Despite its immense popularity as a skin-protective nutrient, there is little clinical evidence backing the use of vitamin E.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient widely used in supplements and topical preparations. Vitamin E has been suggested to help with skin health and appearance by:
- Antioxidant activity. Vitamin E has antioxidant and photoprotective properties that help neutralize skin damage caused by ultraviolet light.
Vitamin E is a group of eight fat-soluble compounds. Also known as tocopherol and tocotrienol, vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E is naturally present throughout the body, including in the skin as a component of sebum.
Similar to vitamin C, Vitamin E is a popular antioxidant supplement, sold by itself, in multivitamins, and other products. In particular, vitamin E is used to support healthy vision and immune system function. The main form of vitamin E used in supplements and present in the human body is called α-tocopherol.
In addition, vitamin E is a popular ingredient in skincare products and supplements used to protect against ultraviolet light, improve scars and skin conditions such as eczema, and enhance overall skin appearance and health. Despite this, there are few clinical studies backing the skin benefits of vitamin E, and its many skin-related uses remain largely unsupported.
Foods High in Vitamin E
|Food||Serving Size||Amount per serving (mg)|
|Sunflower oil||1 tablespoon||5.6|
|Cranberry juice||8 ounces||3.0|
|Trout (cooked)||3 ounces||2.4|
How Vitamin E Might Help With Skin Health
Exposure to the sun – and ultraviolet light in particular – generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the skin, which increase oxidative stress. This increased stress causes damage to cells, accelerating the aging of skin, and is associated with wrinkles, pigmentation, sunburn, skin thickening, sagging, and other detrimental effects. 1 Vitamin E has potent antioxidant and photoprotective properties that are suggested to neutralize this oxidative damage by acting similar to sunscreen.
Vitamin E Popular Uses & Potential Benefits for the Skin
Vitamin E is one of the most popular skincare ingredients, used in dermatology and found in a wide variety of supplements and topical products (creams, lotions, ointments, oils, etc.) for over 50 years. As a skin nutrient, vitamin E is used to: 3
- Protect the skin from sunburn and associated pain
- Protect the skin from long-term ultraviolet light, which accelerates wrinkles, dryness, and other signs of aging
- Help reduce and heal scarring from acne, surgery, and other causes
- Improve eczema and other skin disorders
- Heal burns and wounds
Despite this wide range of skincare uses, there is a lack of high-quality clinical trials backing the use of oral and topical vitamin E. As it stands, only vitamin E’s eczema benefits are backed by human studies, and even here the evidence is minimal.
Although many animal and cell culture studies back vitamin E’s photoprotective effects against UV light, these findings have not been confirmed in humans. However, the combination of vitamin C & E as a topical treatment may be effective at preventing UV damage. Meanwhile, other skin uses of vitamin E have negative findings or no clinical evidence at all.
In summary, as one recent review paper on the dermatological uses of vitamin E concluded: “there is a lack of controlled clinical trials providing a rationale for well-defined dosages and clinical indications for oral and topical vitamin E. After so many years of research on vitamin E, it is still unclear as to whether millions of dollars worth of vitamin E products paid for by patients and consumers have been of any benefit.” 4
Animal and isolated cell culture studies report that vitamin E has photoprotective properties that defend the skin against ultraviolet light. Specific findings indicate that:
- Topical vitamin E appears to protect against skin photoaging, sunburn, and reddening caused by ultraviolet light exposure in rodents 5 6 7
- Vitamin E protects isolated human skin cells against ultraviolet damage 8 9
There are few clinical studies of vitamin E, with findings indicating that it may improve symptoms of eczema, and protect against sunburn when combined with vitamin C.
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of vitamin E supplementation on atopic dermatitis (eczema). A total of 70 people with mild to moderate eczema were given placebo or vitamin E (400 IU) daily for 4 months. The vitamin E group had better improvement in all symptoms (except insomnia) than placebo.
- The researchers concluded that “…vitamin E can improve the symptoms and the quality of life in patients with AD.” 10
In this randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled study, 96 people with atopic dermatitis (eczema) were given placebo or vitamin E (400 IU) daily for 8 months. Compared to placebo, vitamin E significantly improved atopic dermatitis and associated levels of immunoglobin E (IgE).
