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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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Do not use tocopheryl acetate as a topical vitamin because it is inactive on the skin’s surface. Once it penetrates into the epidermis, it becomes powerful vitamin E. The main reason it is used as tocopheryl acetate is to keep it from undergoing oxidation in the cosmetic product or on the skin’s surface. It is changed in the skin by esterases in the epidermis. Two other forms of vitamin Eas esters are tocopheryl nicotinate and tocopheryl linoleate—both excellent ingredients in cosmetic formulas for both treating and maintaining aging skin.

Therapeutic agent

Vitamin E is the major lipid-soluble antioxidant in the cell antioxidant defense system and is only obtained from the diet. Vitamin E is a term used to describe a family of eight naturally occurring compounds that are synthesized by plants. There are two types—tocopherol and tocotrienols—and four forms of each. In both types, the forms are designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta.

The major biologic role of vitamin E is to protect fatty acids and other components of cell membranes and LDL from oxidation by free radicals. Vitamin E is located primarily within the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes where its concentration may only be one molecule for every 2,000 phospholipid molecules.

The skin is exposed to UV light, a major initiator of free radicals, as well as metabolically generated free radicals. Using both oral and topical vitamin E can help prevent, or markedly reduce, damage from free radicals. Vitamin E is a major therapeutic agent in slowing down the aging process and as a preventive against vascular damage.


1. HM Evans and KS Bishop, On the existence of a hitherto unrecognized dietary factor essential for reproduction, Science 56(1458) 650–651 (1922)