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In beauty, there's a new novelty ingredient pushed to the forefront of the industry practically every single day, with each new formula lauded better and more innovative than the last. While we're all for trying something new, there's something to be said about sticking with an old favorite. Enter vitamin E, which is popular in both oil and capsulated forms.
The ingredient has long been incorporated into skincare products, promising hydrating, antioxidant, and protective benefits, but what does it really do? We posed that very question to a few experts to see what concrete, science-backed results we can expect when using vitamin E for our skin. Below, Jennifer L. MacGregor, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology; Dr. Raymond Schep, the Chief Chemist of Colonial Dames Co. and Member of the CA Association of Toxicologists; celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau; and Dr. Lamees Hamdan, CEO and Founder of Shiffa explain the many benefits of Vitamin E (and a few drawbacks).
- Type of ingredient: Barrier booster.
- Main benefits: Seals in moisture, smooths skin, antioxidant.
- Who should use it: In general, anyone with dry skin. Vitamin E is not recommended for sensitive skin.
- How often can you use it?: You should only use Vitamin E once a day maximum, preferably at night, as it is usually too thick to put under makeup.
- Works well with: Vitamin C and Ferulic acid.
- Don't use with: Retinol/Vitamin A.
What is Vitamin E?
Alpha-tocypherol (the form of Vitamin E humans can metabolize) is typically produced synthetically, but can be found in natural products as well. Avocado, pumpkin, and wheat germ oil are all great sources of the vitamin both for topical and internal uses. Most often in skincare, Vitamin E can be found in oil or cream form. "Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and an oil, says MacGregor. "It’s often found in anti-oxidant blend topicals or moisturizers."
However, which of the two forms of Vitamin E you're getting does make a difference: "The synthetic vitamin E consist of eight different forms, only one of which is identical to the natural molecule. As a result, it is found that the natural vitamin E has at least twice the potency of the synthetic vitamin E," explains Schep. "It is also used in cosmetics as tocopheryl acetate. Due to the fact that natural D-alpha-tocopherol is about eight times more expensive than synthetic vitamin E, the synthetic form is generally used in cosmetics especially in high potency products. Also, natural vitamin E has to be subjected to several processing steps to remove pesticides and weed killers all of which may not be completely removed. Synthetic vitamin E does not have this drawback."
What are the Benefits of Vitamin E?
- Protects Lipid Barrier: "Vitamin E keeps lipids fresh in your skin," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "This helps to keep your skin's protective barrier intact. [Keeping it intact] can help seal up little cracks created in the skin's barrier that can cause moisture to escape and leave the skin feeling tight and dry."
- Keeps Skin Moist: As such, vitamin E allows for long-lasting moisture retention between your skin cells; much longer than products without it. According to Rouleau, it doles out up to 16 hours of hydration.
- Heals Skin: Schep explained to us why Vitamin E is so beloved: "The prime benefit of vitamin E is the capability to accelerate healing of skin damage such as burns and wounds by as much as 50% of rate. It is an antioxidant and will heal the skin from sunburn and any form of irritation and injury. It also has the capability to increase moisture content of the skin. As such, it has skin anti-aging capability."
- It's an Antioxidant: Vitamin E offers antioxidant (fat-soluble) benefits as well—it helps neutralize harmful free radicals and, due to its antioxidant benefit, can discourage sebum (oil) oxidation, which prevents blackheads. "The words 'anti' and 'oxidant' refer to antioxidation," notes Rouleau. "Since the tip of the hardened and blocked oil in the pores turns dark from oxidation, vitamin E may help slow that process down."
- Soothes Skin: Formulas containing vitamin E provide conditioning to environmentally exposed skin. The ingredient works to smooth your skin and make it feel comfortable after irritation from pollution and sun damage.
- Protects From the Sun: The vitamin has photo-protective purposes as well. "When vitamin E is combined with vitamin C and used under sunscreen, it can provide four times the protection of sunscreen alone," says Rouleau.
Side Effects of Vitamin E
"When used in its pure form, in a capsule, and applied directly to the skin, vitamin E may cause dermatitis-type reactions," warns Rouleau, "especially for the thinner and more sensitive skin around your eyes." If you've ever had dermatitis—the technical, blanket term name for for inflammation of the skin—that was caused by skincare, you understand that using it in this area without a patch test is a bad idea. It could also potentially clog pores and, for those who are prone to acne and breakouts, add to the problem. According to Rouleau, using products with vitamin E is best suited for "normal" (a cringe-worthy description of skin that has few to no blemishes, no sensitivity, minimally visible pores, and balanced hydration levels) and dry skin types. That's not all—MacGregor makes a point to note that "some develop allergy to it when it is used topically."
How to Use It
"As for the common concern about it having a pore-clogging effect," continues Rouleau, "it's important to note when used in skincare formulations, vitamin E is only offered in a small concentration. Using it that way is far from piercing a capsule and applying the ingredient in its pure form." So if you want to try out the hottest new Vitamin E serum, go for it; it's likely been diluted enough that it won't be an issue.
That being said, when looking at a product's ingredient list, it's challenging to know the percentage of purity that is used—or how your skin will respond to it. Though, this goes for any ingredient used in any product. According to Rouleau, it's always best to get into the practice of performing a patch test whenever you purchase a new product.
"If you have a specific scar or area you want to treat, then puncture a Vitamin E capsule and apply the oil to that area for a few weeks," Hamdan advises us. "It is a wonderful antioxidant and has been studied extensively in its ability to help with premature aging. It’s part of the reason why I like getting my Vitamin E as part of an oil, instead of pure Vitamin E, which is usually alpha tocopherol version of Vitamin E. If you have sensitive skin, you can still use it just use very little and pat gently. If you’re breaking out or have any redness, it might be a sign that your skin isn’t tolerating it."
The Best Products with Vitamin E
Rouleau's treatment offers 14% stable, no-sting vitamin C to lighten brown sun spots, prevent blackheads, even out skin tone, lift discoloration from blemish scarring, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The vitamin E comes into play offering hydrating and skin-comforting antioxidants.
For a daily dose of vitamins, apply this oil-free moisturizer. It's lightweight, intensely hydrating, and pH balancing for any skin type, but especially sensitive skin.
Packed with antioxidants including vitamin E, organic shea butter, pomegranate, and sea kelp, this nutrient-rich formula nourishes to reduce puffiness and helps to smooth fine lines.
This $15 jar is amazing because it can be used for your face, body, and hands. Derma E helps to soothe irritated and dry skin, while also adding loads of hydration to the targeted areas. The 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and paraben-free product is also infused with licorice to help combat hyper-pigmentation.
Very rarely do you come across a product as recommended across the board as this one. It's remarkably pricey, but of course it is—you're paying for a product with top-quality ingredients and science backing it. In fact, it's so in-demand that people go through the trouble of counterfeiting it.
Facial sprays that claim to be moisturizing are often either fine but not moisturizing enough, or way too thick and excessively potent. This essence, courtesy of newcomer brand Orpheus, fits in the exact sweet spot of what a mist should be. With hyaluronic acid, the brand's proprietary antioxidant peptide complex, and Vitamins C, E, B3, and B5, it packs a punch without leaving acne or irritation in its wake.
Kosas's LipFuel is a simple tinted lip balm, which doesn't sound all that exciting until you look into the ingredients. It's chock full of moisture-attracting hyaluronic acid, which is then sealed onto the lips through the inclusion of konjac root. The result is perfectly nourished and slightly tinted lips (although you can go tint-less if you'd like).
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National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E fact sheet for health professionals. Updated July 31, 2020.
Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. Vitamin E and skin health. Updated February, 2012.
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