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Vitamin E: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Reviewed by Summar April 7, 2010 22 Comments

Still unclear on the benefits of vitamin E for skin? So were we. I began digging around on the premise that as an antioxidant and vital nutrient for the body, vitamin E must be good for your skin. Well, turns out, there are a variety of factors and limits that make this presumption far too simplistic, and there are even cases where vitamin E can be harmful to your body and skin.

According to non-profit research institute Frost & Sullivan, vitamin E in cosmetics accounted for only  2% of the total volume in 2005, but vitamin E is on its way to further growth in the cosmetic market due to its complex protective functions. Vitamin E has also been touted as an acne scar and wound healer for years, and yet, one study claims that it can do more detriment to the healing of a scar than when the body is left to its own devices. Shocked? So was I.

Here are a number of other things I learned:

Vitamin E: The Good

A 2005 Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology article gives the application of topical vitamin E credit for reducing erythema, sunburn cells and chronic UV-B-induced skin damage. Topical vitamin E for skin was more effective than the oral dosage. Combinations of vitamins C and E together make an even better case for photoprotective effects.

Tocopheryl Acetate is the most common form of vitamin E for skin and is FDA approved and recognized as generally safe. There are eight basic forms of the vitamin E molecule total. Others include tocotrienols, which also make for a good ingredient in sunscreens. Research from the Journal of Nutrition shows that tocotrienols may be more potent in antioxidant activity than other forms of vitamin E.

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Experimental evidence suggests that topical vitamin E has antitumorigenic, photoprotective, and skin barrier stabilizing properties. Vitamin E is supposed to reduce the formation of free radicals upon skin exposure to UVA rays and other sources of skin stress, while increasing the efficacy of active sunscreen ingredients. Several studies indicate that mixed tocopherols are more effective than alpha tocopherol in quenching free radicals.

Vitamin E: The Bad

Tocopheryl Acetate does show tendencies of being a skin toxicant; several in vitro tests on mammalian cells showed positive mutation results.

While most people say rubbing vitamin E on a scar helps it heal, research hardly proves that theory. In a Dermatologic Surgery article, the study shows that there is no benefit to the cosmetic outcome of scars by applying vitamin E after skin surgery. In fact, it is detrimental to the skin’s healing process; the levels of contact dermatitis were high. A 2006 study in Canada tested vitamin E on children’s scars and stated that there were some adverse affects with the use of vitamin E. The Division of Dermatology at McGill University states that even after 44 years of research, there is scant proof of vitamin E’s effectiveness in treating dermatologic conditions.

Vitamin E: The Ugly

On top of lack of proof for vitamin E's healing properties in regards to scars and acne, vitamin E doesn’t seem to have any benefit for eyelash growth either, as Copley explored. An increasing number of cases illustrate that vitamin E is a potential contact allergen, so considering the sensitivity of the eye area, applying vitamin E oil to the eyelash bed could make things go from bad to ugly, fast.

A research group from Tel Aviv University recently published a study on vitamin E use and heart disease, and warned that indiscriminate use of high doses of vitamin E do more harm than good. In fact, subjects who did not take a vitamin E supplement enjoyed more quality-adjusted-life years.

In November 2004, the American Heart Association warned that while the small amounts of vitamin E found in multivitamins and foods were not harmful, taking 400 International Units a day or more could increase the risk of death.

Vitamin E for Skin: Our Takeaways

Look for products that use vitamin E for sun protection as opposed to simply treating and healing inflictions already on the skin. Don’t take vitamin E as a supplement in anything but very small quantities; for the most part you can get what you need from a healthy diet. Plus, anything that touts vitamin E as a catalyst for hair growth may just be consigned to the department of daft.

Do you have sensitive skin? Read our article on sensitive skin solutions

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  • June 19, 2016

    by Marta

    Hi Lisa, essential oils can have antioxidants that are helpful for preventing free radical damage, but they don't do much to repair existing wrinkles. The best ingredients for this would be peptides and growth factors, which can signal cells to produce more collagen, and amino acids. Here's our selection of serums for wrinkles: https://www.truthinaging.com/anti-aging-serums/anti-wrinkle-serums

  • June 19, 2016

    by Lisa

    Does anyone have info on the effect of using oils such as vitamin e or other essential oils on wrinkles? I have been using oils for about a year and although e seems to benefit my acne ( still acne with wrinkles) the wrinkles have not improved. About 2 years ago I bought a tanning package- about 8 sessions in a uv b booth. They promote it as good because it does not burn your skin, but ever since then I have had accelerated skin aging. I had a chicken neck by the end of the 8 weeks, although at the time I did not recognize the correlation. I have recently read that the uvb rays are extremely damaging to the deeper collagen layers of the skin. I so regret what I did in ignorance!

