun exposure.
Some sources claim it boosts the production of elastin as well, which is responsible for skin elasticity.
But it’s hard to find any scientific studies that support the claims that alpha-tocopherol has these benefits for skin repair.
Vitamin E oil does have anti-aging benefits for your face, as it protects collagen from cross-linking due to UV exposure, and so helps to prevent damage to the skin as talked about above.
Topical vitamin E Helps To Heal Wounds
Another claim that is not fully supported by scientific studies, and those that have been performed give conflicting indications.
Studies suggest an improved appearance of scarring when vitamin E is applied to the wound site before and after surgery (20).
But another study that treated 159 patients after their surgery with topical vitamin E found that there was no benefit to the treatment (21).
Some suggest that topical vitamin E has an inhibitory effect on collagen production at wound sites and therefore impairs the wound healing process (22).
Possible Vitamin E Oil Side Effects And Precautions
For the vast majority of people, vitamin E oil is safe and easily tolerated on the skin.
But, evidence suggests that some people can be allergic to it and rashes can occur on the skin when it’s used.
Before using it on a large area of your skin such as your face, it’s probably best to do a quick patch test by applying a small amount of vitamin E oil to the back of your wrist so that you can see if you have any reaction to it.
The benefits of vitamin E oil for skin have been well studied in scientific experiments.
All of the evidence suggests that vitamin E oil can be a very useful addition to an anti-aging skincare regime.
Its ability to protect the skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, and proven moisturizing properties, can help to keep skin looking young and fresh.
The uses for vitamin E oil also include successfully combating cold sores, skin pigmentation, and dermatitis treatment, but a small minority of people will actually develop dermatitis upon using it.
Its antioxidant effects have been shown to be significantly increased when used together with vitamin C, so adding both vitamin E and C to your skincare regimen is worth considering. In this way, you will experience the full benefits of its protective anti-aging properties.
Have you tried vitamin E oil on your skin yet? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.