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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 is called oxidative damage because it is a major cause of aging skin and skin cancer. Singlet oxygen, for example, has damaging effects on big biomolecules, affects genes and destroys cells. This is really bad because singlet oxygen can be produced by both visible and UV light, especially if stimulated by phagocytes during the oxidative burstd. There is evidence that singlet oxygen has pronounced effects on cellular signaling events that are involved in the expression of a variety of proteins. This includes the protein known as interstitial collagenase (matrix metalloproteinase-1, MMP-1), which is responsible for the breakdown of type I collagen in the dermis, a major cause of sagging skin and wrinkles.2 This is only one link to aging by free radical action.

Even a little UV irradiation, not even enough to cause reddening of the skin, is able to deplete the content of human epidermal α-tocopherol, thereby decreasing antioxidant protection. Within 24 hours, however, α-tocopherol contents of the irradiated skin can increase to almost baseline levels in humans, suggesting that the skin has the ability to replace lost α-tocopherol in response to oxidative stress. Within that period, however, a lot of epidermal damage can occur.

Depletion of barrier α-tocopherol may represent an early pathophysiological event leading to the initiation of barrier disruption and inflammation in environmentally damaged skin. The stratum corneum, being the outermost skin layer and barrier of the body, is frequently exposed to a pro-oxidative environment, such as UV solar radiation, air pollutants and chemicals. With UV light, UVB is believed to interact directly with DNA to initiate signature mutations of basal and squamous cell carcinomas. UVA wavelengths (320–400 nm) are believed to interact indirectly, inducing the production of free radicals. Free radicals may indirectly damage DNA and cause protein damage, a major contributor to premature aging, or photoaging.3 Once barrier damage is in place, the skin cannot function normally and water loss, bacterial invasion and free radical changes run rampant. This damage promotes premature skin aging, as well as skin cancers. Vitamin E has a critical role in preventing these problems.

Using vitamin E for skin

Vitamin E is a very important part of your skin care arsenal of therapeutic weapons. As a major antioxidant, it is also a major anti-aging biochemical. It can be used before and after sun exposure to reduce free radical damage in the skin, and therefore should be used in sunscreens. It should always be considered in skin-lightening treatments, either topically or systemically.

Keloid and hypertrophic scars result from excessive collagen deposition, although their cause is not known. Many articles have been published on the management of hypertrophic and keloid scars, but still, there is no universally accepted treatment method. Hypertrophic scars and keloids have been shown to respond to many treatment modalities, including intralesional injections of corticosteroid, topical silicone or other dressings, and pulsed-dye laser treatments. Biologic agents, such as vitamin E, that are directed toward the aberrant collagen proliferation could be an important addition to the current treatment modalities in the near future. Vitamin E does not remove scars, but softens the collagen, making them more susceptible to additional treatment.4