The skin is the only organ that can benefit from topically applied supplements or remedies. Sunlight, pollution, injuries, poor diet, smoking and simply getting older can all take their toll on skin, especially the delicate skin on your face.
Using vitamin E for the face helps to undo some of the damage inflicted on skin by fighting free radicals, improving elasticity and promoting healing.
Skin Anatomy and Function
Skin is composed of two layers. The epidermis makes up the outer layer, and the dermis, or inner layer. The epidermis is mainly built from the protein keratin and forms a barrier to protect the body from the environment. This layer also contains cells that produce melanin, which absorbs UV light to prevent tissue damage.
The dermis forms the layer between the epidermis and the underlying layer of fat and connective tissue that covers muscles and bones. Like the epidermis, its main component is protein, but the dermis is made of collagen rather than keratin. Collagen makes skin elastic, so it can stretch and retract as needed. It contributes to the firmness of the skin's structure to support the epidermis.
Sun Damage, Wrinkles and Aging
The integrity of skin can be compromised daily by sun damage, physical injury — such as cuts and bruises — and the aging process. When skin cells absorb UV light, some molecules become free radicals. Prolonged sun exposure and build-up of free radicals inhibits skin cells' ability to combat free radicals and the tissue damage they cause.
Wrinkles form when skin loses elasticity due to collagen loss or damage from UV radiation. Further, collagen levels in skin decrease as people age. The aging process also causes the skin to become thinner, dryer and rougher in texture and weakens the skin's ability to provide a protective barrier to the environment. Smoking, exposure to air pollution and poor nutrition also play a role in skin laxity and wrinkles.
Wound Healing and Scarring
After an injury, the skin has a powerful ability to build tissues to heal wounds. This takes place in a multi-step process that works with the immune system to remove dead or damaged tissue and eliminate pathogens and foreign materials. During this healing, skin cells produce keratin and collagen to mend.
However, the healed skin does not possess the same strength as undamaged skin. The healing process can also result in scar tissue, which cannot be prevented or avoided when an injury occurs. Scars form because of the arrangement of collagen deposits in the wound that help close the fissure and grow new tissue.
What Skin Needs
Healthy skin needs good nutrition, hydration and protection from UV light. A diet lacking in key vitamins can result in a variety of skin conditions and reduced wound healing. Antioxidants such as vitamin E play an important role in improving and maintaining skin health and appearance.
Properties of Vitamin E
Vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, occurs as more than one kind of molecule. The two main forms are tocopherols and tocotrienols, and there are four types of each: alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
Tocopherols are more prevalent in the body than tocotrienols. The most common form used in body tissues is alpha-tocopherol. This form of vitamin E is important because its main function is blocking the formation of free radicals. It is the form typically found in supplements, due to its powerful antioxidant activity.
- Vitamin E absorbs some of the UV light that penetrates the skin tissue.
- It also combats free radicals by reacting with them to stave off cellular damage that occurs when these reactive molecules break down collagen. More collagen in the dermis results in greater skin elasticity.
Sources of Vitamin E Oil
Many plant oils contain tocopherols and are used as ingredients in face creams and other preparations or applied directly to the skin. Vitamin E-rich oils that benefit skin include:
- Olive oil
- Argan oil
- Avocado oil
- Shea butter
Vitamin E Oil for Skin
Vitamin E is naturally present in the skin, especially the epidermis, and is found in the oil-producing sebaceous glands. These glands secrete sebum, an oily, waxy substance that forms a protective, moisturizing coating on the surface of the skin. Taking oral supplements increases the amount of vitamin E in sebum, thus increasing the moisture on the surface of the skin.
As people age, the amount of vitamin E in the skin naturally decreases. Working from the outside-in, topically applied vitamin E benefits skin because it can penetrate the epidermis and dermis to provide an antioxidant boost to skin cells, as well as aid in surface repair and protection.
Vitamin E With Vitamin C
While topical vitamin E provides benefits to skin, some unwanted effects can occur. When skin is exposed to sunlight following application of vitamin E, many of the molecules are converted to free radicals as they absorb UV light.
Vitamin E Oil Uses
Many facial products contain vitamin E tocopherols, but it isn't difficult to formulate your own preparation at home. You can customize your own lotion by combining vitamin E oil with plant-based oils rich in vitamin E and your favorite essential oils.
You can also apply vitamin E oil to your face directly, without combining it with other ingredients. A gel form of vitamin E could be useful for easier application. Be sure to start with a clean, dry face and use a gentle touch, especially near the delicate eye area.
Consider adding to your skin care routine a serum that contains vitamin E, which can more effectively improve the appearance and texture of skin than a vitamin E-rich moisturizer alone. Serums may be water-based or oil-based and only require a few drops to be quickly absorbed into the skin. Vitamin E in a serum can also help lighten darkened areas of skin on the face.
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Skin Health
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E and Skin Health
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils
- Harvard Health Publishing: Skin Serum- What it Can't Do
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E