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Vitamin E: A Skin Care Ally

By: Peter T. Pugliese, MD
Posted: August 27, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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This chain attached has 12 carbons in a row with four more carbons, as methyl groups, attached to the chain. Look at the tocotrienols’ long chain, and you will see three double bonds spaced along the chain. This is the only difference between the tocopherols and the tocotrienols.

Sources of vitamin E

Many natural foods are good sources of vitamin E. See Natural Vitamin E Sources. Synthetic vitamin E is derived from petroleum products and is manufactured as all-racemicc α-tocopheryl acetate with a mixture of eight stereoisomers. In this mixture, only one α-tocopherol molecule in eight molecules is in the form of real α-tocopherol (12.5% of the total). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now converts international units (IUs) of the racemic mixture to milligrams of equivalent α-tocopherol using1 IU racemic mixture = 0.45 milligrams α-tocopherol.

At the present time, there are no commercial sources of pure tocotienols except in very expensive research quantities. They are available in natural oils such as palm, rice bran, wheat germ, barley and oat.

Because the tocotrienol’s long carbon chain is unsaturated, it is flexible and more easily incorporated into the cell membrane. It is able to move about in the membrane and the cell more readily. This may account for some of the differences in function between the tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Vitamin E and the skin

Two of the major functions of vitamin E in the skin are protection from ultraviolet (UV) light damage and maintenance of the barrier function. DNA damage by direct absorbance of UV radiation and indirect DNA damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) may lead to mutations, which can result in UV-induced skin cancer. The most prominent direct DNA damages are the cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers, thymine dimers and other photoproducts. Indirect DNA damage is caused by ROS, such as singlet oxygen (1O2) and free radicals, such as the superoxide anion radical (.O2), the perhydroxyl radical (.HO2) or the hydroxyl radical (.OH).