Dermatologists weigh in on everything you need to know about this standout skincare superstar.

By Melanie Rud
May 27, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement
Ake Ngiamsanguan/Getty Images

You're likely familiar with vitamins A and C in skin care, but there's another great-for-your-complexion vitamin that doesn't always get quite as much play. An ingredient that's been used in dermatology for over 50 years, vitamin E flies somewhat under the radar, despite the fact that it's super common and delivers a slew of benefits to the skin.

If you take a look at any of the serums or moisturizers in your arsenal, vitamin E is most likely found in at least one or two of them. So, why exactly does it deserve some time in the skin-care spotlight? Ahead, dermatologists explain the benefits of vitamin E for skin, what you need to know about using it, and share some of their favorite product picks.

What Is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin (more on what that means in a minute) that's not only abundant in many foods but is also naturally-occurring in your skin. But here's where things get a little tricky: vitamin E isn't just one singular thing. The term 'vitamin E' actually refers to eight different compounds, explains Morgan Rabach, M.D., co-founder of LM Medical in New York City and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Of these compounds, alpha-tocopherol is the most common, says Jeremy Fenton, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. It's also the most biologically active (read: effective) form of Vitamin E, and really the only one you need to think about as it pertains to skin care.

When it comes to reading ingredient labels and searching for vitamin E, look for 'alpha-tocopherol' or 'tocopherol' listed. (Tocopheryl acetate is also often used; this is a slightly less active, though more stable, version.) In the interest of keeping things simple, we'll just refer to it as vitamin E. (FYI vitamin E isn't the only important vitamin for your skin.)

The Benefits of Vitamin E for Skin

First on the list: antioxidant protection. "Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant, protecting the skin cells from damage by reducing the formation of free radicals that occur when skin is exposed to things such as UV light and pollution," explains Dr. Rabach. And that's a very good thing for both the health and appearance of your skin. Free radicals cause what's known as oxidative stress, and when your skin struggles to battle this stress and repair the damage it's causing, it can age faster and be more prone to developing skin cancer, notes Dr. Fenton. "Applied topically, antioxidants such as vitamin E can help reduce this damage and allow the skin to repair itself on the cellular level," he says. (More here: How to Protect Your Skin from Free Radical Damage)

But the benefits don't stop there. "Vitamin E also has some moisturizing and emollient-type benefits, meaning it helps maintain the seal on the outer layer of skin to keep moisture inside, and can also smooth out dry skin," says Dr. Rabach. (P.S. Here's the difference between moisturizing and hydrating skin-care products.)

And let's talk about vitamin E for scars, as there's a lot swirling on the Internet that says it can be helpful. But it turns out that's not quite the case. "It plays a role in the production of something called connective tissue growth factor," says Dr. Fenton. "Connective tissue growth factor is a protein involved in wound healing, but there's a lack of quality studies to show that topical vitamin E has a positive impact on wound healing." In fact, a study published in Dermatologic Surgery found that the topical application of vitamin E had no benefit to the cosmetic appearance of a scar after surgery, and could even be detrimental. That said, oral supplementation of vitamin E for this purpose shows more promise, though different studies also have conflicting results, adds Dr. Fenton. (Here's a guide to getting rid of scars.)

It's Good for Hair, Too.

You may have also heard that vitamin E is beneficial for hair. "There are some small studies that show that oral supplements containing vitamin E may help reduce hair loss and promote the growth of healthy hair. This is believed to be through its antioxidant properties," explains Dr. Fenton. (Keep reading: The Best Vitamins for Hair Growth)

In terms of using it topically, the biggest benefits you're going to get are from its moisturizing properties; it can be a good ingredient for dry hair and/or a dry scalp, says Dr. Rabach.

The Best Way to Use Vitamin E for Skin

TL; DR: It's worth incorporating vitamin E products into your skin-care routine mostly for its antioxidant and skin-protecting benefits. Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin (aka a vitamin that dissolves in fats or oils), looking for it in an oil or cream can help enhance penetration. (Related: Drew Barrymore Slathers $12 Vitamin E Oil All Over Her Face)

It's also a great idea to look for vitamin E in products where it's paired with other antioxidants, particularly vitamin C. The two make for an especially standout combination: "Both serve to reduce free radicals and oxidative stress, but each function slightly differently on a cellular level. Together, they can be synergistic and complementary," explains Dr. Fenton. Plus, vitamin E also enhances the stability of vitamin C, making it more effective, notes Dr. Rabach.

