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Vitamin E is a biologically important, well-studied antioxidant. It exists naturally within skin, participating in a re-generative antioxidant cycle with vitamin C. A process which helps to maintain its persistence and activity within skin.

There are many forms of vitamin E existing both naturally through diet and within skincare.

  • Tocopherol (alpha, beta, delta and gamma) – natural
  • Tocotrienol (alpha, beta, delta and gamma) – natural
  • Tocopheryl acetate (dl -tocopheryl acetate) – synthetic

TOCOPHEROL is a natural form of vitamin E considered much more potent than the synthetically protected tocopheryl acetate. Tocopherol naturally occurs in 4 different forms referred to as alpha, beta, delta and gamma-tocopherol. Out of all 4 forms, it is alpha-tocopherol which is the most biologically active. Within skincare you’ll often find a racemic mixture of all 4 versions used, these 4 ingredients will be described as tocopherol or mixed tocopherols, if however the alpha version has been separated, the ingredient description will read alpha-tocopherol or α-tocopherol.
dl-tocopherol is synthetic version of tocopherol.

TOCOPHERYL ACETATE is a synthetically protected version of tocopherol. This ingredient is synthesised in the laboratory with what is chemically referred to as a ‘protecting group’ – to create this form of vitamin E, acetate is used as a protecting group. The addition of acetate as a protective group defends the main ingredient – tocopherol, against oxidation before use. When used within skincare the protective group is cleaved within skin to release the biologically active form of vitamin E – tocopherol. This process decreases the potency of tocopheryl acetate however can be compensated for with concentration.

TOCOTRIENOL is also a naturally occurring analogue of vitamin E sourced predominantly from palm and rice bran oil. Tocotrienol is an ingredient of great interest showing antioxidant activity 40 to 60 times higher than tocopherol. It occurs naturally within oils like rice bran, but can also be extracted for use in skincare at more concentrated doses. When extracted tocotrienol will be listed as tocotrienol or mixed tocotrienol on the INCI list of a skincare product.

Vitamin E is a skin identical anti-oxidant meaning it is naturally present within skin cells. Alongside the also naturally present vitamin C, vitamin E helps to protect skin against oxidation, more commonly referred to as ageing.  In fact these 2 ingredients work together collaboratively to regenerate each other after being ‘used-up’ by free radicals and reactive oxygen species.

When used topically within skincare natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols help to;

  • Protect against sun damage (UV light)
  • Protect from pollution damage
  • Restore skins barrier function
  • Prevent hyperpigmentation

The combination of these activities make natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols a sought after ingredient in protectively acting, anti-ageing skincare.

Alpha-tocopherol is a naturally present ingredient found within sebum. Sebum is descriptive of the oily, liquid wax substance excreted by sebum glands found deep within every hair follicles. These hair follicles often referred to as pores populate almost all areas of skin, excluding only areas such as the eye lids, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Sebum helps to lubricate skins outer layers while also forming a protective barrier that helps to prevent hydration loss and therefore premature ageing. The presence of vitamin E within sebum means this protective layer is also able to help prevent premature ageing caused by extrinsic stressors such as UV light.

Sun light is a rainbow of light types with differing energies. When defending skin against ageing, it is UV light that has the greatest effect, both UVA and UVB cause significant oxidative damage to skin. UVA in-particular is able to reach deeper layers of skin where supportive proteins of collagen and elastin are found. Damage to these volume promoting proteins is often silent and only visualised years later by fine lines and wrinkles, skin laxing and jowls.

Vitamin E helps to protect skin against sun damage caused by UV light because of its protective antioxidant action, however after UV exposure, skins natural levels fall. Therefore to protect skin against the ageing effects of UV light, it is important to seek this ingredient in skincare. Studies show that vitamin E is most effectively replenished via topical application rather than through diet, meaning applying vitamin E rich skincare has a greater anti-ageing effect than eating a diet rich in vitamin E.

There are many environmental factors responsible for the visible signs of premature ageing with atmospheric contaminants being recognized only recently as a significant contributor.

Smoking is a well-known cause of premature ageing, the telling ‘smokers-pout’ being a direct consequence of the high temperatures reached at the tip of a cigarette. At such high temperatures free-radicals and reactive oxygen species are easily and quickly created.

Free-radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) are atoms and molecules having an extremely high amount of energy. When Free-radicals and ROS collide with skin, they’re initially defended against by antioxidants such as vitamin E. Under continual attack these antioxidant reserves are depleted and stress, inflammation and premature ageing are initiated.

Free-radicals and reactive oxygen species are also formed in high concentrations by motor vehicles, meaning areas of high traffic density are a hot spot for pollution particulates. Cities, towns and countryside locations close to motorways all pose potential for higher than usual levels of free-radicals and ROS.

Vitamin E being oil an oil soluble antioxidant is able to distribute itself within sebum and the outer most layers of skin, where it will defend skin against damage caused by pollution formed free-radicals and ROS.

The most overlooked way to protect skin against ageing is to prevent against dehydration. Skin cells that are properly hydrated are able to perform their necessary tasks optimally and youthfully, whereas skin cells that are dehydrated become slow and sluggish.

Most often, skin loses hydration because of a reduced barrier function, when barrier function becomes impaired well-known irritants, allergens, bacteria and viruses are able to enter into skin. This therefore causes irritation, sensitization, allergy and infection, levying more stress into skin and ageing skin prematurely.

Skin forms a protective barrier through a combination of tightly packed, keratin rich skin cells ‘glued’ together by a lipid based matrix of fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol. In turn this brick-wall barrier is kept lubricated and hydrated by continual release of sebum helping to nourish and maintain skins defences.

Oxidation of skin lipids and sebum negatively impact skins barrier function compromising the ‘glue’ holding skin cells together. With a reduced barrier function, skin becomes vulnerable to early signs of ageing.
Topical application of vitamin E helps to defend skin lipids and sebum against lipid degradation (lipid peroxidation) with studies showing it significantly inhibits the damage caused through photo-oxidation.

Age spots, liver spots and areas of uneven skin tone are a telling sign of age or even of premature ageing. These areas of uneven pigmentation are caused by activation of the same biological processes that initiate tanning, however in these cases the activation occurs only in isolated areas.

The browning of skin in this way is caused by a pigment called melanin, a naturally produced red-brown compound that’s biological purpose is believed to be for helping to protect skin against further damage. Therefore often areas of hyperpigmentation are provoked where skin has been subjected to oxidising stressors such as UV light and pollution.

Studies have shown that treating skin with tocotrienols prior to UV exposure prevented areas of pigmentation from forming. Other small scale studies have shown that tocotrienols may even help to reduce pigment production helping to guard against the future formation of age spots. Alongside these benefits, there is no doubt that the protective anti-oxidant activity of vitamin E also helps to avoid the oxidative processes that result in tanning and age spot generation.

Natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols provide a potent source of anti-oxidant protection when used during any step of an anti-ageing skincare routine. They can be found in cleansers, serums, moisturisers, night creams, sunscreens, body lotions and shower gels. The presence of vitamin E in any skincare product will help to defend skin against the signs of premature ageing.

While vitamin E can be used during both a morning and evening skincare routine, the antioxidants protective activity against UV light is best put to use during your morning skincare routine.

As an oil soluble vitamin with low to minimal irritancy potential, natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols provide an anti-ageing solution to all skin types – sensitive, dry and oily alike.

Do not start your daily skin care routine without (at least) vitamin E.

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