  • March 24, 2016

    by Jennifer

    I have decided to go natural. My first experiment was cleansing my face with organic cold pressed virgin coconut oil. Although it works for some, I found it to be very drying to my skin. So I went out and bought some Vitamin E oil, thinking it would clear things up. So I applied it to my face. Today I woke up and my face and neck are super dry and stinging. Very scary. The vitamin e oil I used was Derma e. When I looked closer at the bottle, it said "not for internal use" . Although it didn't mention it, through research I found it was the acetate kind. I was afraid to even wash my face and put anything on it but I had to do something. So I put some fresh aloe gel from my plant on my face and neck and massaged it in, rinsed with luke warm water, patted dry, applied more aloe, let it dry, then finallly patted in some extremely expensive 100 % organic rosehip seed oil. It seems to have calmed down. I am going to leave my face alone and pray.

  • March 17, 2016

    by Elina Martin

    Vitamin E oil is used most commonly as a way to improve the appearance and texture of your skin. Some people look at it as a form of the “fountain of youth” and they swear by it. Now, I’ve heard similar from claims from people who use coconut oil, almond oil, and other oils, but in actuality, vitamin E is an ingredient in a number of such oils—except coconut oil—so it might play a major role.

    Why vitamin E oil might be so beneficial for skin has to do with the fact that it’s an antioxidant. Antioxidants fight against cellular damage and mutations to maintain the integrity of your cells, aid in immune function, and potentially improve damaged skin.

    A topical cream or oil, therefore, would absorb into an affected area—say a scar, stretch mark, or sunburn—and work to repair the damaged skin to relieve discoloration and strengthen the area. Is it a magic eraser? No. But it can potentially make a difference to improve the look of your skin.

    http://www.doctorshealthpress.com/health-benefits-of-vitamin-e-oil

  • March 10, 2016

    by danni

    So, my skin is sensitive to vitamin A and Retinol, but I have seen a HUGE difference in my complexion and wrinkles since I started using a product with Vitamin A. People are telling me I look younger! Retinoids bind to corresponding receptors in the skin. This peels off the top layer, which evens skin tone, and thickens the layers below, which smoothes out wrinkles. Retinoids also boost collagen, a protein that keeps the skin firm and springy, by blocking the genes that cause it to break down and increasing other gene activity responsible for its production.

    Yes, it does make me sensitive. But its worth it. I have tried all the Vitamin A creams, and the only ones that work for my sensitive skin are the Made from Earth Firming Serum and the Lady Soma Renewal Serum. I just switch between the two. The Lady Soma is probobly my favorite.

  • February 27, 2016

    by Jackie

    I used vitamin E oil around my eyes ! And i had a really bad reaction to it ! I got Swollen puffy eyes and even got hives ! I will not ever ever use vitamin E around my eyes or any other part of my body ! it was horrible on my skin ! Oh And i even got the" Good" kind vitamin E ! I know not everyone has the same reaction to vitamin E ! But this is what happend to me ! :(

  • February 21, 2016

    by Lisa

    Many of us with Celiac Disease cannot use Tocopheryl because it is often made from wheat.

  • February 21, 2016

    by Preeti

    It's been 2 weeks now and so have using the capsule serum on my face. What I noticed was the areas around my eyes seems very itchy even my face seems itchy . I guess the direct serum from the vitamin c capsule doesn't work in a good way for the skin. It shud be added to the regular facial cream and can be used at night.

  • February 13, 2016

    by Pete

    Be sure to buy PURE Vitamin E Oil, avoid anything with acetate in it.
    If you buy it and it's more runny like a loose sauce then the chances are it's NOT pure 100% Vit e.
    How you can tell it's pure is by it being very think and slow moving out of the bottle.
    It should be thick and slow to come out for the bottle, not loose and runny.

