The skin gets on well with Vitamin E. Taking it as a supplement is good for the heart, brain, protects against cancer and helps fight the battle against free-radicals. Rubbing it into the skin helps maintain health and beauty at all stages of woman and manhood. We will find many earnest young women waxing lyrical about the wonders vitamin E has worked on their skin on Youtube. And, overall, scientists seem happy with it too. A typical sentence in research papers reads:
Experimental evidence suggests that topical and oral vitamin E has anti-carcinogenic, photoprotective and skin barrier-stabilizing properties.1
A good place to start making sense of this mumbo-jumbo lies in explaining what ‘skin-barrier stabilizing properties’ means. The skin has several layers, the top layer called the epidermis, and the top layer of that called the stratum corneum, a waterproof layer of skin with the thickness of clingfilm. Inside our body our water rich internal organs need protection from the dry air outside, and the stratum corneum does just this. Although it only has the thickness of cling-film, it has a structure like bricks and mortar, with the bricks made of dead skin and the mortar made of oils and protein. This topmost layer adapts to the environment; if the air around us is very dry, the stratum corneum thickens to keep our internal organs nicely awash.2
The Linus Pauling Institute has a good article about Vitamin E and the skin written by Alexander Michaels in Feb 2012. Dr Michaels writes that “Vitamin E is the most abundant lipophilic antioxidant found in human skin” with the highest levels found in the epidermis. A few things lower vitamin E levels in the skin: exposure to UV light, getting older and a cut to the skin. Taking vitamin E orally does help the skin, but only after a delay, whereas rubbing it into our skin has an immediate effect.
And so we can now see why topical vitamin E has great uses. Research has been slightly mixed as to whether vitamin E protects the skin against sun damage, but, as is usually the case with this vitamin, it all depends upon what sort of vitamin E we use. Briefly vitamin E has 2 main types, tocopherol and tocotrienol and each type has 4 sub-types: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. The type found in the top layer of our skin is gamma-tocopherol, but most skin creams contain alpha-tocopherol.3 The footnoted article reports on studies done comparing the efficacy of alpha vs gamma tocopherol in protecting the skin against sun damage – or whether it has photoprotective properties – and reported that the uptake of gamma tocopherol was better and that its effects lasted throughout sun exposure and at least an hour afterwards. (For best effect, rub the vitamin into the skin 1 hour before going into the sun). Essentially, gamma-tocopherol helped reduce sunburn-cell formation, lipid peroxidation (the oxidation of body fat), swelling and inflammation.
As far as I can tell, scientists still argue about how vitamin E works – whether as an anti-oxidant or by some other mechanism. But work it does. Vitamin E has good moisturising properties, and since vitamin E levels in the skin fall with aging, it is certainly worth trying the addition of a high gamma-tocopherol vit E to a good skin cream. By good skin cream I mean one not loaded with horrible chemicals such as parabens and PEG1. Apart from anything else, due to the oestrogenic quality of these chemicals, they lead to a fat bottom whether female or male and a lack of sex drive, regardless of age. Because of its structural importance in the top layer of skin, a high gamma-tocopherol vit E will help keep stretch marks at bay during pregnancy – along with the dead skin, of course.
As antioxidants, vitamin E and C work together and some skin creams contain both these. However personally I recommend taking a high quality vitamin C supplement daily and a high gamma-tocopherol vitamin E both orally and on the skin. This has to be better than a stomach covered in white worms if pregnant, the frozen look of botox or getting skin cancer from sun damage.
- Thiele JJ, Hsieh SN, Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S. Vitamin E: critical review of its current use in cosmetic and clinical dermatology. Dermatol. Surg. 2005 Jul:3:1 (7Pt 2): 8-5-13; discussion 813. Abstr [↩]
- Denda M. Skin barrier function as a self-organizing system. Forma, 15, 227-232. 2000 [↩]
- Konger R L. A new wrinkle on topical vitamin E and photo-inflammation: mechanistic studies of a hydrophilic γ-tocopherol derivative compared with α-tocopherol. Journ. invest. derm (2006) 126, 1447-1449 [↩]