Ready to make vitamin E a part of your skin-care routine? Check out these eight standout products.

Best Vitamin E Skin-Care Products to Add to Your Routine

Best Moisturizer: Neutrogena Naturals Multi-Vitamin Moisturizer

Ulta

Dr. Rabach likes this moisturizer, which boasts not only vitamin E, but also vitamins B and C, plus a host of other antioxidants. (It's also non-comedogenic, so there's no need to worry about clogged pores if you're prone to breakouts.) The other good thing about opting for a moisturizer over a serum? While vitamin E is generally pretty well-tolerated, if your skin is super sensitive or reactive, starting with a moisturizer is a good move; it will have a slightly lower concentration of the ingredient than a serum. (Here are more moisturizers to consider based on your skin type.)

Best Budget Pick: The Inkey List Vitamin B, C, and E Moisturizer

Sephora

If you're looking for a vitamin E product that won't break the bank, try this daily hydrator. Ideal for normal to dry skin, it has that all-star combo of vitamins C and E, along with vitamin B. Also known as niacinamide, vitamin B is a great ingredient for both brightening skin and reducing redness.

Best Serum: Skinbetter Alto Defense Serum

SkinBetter Science

"This contains a variety of antioxidants in a serum that's very elegant," says Dr. Fenton. He adds that it's also great for those with sensitive skin who are searching for an antioxidant serum that's also hydrating. Use it every morning and let all those antioxidants—vitamin E, vitamin C, plus a whopping list of 17 other ones—do their thing, acting as a second layer of back-up protection for your sunscreen.

Best Serum with Vitamin C and Vitamin E: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

Dermstore

Arguably one of the most derm-beloved serums of all time (both Dr. Rabach and Dr. Fenton recommend it), this pick is pricey but worth it, thanks to the trifecta of proven antioxidants. Namely, vitamin C and vitamin E plus ferulic acid, which all work synergistically for, "strong antioxidant capacity," says Dr. Fenton. So much so that it's been proven to reduce oxidative damage by an impressive 41 percent. Plus, a little goes a long way, so one bottle will last quite a while. (This isn't the only derm favorite. Here, more dermatologists share their holy-grail skin products.)

Best Skin Soother: M-61SuperSoothe E Cream

Blue Mercury

Among its other benefits, vitamin E also has anti-inflammatory effects. Here, it's combined with other calming ingredients—namely aloe, chamomile, and feverfew—for a formula that's choice for sensitive or ultra-dry skin. Plus, it's also free of parabens and synthetic fragrance, two common irritants.

Best Night Serum: SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E

Dermstore

While antioxidant serums are good to use in the morning as an added layer of protection against environmental aggressors you encounter during the day, you can also use one at night to help undo any of the day's damage. Dr. Fenton recommends this one, which contains a 1-percent concentration of alpha-tocopherol. "It's high quality with other additional antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which shows some promise in some studies for anti-aging," he says. (Fun fact: Resveratrol is the antioxidant compound found in red wine.)

Best Serum with SPF: Neocutis reACTIVE Anti-oxidant Serum SPF 45

Dermstore

Dr. Fenton is a fan of the original version of the serum, which he says, "combines several antioxidants together to deliver multiple benefits." But you can also try this new version; it has those same benefits plus added sun protection, the perfect all-in-one product to incorporate into your daily morning skin-care routine. (Because, yes, you should be wearing SPF even if you stay inside all day.)

Best Multi-Tasking Oil: Trader Joe's Vitamin E Oil

Amazon

Dr. Rabach recommends this oil for both dry skin and hair; it contains only soybean oil, coconut oil, and vitamin E. (Worth noting: If you're prone to breakouts, use this only as a body skin-care product, as coconut oil can clog pores.) Bonus points for the very wallet-friendly price. (Related: The Skin-Care Products Derms Would Buy with $30 at the Drugstore)

Comments

Be the first to comment!