I've stashed away a bottle of vitamin E capsules as part of my skincare collection for as long as I can remember, in part because applying the gel from the vitamin was my mom's number one holistic antidote whenever I came home harboring collateral damage from the playground. "To prevent scarring," she'd tell me. Because I never endured a scar from even the goriest slide ride gone awry, I've maintained the habit in all the years since.
But does applying the gel from vitamin E capsules truly incur the magic I've always credited it with? You know, from a skincare expert's point of view? "Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can help calm inflammation, prevent free-radical damage, and even skin tone," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Thanks to those aforementioned antioxidant perks, scientist and founder of OPULUS Beauty Labs Robb Akridge explains that the vitamin may have the ability to bind up free radicals (known to cause skin damage), in turn benefiting the skin. "The reason many people like to use it directly from a capsule is that it is in its purest form and is protected from breakdown by the gel capsule itself," he says.
Learn whether vitamin E capsules really work and how to use them, ahead.
The Benefits of Vitamin E on Skin
"Vitamin E contains alpha-tocopherol, a major powerhouse antioxidant that protects your skin from free radicals while simultaneously moisturizing," celebrity facialist Angela Caglia tells us. Additionally, she explains that the vitamin contains anti-inflammatory properties which naturally enhance the skin's regeneration process, thus often alleviating discoloration and pigmentation. (Psst: This is why vitamin E is often thought of as a magical antidote for stubborn acne scars).
Even though all three experts I spoke to agreed that using vitamin E capsules on the skin (and incorporating the ingredient in general within your routine) likely has benefits, there are a few things to consider. For one, while vitamin E has proven benefits when ingested, the waters are murky as far as what the vitamin does for the skin topically—some hail the vitamin's gel as a miracle-working cure-all and some say it doesn't do much of anything.
How Do Vitamin E Capsules Work?
"Here is where science and cosmetics blur," Akridge explains. "Vitamin E has many benefits in the body. It helps cells function, it can help boost your immune system, and it is thought to help skin health from within. Many believe that by applying it to the skin it can have the same benefits, but while vitamin E capsules may help neutralize radicals when immediately applied, the other benefits I've mentioned might not necessarily apply when applied topically."
Plus, there's the fact that the gel housed inside the capsules we buy aren't pure vitamin E. Instead, as Akridge explains, they also typically contain carrier oils like soybean oil or glycerin. Of course, the combination of vegetable oil and the antioxidants of vitamin E won't hurt you; at the very least it will likely hydrate the skin, but that could be as far as the benefits go.
Our suggestion? Experiment with both straight vitamin E gel from a capsule and an expertly formulated E-infused skincare pick to see what works best for your skin concerns.
That said, if you're going to apply the vitamin E directly to the skin on your face (versus a scar on another part of your body), Zeichner advises paying heed to your skin type. Since vitamin E is oil-soluble, it may be lusciously hydrating (a blessing during the doldrums of winter), but because it is a heavier oil, Zeichner only recommends the oil to his patients with dry skin.
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you may want to avoid the use of vitamin E since oils may cause new or worsen existing breakouts.
How to Apply Vitamin E Capsules Directly to Skin
According to Akridge, the best way to use a vitamin E capsule directly on the skin is as follows. He recommends first cutting the end of a vitamin E capsule with scissors. (Make sure they're clean and freshly sanitized). Then, squeeze the capsule's gel onto your fingertip and apply it by rubbing it on the desired area. "I suggest keeping your finger on the skin to increase the warmth, as warm products tend to absorb better," he says.
Another option? Try squeezing some of the gel directly onto your hands and cuticles as an intensely nourishing overnight treatment. Caglia says she recommends the process as a once-per-week antidote for dry, dehydrated winter skin. "Vitamin E capsules are great to create your own at-home DIY mask treatments. I recommend this one for dry winter skin," she adds:
- 1 capsule of vitamin E
- 2 tbsp. of yogurt
- 1 tsp. honey
Vitamin E Skincare vs. Capsules
While Zeichner does say applying vitamin E directly from the capsule might have benefits for the skin, he also points out that it's hard to know exactly how stable this kind of vitamin E is when it's applied to the skin and whether or not it's able to penetrate through the outer layer of the skin. Thus, he recommends opting for a more traditionally formulated skincare product in lieu of a straight capsule as they have tested for both stability and effectiveness, he says.
"Vitamin E, in some cosmetic and/or skincare formulations, may not boast the high concentration needed to see results, and the vitamin E in those kinds of products floats among many other ingredients which could potentially bind up the vitamin, preventing it from having benefit to the skin." That said, Akridge says certain formulas are reputable in efficacy, as they've been scientifically researched and created for maximum results.
The Best Vitamin E Capsule Products
Caglia's brand carries this vitamin E-infused moisturizer, which also features soothing aloe vera, rose geranium, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and anti-aging meadowfoam seed oil. It's on the pricey side, but a little goes a long way.
Meadowfoam (a.k.a. Limnanthes alba) seed oil is derived from meadowfoam seeds and is composed of mostly fatty acids and antioxidants. The emollient helps lock in moisture and soften skin.
If you want to try vitamin E capsules, Puritan's Pride makes a solid, affordable option. They can be ingested as supplements or popped open to apply topically, following the rules our experts laid out above.
Zeichner recommends this advanced option from PCA Skin—a brand widely used and loved by dermatologists around the world. "The best combinations of vitamin C and E are paired with calming and exfoliating ingredients like this formula for optimal benefit," he explains.
A cult favorite, this Byrdie HQ staple is also Akridge's number one recommendation when it comes to adding a pre-formulated, E-infused skincare pick to your routine. "It is one of the few products out there where the science truly supports the formula," he confirms.
Vitamin E is a great ingredient to include in a balanced skincare routine, especially if diminished scarring is one of your goals. You can apply vitamin E capsules topically, or look for skincare products formulated with vitamin E, which may be more effective. Talk to a dermatologist if you have questions about how to incorporate vitamin E into your life.
Keen MA, Hassan I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016;7(4):311-315. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.185494
Carpenter EL, Le MN, Miranda CL, et al. Photoprotective properties of isothiocyanate and nitrile glucosinolate derivatives from meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba) against UVB irradiation in human skin equivalent. Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:477. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00477