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This is the fifth of a seven-part series, where we invite skin and beauty experts to explain the intricacies of the vitamins found in our skincare products

While not as hyped as other vitamins like vitamin A and C, vitamin E is a common ingredient that we often see in skincare products like hand lotions and moisturising creams. But despite its long history in topical skincare, its properties and efficacy as a skincare ingredient are not widely known. Does this antioxidant offer the same level of anti-ageing benefits as vitamin A and C on its own? Or is it best used to complement other active ingredients? We speak to Dr Teo Wan Lin of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre and Pauline Ng of Porcelain to find out more.

What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found naturally in plant products like wheat germ, sunflower and safflower oils, or nuts and seeds. There are a total of eight types of vitamin E, and alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol are the most common forms of the vitamin that are also naturally found in human skin.

What does Vitamin E do for our skin?

“The basic function of vitamin E is that of being antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. For example, when one sustains a sunburn on the skin, the presence of gamma-tocopherol essentially blocks the production of inflammatory chemicals like prostaglandins which exacerbate and worsen the sunburn reaction. In a sense, it offers the skin tissue protection from oxidative stress,” says Dr Teo Wan Lin, founder and medical director of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre.

“It is very common to find topical vitamin E in cosmetic preparations. The general consensus is that it does function as an antioxidant, and so it can also be used as a preservative in skincare to increase the shelf life of a product.”

However, the dermatologist shares that the efficacy of vitamin E as topical skincare is not well-supported in terms of medical data.

“We do know that it has a role to play in protecting the skin, but results from studies on the usage of topical vitamin E for the treatment of burns and scars have been non-conclusive,” she notes.

Who should use it and who shouldn’t?

Due to its moisturising and antioxidant properties, anyone with dry skin or looking to target signs of photo-ageing may benefit from this ingredient.

But while vitamin E is generally well-tolerated, Pauline Ng, founder and managing director of Porcelain warns that it may not be for everyone.

“As with all ingredients, a patch test is always recommended, especially for sensitive skin,” she advises.

“In the form of vitamin E oil, it is also not recommended for oily and acne-prone skin that is susceptible to clogged pores.”

What is the best way to use Vitamin E?

“Right now, most topical products containing vitamin E that have been studied incorporate it into a formula that includes other antioxidants as well, so I think it is best to use it in a correctly formulated product,” Dr Teo recommends.

The dermatologist’s cosmeceutical LipSerum Stick features vitamin E in its edible formula, which also features purified salmon roe DNA and phytoceramides derived from plant seed oils.

Porcelain’s Soothe Deep Hydrating Lotion also features vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate).

“It is formulated with a concoction of natural jojoba seed, rose oil and sodium hyaluronate to deeply hydrate the skin and improve its natural resilience and can be used as a lotion after daily cleansing or throughout the day as a skin protector,” Pauline shares.

Another powerful antioxidant that vitamin E pairs well with is vitamin C, which works on the surface to brighten dull complexions, reduce signs of ageing, and protect the skin from environmental aggressors.

Are there any side effects to Vitamin E?

While rare, Pauline notes that vitamin E has been known to trigger allergic reactions like contact dermatitis—a red, itchy rash—so a patch test is always recommended.

“For any skincare product in general, you should do a patch test on your inner arm first. If you do not have any redness or swelling in the next four to six hours, then you should be ok,” adds Dr Teo.

Read more from The ABCs of Beauty: Vitamin A | Vitamin B | Vitamin C | Vitamin D