Skip to main content

Vitamin E chemistry, biological activity and benefits on the skin

  • Chapter

Part of the Human Health Handbooks no. 1 book series (HHH,volume 2)


Vitamin E is the most important fat-soluble antioxidant especially applied in the animal nutrition. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects on the skin it is contained in many cosmetic products. In fact, if topically applied, vitamin E deactives unstable free radicals providing one of its electrons to the electron deficient free radical making it more stable. As a result, it protects the skin from deleterious effects due to its exposure to exogenous toxic agents such as pollulants, chemicals and sun rays, preventing the propagation of free-radicals. Although, mainly acting as an antioxidant, vitamin E can also exert a pro-oxidant activity. Vitamin E also regulates the functions of vitamin A in the body. This is fundamental because vitamin A itself is a dominant vitamin for skin care.


  • tocopherol
  • tocotrienol
  • antioxidant
  • fatty acid
  • pro-oxidation
  • health care

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.3920/978-90-8686-729-5_9
  • Chapter length: 20 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   179.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-90-8686-729-5
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Figure 9.1
Figure 9.2
Figure 9.3
Figure 9.4
Figure 9.5
Figure 9.6
Figure 9.7
Figure 9.8
Figure 9.9
Figure 9.10



Protonic nuclear magnetic resonance


Carbon nuclear magnetic resonance


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry


International unit


Low-density lipoprotein


Protein kinase C


Polyunsaturated fatty acid


Recommended daily allowance


Reactive oxygen species




  • Baumann, L.S. and Spencer, J., 1999. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatologic Surgery 25, 311–315.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Berneburg, M., Grether-Beck, S., Kürten, V., Ruzicka, T., Briviba, K., Sies, H. and Krutmann, J., 1999. Singlet oxygen mediates the UVA-induced generation of the photoaging-associated mitochondrial common deletion Journal of Biological Chemistry 274, 15345–15349.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Booth, S.L., Golly, I., Sacheck, J.M., Roubenoff, R., Dallal, G.E., Hamada, K. and Blumberg, J.B., 2004. Effect of vitamin E supplementation on vitamin K status in adults with normal coagulation status. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 143–148.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bowry, V.W., Ingold, K.U. and Stocker, R., 1992. Vitamin E in human low-density lipoprotein. When and how this antioxidant becomes a pro-oxidant. Biochemical Journal 288, 341–344.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brigelius-Flohe, R. and Traber, M.G., 1999. Vitamin E: function and metabolism. Faseb Journal 13, 1145–1155.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brodkin, R.H. and Bleiberg, J., 1965. Sensitivity to topically applied vitamin E. Arcives of Dermatology 92, 76–77.

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Burton, G.W. and Ingold, K.U., 1981. Autoxidation of biological molecules. 1. Antioxidant activity of vitamin E and related chain-breaking phenolic antioxidants in vitro. Journal of American Chemical Society 103, 6472–6477.

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Flader, D., Brandsch, C., Hirche, F. and Eder, K., 2003. Effects of megadoses of dietary vitamin E on the antioxidant status of rats fed lard or salmon oil. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 73, 275–283.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ingold, K.U., Bowry, V.W., Stocker, R. and Walling, C., 1993. Autoxidation of lipids and antioxidation by alphatocopherol and ubiquinol in homogeneous solution and in aqueous dispersions of lipids: unrecognized consequences of lipid particle size as exemplified by oxidation of human low density lipoprotein. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 90, pp. 45–49.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Jiang, Q., Christen, S., Shigenaga, M.K. and Ames, B.N., 2001. γ-Tocopherol, the major form of vitamin E in the US diet, deserves more attention. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74, 714–722.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kontush, A., Finckh, B., Karten, B., Kohlschutter, A. and Beisiegel, U., 1996. Antioxidant and prooxidant activity of alpha-tocopherol in human plasma and low density lipoprotein. Journal of Lipid Research 37, 1436–1448.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kuriyama, K., Shimizu, T., Horiguchi, T., Watabe, M. and Abe, Y., 2002. Vitamin E ointment at high dose levels suppresses contact dermatitis in rats by stabilizing keratinocytes. Inflammation Research 51, 483–489.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lademann, J. (ed.), 2010. Skin Pharmacology Physiology 23, 1–335.