- The researchers concluded that “…VE could be an excellent therapeutic tool for atopic dermatitis.” 11
This study tested whether vitamin E and beta carotene can protect against ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Sixteen people took vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol, 400 IU) or beta-carotene (15 mg) daily for 8 weeks, and had their skin examined before and after exposure to UV radiation. Vitamin E supplementation increased skin vitamin E levels, but neither supplement reduced measures of oxidative stress in the skin following UVR exposure.
- The researchers concluded that “Vitamin E or beta-carotene supplementation had no effect on skin sensitivity to UVR.” 12
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study assessed the ability of vitamins C & E to protect against sunburn. Twenty people took vitamin C (2 g) with placebo or 1000 IU vitamin E, and had their reaction to sunburn tested before and after 8 days of supplementation. The vitamin group experienced increased protection against sunburn.
- The researchers concluded that “Combined vitamins C and E reduce the sunburn reaction, which might indicate a consequent reduced risk for later sequelae of UV-induced skin damage.” 13
Dosage for Skin
- The most common supplemental dose of vitamin E in studies is 400 IU
- Standalone vitamin E supplements usually provide 400-1000 IU dosages
- Multi-ingredient beauty (skin, hair, nails) supplements typically contain smaller (e.g. 15 IU) vitamin E dosages
- Topically-applied vitamin E is absorbed well, with concentrations as low as 0.1% demonstrated to increase skin levels 14
- The vast majority of vitamin E supplements use the d-alpha tocopherol form, and some also add in other forms such as d-gamma tocopherol.
- As a supplement, vitamin E is most commonly sold in softgels.
- As a topical product, vitamin E is commonly sold in the form of oil. In addition, it is used as an ingredient in a wide range of cosmetic products (lotions, creams, etc.)
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Vitamin E 400 IU for skin health, as a supplement or topical product.
There isn’t enough research evidence to recommend vitamin E for skin health. Despite being one of the most widely-used compounds in skincare supplements, cosmetics, and treatments, there is a surprising lack of research backing vitamin E. As it stands, there is only evidence that it may help with eczema and protect the skin from UV radiation when combined with vitamin C.
You can use vitamin E in many forms. Although most available clinical studies of vitamin E used supplements, there isn’t enough evidence to support the use of either oral or topical vitamin E for skin health. If you go with supplements, we recommend daily dosages of 400 IU.
- Masaki H. Role of antioxidants in the skin: anti-aging effects. J Dermatol Sci. 2010 May;58(2):85-90. ↩
- Rhie G et al. Aging- and photoaging-dependent changes of enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidants in the epidermis and dermis of human skin in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Nov;117(5):1212-7. ↩
- Nachbar F and Korting HC. The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. J Mol Med (Berl). 1995 Jan;73(1):7-17. ↩
- Mohammad Abid Keen and Iffat Hassan. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016 Jul-Aug; 7(4): 311–315. ↩
- Lin JY et al. UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Jun;48(6):866-74. ↩
- Jurkiewicz BA et al. Effect of topically applied tocopherol on ultraviolet radiation-mediated free radical damage in skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1995 Apr;104(4):484-8. ↩
- Lopez-Torres M et al. Topical application of alpha-tocopherol modulates the antioxidant network and diminishes ultraviolet-induced oxidative damage in murine skin. Br J Dermatol. 1998 Feb;138(2):207-15. ↩
- Kondo S et al. Protective effect of dl-alpha-tocopherol on the cytotoxicity of ultraviolet B against human skin fibroblasts in vitro. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1990 Aug;7(4):173-7. ↩
- Jin GH et al. UVB induced oxidative stress in human keratinocytes and protective effect of antioxidant agents. Radiat Environ Biophys. 2007 Mar;46(1):61-8. ↩
- Fariba Jaffary et al. Effects of oral vitamin E on treatment of atopic dermatitis: A randomized controlled trial. J Res Med Sci. 2015 Nov; 20(11): 1053–1057. ↩
- Tsoureli-Nikita E et al. Evaluation of dietary intake of vitamin E in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a study of the clinical course and evaluation of the immunoglobulin E serum levels. Int J Dermatol. 2002 Mar;41(3):146-50. ↩
- McArdle F et al. Effects of oral vitamin E and beta-carotene supplementation on ultraviolet radiation-induced oxidative stress in human skin. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov;80(5):1270-5. ↩
- Eberlein-König B et al. Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Jan;38(1):45-8. ↩
- Thiele JJ and Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S. Vitamin E in human skin: organ-specific physiology and considerations for its use in dermatology. Mol Aspects Med. 2007 Oct-Dec;28(5-6):646-67. ↩