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Tocopheryl acetate is a form of vitamin E, a natural skin-conditioning agent and antioxidant. It is the ester of acetic acid and tocopherol and is often used as an alternative to pure tocopherol (or undiluted vitamin E) because it is considered more stable and less acidic.
Tocopheryl acetate is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be isolated from vegetable oils. It is also found in dairy products, meat, eggs, cereals, nuts, and leafy green and yellow vegetables. Its substantiated benefits include enhancing the efficacy of active sunscreen ingredients, reducing the formation of free radicals from exposure to UV rays, promoting the healing process, strengthening the skin's barrier function, protecting the skin barrier's lipid balance, and reducing transepidermal water loss. Attributed with antioxidant, anti-aging, moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, and enhanced SPF properties, tocopherol acetate is valued both as a dietary supplement and skincare active. It is used in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products, including lipstick, eye shadow, blushers, face powders and foundations, moisturizers, skin care products, bath soaps and detergents, and hair conditioners.
As an antioxidant superstar, vitamin E is one of the most well-researched antioxidants. It is available in eight different forms, which can be extracted from nature or synthetically produced. When the vitamin E molecule is derived form natural sources, it is preceded by a "d" prefix (e.g. d-alpha-tocopherol); when it is created synthetically, this is indicated by a "dl" prefix (e.g. dl-alpha tocopherol acetate). According to an article in the November 2001 issue of Nutrition Science News, research indicates that the body synthesizes natural Vitamin E far better than synthetic versions. A 2003 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that natural forms of vitamin E have a higher potency and retention rate than their synthetic derivatives (source). Nonetheless, all forms of tocopheryl acetate deliver antioxidant benefits.
Though all members of the vitamin E family are fat-soluble, tocopherol is the most bioavailable, and thus the most readily absorbed by the body. Tocotrienols, comprised of both tocopherols and tocotrienols, are the most complete form of vitamin E. They are endowed with potent neuroprotective, anticancer, and cholesterol-reducing properties not exhibited by tocopherols because of their distribution in the fatty layers of the cell membrane. Some research points to tocotrienols, administered orally, as superior sources of antioxidant activity (source).
Tocopheryl acetate is considered a moderate hazard by the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database, which notes concerns regarding cancer, contamination of hydroquinone (an FDA-restricted whitening compound), and organ system toxicity. The CIR demonstrates strong evidence that it is a human skin toxicant, and in vitro tests on mammalian cells showed positive mutation results, linking it to cancer. A study at Tel Aviv University found that indiscriminate intake of vitamin E can cause more harm than good (source).
It has also been determined that tocopheryl acetate is a skin sensitizer that can instigate immune system responses such as itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of skin (source). A 1991 study published in Contact Dermatitis found that four cases of contact dermatitis were caused by cosmetic creams that contained tocopheryl acetate (source).
Despite toxicity concerns, tocopheryl acetate is FDA approved and has received its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) rating.
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