Updated 22 January 2015

What vitamin E does for the skin

Vitamin E is known for its skin-friendly properties and is used in thousands of skincare products. But why, exactly, is it so magical?


Certain nutrients are essential to achieving and maintaining healthy skin. Of these, vitamin E is without doubt one of the superheroes.

Read: Airline crews have higher skin cancer risk

This fat-soluble vitamin, which can do its magic from both inside and outside the body, boasts a long list of health benefits. Apart from playing an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system, keeping the body’s cells healthy, and preventing blood from clotting, it’s also a real boon to the skin.

What vitamin E does for the skin

If the health of your skin and preventing premature ageing is important to you, you’ll be interested in these facts:

- We’re exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution and ultraviolet light from the sun. Free radicals are also formed as a result of normal body processes. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce the damaging effects of free radicals, both in the skin and on the surface of the skin. In this way, it protects against the oxidation of skin cells and ageing.
- Vitamin E may help to protect against deadly skin cancer. In some studies, the vitamin was shown to reduce suppression of the immune system, which often occurs as a result of too much exposure to sunlight. Other studies have shown that applying vitamin E to the skin can limit the production of cancer-causing cells.
- The vitamin is reported to improve skin elasticity, and forms a protective barrier on the skin when used topically (i.e. in a night cream or moisturiser).

Read: US panel warns against Vitamin E and beta-carotene

- Vitamin E may help to reduce water loss from the skin and may help to maintain the skin’s oil balance during the cleansing process.
- Creams that contain alpha tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, may decrease skin roughness, length of facial lines and wrinkle depth.
- The vitamin may help to counteract the appearance of age spots.
- Vitamin E may help to reduce skin inflammation.

How to get enough vitamin E

If you’d like to reap the benefits of this vitamin from the inside out, make sure you get enough through your diet. Vitamin E can be found naturally in a variety of foods, including oily fish, nuts, olives, leafy greens and whole grains.

The vitamin can, of course, also be taken as a dietary supplement. But be cautious, as supplements often contain higher doses than the recommended 15mg or 22.4 IU per day.

A high intake of vitamin E could increase your risk of bleeding as the nutrient helps to prevent the formation of blood clots in the body.

Firstly try to get your daily vitamin E dose from the food you eat (the vitamin works best in combination with other nutrients). And before you decide to supplement, consult your pharmacist or doctor.

Be especially careful if you’re about to undergo surgery, or if you’re taking blood thinners such as Warfarin.

Read: Vitamin E – hope for Alzheimer's patients

You can, of course, also tap into the benefits of vitamin E by applying vitamin E-containing cosmetic creams and sun-protection lotions to your skin. Topical application can supply the skin with forms of vitamin E that you might not be getting from your diet.

Two important considerations

- Topical vitamin E can sometimes irritate the skin. Stop using products that cause irritation.
- If you’re a smoker, it’s well worth paying even more attention to your vitamin E intake and to make sure it’s included in your skin products.

Research shows that women who smoke have much lower levels of vitamin E in their skin.

Read More:

Anatomy of the skin 
Skin lump
Red palm oil – Dr Oz’s ‘miraculous find’

Sources: Ohio State University;National Institutes of HealthMedscapeUniversity of Maryland Medical Centre

Challem, J. 2003. User's Guide to Nutritional Supplements. Basic Health Publications, Inc.
Gabriel, J. 2008. The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances. Health Communications, Inc.
Preedy, V. R. 2012. Handbook of diet, nutrition and the skin. Wageningen Academic Publishers.Loughran, J. 2002. Natural Skin Care. B. Jain Publishers. 


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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