Whether you dedicate a lot of time to curating your skincare routine or you get by with simply slathering yourself in moisturizer (and sunscreen, of course), you’re probably familiar with vitamin E, or at least use a product that contains it.
Vitamin E features in an array of skincare products, from high-end serums and eye creams to workhorse moisturizers. But do we really need it? In short, yes. I’ll explain why in this post. And in my next one, I’ll highlight the best ways to incorporate it into your skincare regimen, whatever it may look like.
What is vitamin E?
Technically, the term “vitamin E” refers to the name of a family of oil-soluble antioxidants, in which vitamin E occurs naturally. In all, there are eight different types of vitamin E, although only two of them, tocopheryl acetate and tocopherol, are included in skincare products. That’s because they’re the only ones the National Institutes of Health consider to be safe for people to ingest.
In other words, if you see “vitamin E” on the label, you’re going to find either tocopheryl acetate or tocopherol on the ingredient list.
How does vitamin E support healthy skin?
Like other antioxidants, topical vitamin E fights free-radical damage. That means they prevent oxidative damage to cells by removing free radicals.
Here’s another way to think about it: Free radicals are desperate to stabilize themselves. To do so, they’ll grab an electron from anything they come into contact with, which can include skin proteins, connective tissue, cell membranes, even DNA. Antioxidants, like vitamin E, temporarily calm free radicals by quenching their hunger.
Significant as that is, it’s not the only way vitamin E helps support healthy skin. It’s also an impressive hydrator because it works as both a humectant, meaning it absorbs water into the skin, and an emollient, trapping it there and strengthening the skin barrier in the process.
Finally, vitamin E also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is why certain moisturizers with vitamin E are recommended to help soothe the skin after a sunburn or to assist with healing it in the case of a scar or burn.
It may seem like there’s no going wrong with vitamin E, but, in fact, it’s commonly used in ways that diminish its effects. It’s also not a good fit for everyone. More on that in the next post.