Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols) can be found in lots of foods (vegetables, nuts, oils (e.g. sunflower), seeds, wholegrains)... and lots of lotions! What's it doing there?
Well, vitamin E is actually one of THE most important antioxidants in our bodies! Oxygen is essential for life, but it's also very reactive and, when it reacts with things it shouldn't (DNA, proteins, cell membranes), it can cause a lot of damage. Luckily, antioxidants exist to keep reactive oxygen species at the right level!
The most important thing vitamin E does when applied topically to the skin is protect you from sun damage. When UV rays hit the skin, many reactive radical species are formed which damage the skin. The things that vitamin E helps reduce include:
- sunburnt cells
- skin pigmentation
- long-term UV damage
- skin cancer formation
There's a synergistic effect when it's applied together with vitamin C, with even greater skin protection benefits. However, it doesn't actually block UV rays from reaching the skin, it only limits the damage caused.
Vitamin E works best when applied before or immediately after sun exposure, but a study found that it still had significant effects 8 hours after the damage occurred.
Possible anti-inflammatory action
Vitamin E may also have some anti-inflammatory effects, which has led to it being recommended for wound healing and scar reuction. However, its effectiveness here is controversial as most studies found mixed results, and one study even found that vitamin E worsened the appearance of scars. Vitamin E also doesn't seem to help moisturise skin, or improve wrinkles.
K L Keller and N A Fenske. Uses of vitamins A, C, and E and related compounds in dermatology: A review. J Am Acad Dermatol 1998, 39, 611.