If you’re a skincare lover—or if you just have eyeballs—you’ve probably noticed the recent trend in vitamin-filled skincare, each new product promising to totally transform your face. And the latest obsession? Good ole vitamin E, something you’ve definitely heard of before but most likely have no idea WTF it actually does.
Because even though vitamin E is in everything from that face serum your friend told you to buy to the moisturiser in the back of your medicine cabinet, that doesn’t explain why it’s so popular or what it's really doing to the surface of your skin. So because I have trust issues and can’t take anything at face value, I reached out to a dermatologist to get answers.
What is vitamin E?
Here’s the tea on vitamin E—or tocopherol, as it’s often called in ingredients labels. It’s a naturally occurring antioxidant that protects your skin against free radicals, says Rita V. Linkner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
As a refresher, free radicals are the bad guys—they’re molecules in the environment that damage your skin and weaken its elasticity. Aaand you can’t really avoid them, since they come from everyday things like pollution, cigarette smoke, chemicals, and the sun. Vitamin E, however, is an army that defends your skin against all the sh*t it has to deal with on a daily basis, protecting it like an invisible shield.
And because it also has major moisturising and soothing properties, it’s frequently added to most skincare, makeup, and hair products. Just check any of your products for vitamin E or tocopherol, and you’re likely to see it.
Vitamin E helps prevent wrinkles and skin damage.
Yup, really. Because vitamin E is a major antioxidant, it naturally works to neutralise all the environmental stressors that’ll destroy your collagen and cause fine lines and premature aging. But wait! *cue infomercial voice* There’s more! According to Dr. Linker, vitamin E is also a photo-protectant—something that, when used with sunscreen, is able to help fend off sun damage even better.
So by loading up on vitamin E (along with, you know, sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen), you can not only protect yourself against UV exposure but also help prevent dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, hyperpigmentation...I mean, the list goes on and on.
Bonus: Vitamin E is also extremely moisturising.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble ingredient, meaning it’s able to penetrate deep into your skin and preserve the lipids (fats) in your face, says Dr. Linker, while soothing and healing your skin barrier (aka the outer layer you can see).
So if you have any cracks in your skin barrier (due to irritation, inflammation, overuse of acids or retinols), vitamin E basically closes those cracks to prevent moisture from escaping, keeping your skin hydrated and firm. Try a vitamin E–based oil if your skin is extra dry or opt for a vitamin E–based serum or toner if you want something a little lighter.
Will vitamin E cause acne and breakouts?
Okay, so technically, anything might cause acne depending on your skin type. Fun! Yay! But when it comes to vitamin E, it really depends on the formulation, so the goal is to find the right formula for your skin type.
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, using a heavy, oil-based vitamin E product may clog your pores and cause you to break out, says Dr. Linker, but it’s not because of the vitamin E—it’s because any heavy product can be risky for oily or acne-prone skin. Instead, opt for a water-light, vitamin E–spiked serum, making sure to first patch-test it right below your ear for a few days to see how your skin reacts to it.
Wait, is vitamin E or vitamin C better for brightening skin?
You’ve most definitely heard of vitamin C—and, hey, you might already be using something filled with it—because it’s the cool kid on the beauty block right now. In the hierarchy of Very Important Vitamins, where does vitamin E fit in?
Here’s the gist: On its own, vitamin E is a rock star (as is evident by literally everything you’ve read so far). But when vitamin E and vitamin C come together, the antioxidant effects of both are actually boosted—it’s kind of like a double shot of espresso but for your face.
Together, vitamins E and C are an anti-aging powerhouse, protecting your skin from the damage caused by UV rays while promoting healthy skin-cell growth. They also help brighten your skin tone, minimise free-radical damage (on an even higher level), and boost your collagen production (which means smoother, brighter, firmer skin). Sign me up. Ideally, you’d find a serum with vitamins C and E together, but you can also try doubling up your products in the morning, layering on a moisturiser over a serum or an oil over a moisturiser, or just saving your vitamin E serum for night and using your vitamin C serum in the morning.
The bottom line
Are you sold yet? Basically, vitamin E is the ultimate skincare ingredient that dreams are made of—it’s moisturising, it protects you from the enemy (free radicals), and it’s full of anti-aging benefits. What more could you ask for?