    I've been using it on my skin for only a short time, but I haven't experienced any adverse side effects.
    Be sure too, to only apply it 2x. Week max. It's not an every day moisturiser. Use something like a little coconut or olive oil for Daily moisterizing.

  • January 7, 2016

    by michelle

    i too used Vit E oil around my eyes and woke up with red swollen puffy eyes and face. I could hardly open my eyes! Won't try that again.

  • December 18, 2015

    by melanie

    I also use vit e overnight serum and also get blurry vision and sore eyes and I avoid eye area..its without a doubt this serum as it only happens when I have applied it. does this mean I am allergic?

  • August 10, 2015

    by Em Lo

    I'd like to know how to convert vitamin E in a cream from IU to % or vice versa. Will be glad if anyone can assist please.

  • June 20, 2015

    by jen

    My mother, who is now 86, has been using Vitamin E oil for her face and hands for as long I can remember. (back when I was just a child). And I must say, her skin and lack of wrinkles for her age has been pretty astounding. People are amazed with her skin. Maybe it's just good genes, but I don't even recall her sisters who are younger than her, having skin so nice.

  • May 22, 2015

    by Edward

    I have been using Vitamin E for a month now and I definitely see the difference. My acne scars are slowly but surely fading and my skin even glows the morning after I apply it.

  • May 18, 2015

    by laurel

    I am having some of the same reaction as other posters. I used 32,000 IU vitamin E Oil around my eye area and i woke up today , my eyes are swollen and it is terrible! I didn't apply a large amount either! Am i allergic to Vitamin E or the Acetate??

  • February 26, 2015

    by Alma

    I've been using vitamin e oil 10000 iu and its worked wonders for my face, helps with my acne , fine lines, brightened my comlexion and scars are fading.

  • February 20, 2015

    by Maryann

    I bought vitamin e oil 4,000 i.u. age-defying antioxidants for wrinkles & fine lines after using it, my face became itchy,swollen from my eyes down to my neck...I thought it was my makeup so I threw out all my makeup it seem like it was clearing up but my face was dry, so I started using the vitamin e again and it got worst, stopped using the vitamin e my face cleared up ..so I put a little on my face and within a few hours it was red and itchy...I had another moisturizing cream, used it on my neck and that became red and itchy looked on the label and that also had vitamin e in it's ingredients...can't figure out why all of a sudden I'm allergic to vitamin e... now I don't know what to use....any suggestions...thanks

  • September 10, 2014

    by Jennifer

    I have been using 1000 units of vitamin E oil on my face daily. I also have been noticing that my vision is always blurry. I do wear glasses and I just had a eye exam. Would the vitamin E be the cause?

  • March 24, 2014

    by Fay

    I had used a new face cream nitetime cream,the first nite ok the second nite I woke up my face was swollen. I had a allergic reaction, after the swelling went down I had a chemical burn on my face it itches and is peeling . Trying everything I could think of and getting no relief I got some vitamin E oil 75000 units its the only thing that worked.

  • February 7, 2014

    by sensiblescience

    Actually the natural form of vitamin E is synthetic! In that the production of a non-racemic mixture ie. not dl-alpha but d-alpha is a synthetic process. So to produce good quality vitamin E, you need to do it synthetically. It is a shame that science is debated in such a way that the use of emotice words like "synthetic" start to have negative overtones.

    On the Acetate. The reason it is used more than the non esterised form is because it is MUCH more stable. And the job of vitamin E in most products is to stablise the other active ingredients or the oils. So it is not about cost. Again the consipiracy theory always gets attention.

    On another website, there is talk that the acetate version must be irritating because it is made by mixing it with an Acid. Just to remind everyone and get some sense back into the discussion of science, if you mix Caustic Soda - sodium hydroxide (NaOH) with a very strong acid hydrochloric acid (HCl) you get pure salt and water - you could not get two more agressive starting chemicals and end up with 2/3s of the planet's surface.

    There is so much misinformation out there on the internet - it is quite depressing.

  • February 27, 2013

    by Searchfortruth

    ummm, vitamin E in acetate form is synthetic and is not good for anything. That's been known for decades. What I want to know is why it's still allowed on the market in anything.

    Oh, yeah it's cheap to make it.

  • December 6, 2012

    by Melody

    I find Vitamin E Oil is the best for healing acne scars. I had a big scar for months and it helped it in a less than two weeks.

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