    Google Scholar 

  • Longe J. (ed.), 2004. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition. Gale Group Publishing, Detroit, MI, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malafa, M.P., Fokum, F.D., Mowlavi, A., Abusief, M. and King, M., 2002a. Vitamin E inhibits melanoma growth in mice. Surgery 131, 85–91.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Malafa, M.P., Fokum, F.D., Smith, L. and Louis, A., 2002b. Inhibition of angiogenesis and promotion of melanoma dormancy by vitamin E succinate. Annals of Surgical Oncology 9, 1023–1032.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Manzano, D., Aguirre, A., Gardeazabal, J., Eizaguirre, X. and Diaz Perez, J.L., 1994. Allergic contact dermatitis from tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E) and retinol palmitate (vitamin A) in a moisturizing cream. Contact Dermatitis 31, 324.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Meagher, E.A., Barry, O.P., Lawson, J.A., Rokach, J. and FitzGerald, G.A., 2001. Effects of vitamin E on lipid peroxidation in healthy persons. Journal of the American Medical Association 285, 1178–1182.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Mukai, K., Itoh, S. and Morimoto, H., 1992. Stopped-flow kinetic study of vitamin E regeneration reaction with biological hydroquinones (reduced forms of ubiquinone, vitamin K, and tocopherolquinone) in solution. Journal of Biological Chemistry 267, 22277–22281.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Neuzil, J., Tomasetti, M., Zhao, Y., Dong, L.F., Birringer, M., Wang, X.F., Low, P., Wu, K., Salvatore, B.A. and Ralph, S.J., 2007. Vitamin E analogs, a novel group of mitocans as anticancer agents: the importance of being redox-silent. Molecular Pharmacology 71, 1185–1199.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Packer, L., Weber, S.U. and Rimbach, G., 2001. Molecular aspects of alpha-tocotrienol antioxidant action and cell signaling. Journal of Nutrition 131, 369S-373S.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Perrenoud, D., Homberger, H.P., Auderset, P.C., Emmenegger, R., Frenk, E., Saurt, J.H. and Hauser, C., 1994. An epidemic outbreak of papular and follicular contact dermatitis to tocopheryl linoleate in cosmetics. Dermatology (Basel) 189, 225–233.

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Porter, N.A., Caldwell, S.E. and Mills, K.A., 1995. Mechanisms of free radical oxidation of unsaturated lipids. Lipids 30, 277–290.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Sander, C.S., Chang, H., Salzmann, S. and Muller, C.S., Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, S., Elsner, P. and Thiele, J.J., 2002. Photoaging is associated with protein oxidation in human skin in vivo. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 118, 618–625.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Shi, H., Noguchi, N. and Niki, E., 1999. Comparative study on dynamics of antioxidative action of α-tocopheryl hydroquinone, ubiquinol, and α-tocopherol against lipid peroxidation. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 27, 334–346.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Thiele, J.J., Weber, S.U. and Packer, L., 1999. Sebaceous gland secretion is a major physiologic route of vitamin E delivery to skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 113, 1006–1010.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Thiele, J.J., Schroeter, C., Hsieh, S.N., Podda, M. and Packer, L., 2001. The antioxidant network of the stratum corneum. Current Problems in Dermatology 29, 26–42.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Weinberg, R.B., VanderWerken, B.S., Anderson, R.A., Stegner, J.E. and Thomas, M.J., 2001. Pro-Oxidant Effect of Vitamin E in Cigarette Smokers Consuming a High Polyunsaturated Fat Diet. Arteriosclerosis. Thrombosis and Vascular Biology 21, 1029–1033.

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Wijtmans, M., Pratt, D.A., Valgimigli, L. and Di Labio, G.A., 2003. 6-Amino-3-pyridinols: towards diffusion-controlled chain-breaking antioxidants. Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English 42, 4370–4373.

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Yoshida, Y., Niki, E. and Noguchi, N., 2003. Comparative study on the action of tocopherols and tocotrienols as antioxidant: Chemical and physical effects. Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 123, 63–75.

    PubMed  CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Cassano .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2012 Wageningen Academic Publishers

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Cassano, R. (2012). Vitamin E chemistry, biological activity and benefits on the skin. In: Preedy, V.R. (eds) Handbook of diet, nutrition and the skin. Human Health Handbooks no. 1, vol 2. Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Download citation