Topical vitamins get plenty of praise from skin care enthusiasts, but there’s an important one that’s often left out of the spotlight: vitamin E. You may have heard that vitamin A (a.k.a. retinol) is the gold standard for smoothing fine lines and increasing elasticity, that vitamin B3 (in the form of niacinamide) can reduce inflammation and improve acne, and that vitamin C is a go-to for targeting hyperpigmentation.1 2 3 But the (alphabetical) list goes on to vitamin E, which deserves a little more attention.
There are quite a few benefits of vitamin E that your skin might appreciate, and the good news is that most people get enough of it from their diet, Susan Chon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, tells SELF. However, a little topical vitamin E (say, in the form of a silky serum or a rich moisturizer) can also give your complexion a boost.
SELF asked dermatologists to break down the biggest benefits of vitamin E for your skin and how you can incorporate it into your daily routine—which might serve you well in the chillier months ahead.
What is vitamin E and how does it do its thing?
Vitamin C is well known as one of the best antioxidants for skin, but vitamin E belongs in that group too. There are a few different types of vitamin E, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, but the form that’s most useful to your body is alpha-tocopherol, which you can naturally find in a bunch of different foods, including olive oil, peanuts, almonds, spinach, avocados, pumpkin, red bell pepper, asparagus, and mangoes. (For that reason, a vitamin E deficiency is rare in the US.)
When experts say that vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body, that means it fights cell-damaging particles (called free radicals) that are known to contribute to a variety of health issues, including autoimmune diseases, asthma, eczema, heart disease, and cancer.4 Those, uh, radical moves apply to the skin too, and they can specifically help protect cells from ultraviolet (UV) light damage (like that sunburn you accidentally got when you took a nap on the beach) and skin cancer.5
So what are the biggest benefits of vitamin E for skin health?
It wards off sun damage.
When it comes to that UV protection we just mentioned, the role of vitamin E is both preventative and reactive. Its antioxidant properties can minimize free radical damage from the sun’s rays, Dr. Chon explains.6 (Quick science lesson: If you get too much UV light exposure without enough sunscreen or protective clothing, that radiation harms the DNA of your skin cells.) On top of that, vitamin E may help decrease any UV damage by “mopping up” the free radicals that hurt the cells’ DNA, as Dr. Chon puts it. And it can also limit common aftereffects of sun exposure, including redness and tenderness caused by inflammation. On that note…
It can reduce inflammation—and potentially help with wound healing.
Since vitamin E attacks those pesky free radicals, it can also be anti-inflammatory, Rachel Westbay, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. Along with soothing and repairing sun-damaged skin, there’s also some evidence that vitamin E can be useful for healing serious wounds—including burns, which are also partially caused by inflammation from free radicals.7 It’s often combined with vitamin C and zinc in those cases, to protect against oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body) and speed up the healing process, Dr. Westbay explains.8 9 That said, there’s not enough research on topical vitamin E for minor everyday injuries (like when you cut your leg shaving in the shower), she adds.
It can moisturize dry skin and create a smoother complexion.
There’s a good reason why vitamin E is a regular contributor to thick moisturizers and hydrating body oils: It can easily be absorbed into the top layers of the skin, allowing it to strengthen the stratum corneum (the outermost layer) and draw in moisture, says Dr. Chon. (A weakened skin barrier isn’t great at holding onto water, as SELF previously reported.) That’s why topical vitamin E can help with dryness and inflammatory skin conditions that involve a compromised barrier, including eczema and psoriasis.10 (Vitamin E alone isn’t strong enough to treat moderate to severe eczema or psoriasis though—if you’re dealing with those conditions, you’ll often need additional prescription-strength treatments from a dermatologist, Dr. Chon notes.)