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Beauty Buzzwords: Vitamin E

We’re always on the lookout for products that multitask, so if an ingredient can serve more than one purpose, we’re all ears. Such is the case with vitamin E: When added to skin care salves, this potent antioxidant conveys a whole host of anti-aging properties — which means it can bring your skin back from the brink while helping prevent future damage.

The Benefits

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights cell damage due to oxidation — one of the major causes of adverse skin aging. It’s also a fat-soluble essential nutrient that human bodies need in order to function (think: cell differentiation, red blood cell formation, and a healthy immune system). Foods like nuts, seeds, eggs, tomatoes, spinach, avocados, olives, trout, salmon, and vegetable oils provide us with ample vitamin E, or you can procure it through oral supplements. (The recommended daily intake for adults is 15 milligrams.) But what if you’re looking to reap the benefits by applying it topically to skin?

First, vitamin E is sly. You need to know what to look for on the ingredients panel. You’ll typically find vitamin E listed in one of these two forms: tocopherol, which is the most commonly used form of vitamin E in skin care products, and tocotrienol, a more supercharged (read: stronger antioxidant) form. Pay attention to prefixes, too: A “d” prefix (such as d-alpha-tocopherol) denotes that the vitamin E comes from a natural source, while “dl” (like dl-alpha-tocopherol) means it’s made in a lab.


When applied topically, vitamin E’s role as an antioxidant kicks into high gear.


When applied topically, vitamin E’s role as an antioxidant kicks into high gear: It thwarts future sun damage by absorbing UV rays and helping prevent UV-induced free radical damage; it acts as a calming anti-inflammatory agent, soothing redness and puffiness; it strengthens the natural skin barrier, reducing moisture loss while upping hydration; it cuts down cell mutation due to pollution-related free radical damage; and it speeds up healing for minor wounds (after they’ve closed) due to its ability to help regenerate new skin cells.

As for those aforementioned anti-aging benefits, vitamin E has been shown to stimulate collagen production, thereby decreasing wrinkle formation, and to diminish hyperpigmentation. One area of skin care where its effectiveness has been found scientifically inconclusive: treating scars. In fact, anecdotal evidence goes both ways on this; while some say vitamin E reduces scars’ appearance, others report it actually inhibits scar reduction.

The Best Bets

Vitamin E can be found in creams, lotions, serums, and, yes, gel capsule form. While poking a capsule and oozing its contents onto skin isn’t particularly harmful, this vitamin E oil is heavy, which can lead to breakouts — especially for acne-prone complexions. Vitamin E can cause rashes in some users, so patch-test it first before committing to a full face of it. And, though vitamin E appears to be an all-around star ingredient, you’ll want to seek formulas that combine it with vitamin C and/or ferulic acid; the powerful combo has been found to effectively increase sun protection and decrease photoaging overall, which is seriously the secret to obtaining youthful skin.

Photo: Trinette Reed

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