Vitamin E and Photoprotection – How does it help?


Vitamin E and Photoprotection Hero

Amidst constant innovation and ever-expanding skincare options, vitamin E has stood the test of time. Over the past 50 years the benefits of Vitamin E have been well documented in multiple areas of skin health, from scar tissue repair to photoaging to free radical control.

 This article will explore how vitamin E helps us, how we get it into our bodies and how to ensure you optimize it in your skincare routine. As always if you have any questions about this information or our products feel free to contact us directly at or by phone at 1(866) 774-8377

Vitamin E - What it does

Much of the best research surrounding this molecule has been conducted on its properties as a powerful antioxidant. Numerous studies have demonstrated that vitamin E is the most important antioxidant present in human skin. Vitamin E is a crucial part of our natural defence system against free-radical cell damage from environmental factors like UV exposure. It protects our skin from processes within our own bodies like inflammation.

The photoprotector

The largest body of scientific evidence in support of topical vitamin E is for its role as a photoprotector. Photoprotection is our body’s protective mechanism against molecular damage caused by the suns harmful rays. This works in a different way than sunscreen which provides protection through the reflection or diffusion of UV radiation before it can damage the skin.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that topical vitamin E application prior to UV exposure has multiple skin healing benefits. These can be classified into immediate, and long term effects:

Immediate benefits of Vitamin E Photoprotection

  • Reduction in UV induced physical responses to the sun such as redness, swelling, and sunburn cell formation (Darr et al., 1996; Lin et al., 2003; Ritter et al., 1997),
  • Decrease in cell peroxidation. Peroxidation is the process by which free radicals "steal" electrons from cell membranes, resulting in cell damage. The presence of vitamin E reduces peroxidation and in turn, minimizes cell damage to the skin following UV exposure.  (Khettab et al, 1988; Lopez-Torres et al, 1998; Yuen and Halliday, 1997).
  • Antioxidant supplementation with vitamin E as well as synergistically active co- antioxidants, such as vitamin C, enhance the effectiveness of sunscreens.

Long-term benefits of Vitamin E Photoprotection

  • Visibly lessened signs of photoaging. Wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation (aka sun spots) caused by UVA induced DNA damage have shown to significantly improve with the regular topical application of vitamin E. (Bissett et al., 1990, 1992, 1989; Jurkiewicz et al, 1995; Burke et al, 2000; Gensler and Magda- leno, 1991).
  • Reduced frequency of UV induced skin tumor incidences (Bissett et al, 1990, 1992, 1989; Burke et al, 2000; Gensler and Magda- leno, 1991).

How we get Vitamin E

While some anti-oxidants are naturally synthesized by the human body, levels of vitamin E in the skin depend on oral intake from vegetables, vegetable oils, and nuts; or topical delivery. A 2004 study analyzing dietary data from almost 10,000 individuals suggests that the majority of men and women in the United States fail to meet the current recommendations for vitamin E intake (Maras et al., 2004).

Despite its power as a photoprotector, vitamin E molecules become inactive after prolonged sun exposure. This process can deplete bio-available vitamin E levels in the skin by 50% (Thiele et al., 1998a). Reduction in bio-available Vitamin E means less anti-oxidant power in the skin which can lead to the first stages of photoaging.

What to look for

Recent advances in molecular analysis have led to the development of tools which help to better define relevant dose–response curves of antioxidants such as vitamin E.

Using this approach, clinicians have determined that topical application of vitamin E in concentrations of less than 0.2% can lead to significantly increased levels of vitamin E in the skin which protects against the cell damage that causes visible signs of aging (Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage et al., 2005). Therefore, topical formulations containing vitamin E at concentrations ranging from 0.1% to 1% are likely to be effective skin care measures to enhance antioxidant protection of the skin barrier. According to the antioxidant network theory, skin care formulations which combine vitamin E with other antioxidants such as vitamin C may help to enhance antioxidant effects and the stability of vitamin E (Kowald & Kirkwood 1996).


Clinical research in the last decade has revealed significant evidence for vitamin E as a powerful photoprotector. Topical application of vitamin E before sun exposure can have considerable benefits both in terms of mitigating immediate UV-induced cell damage and also preventing long-term photoaging effects. It is not a replacement for sun protection and should be used in conjunction the application of a broad spectrum SPF and avoidance of the sun whenever possible. 

Riversol and Vitamin E

This resource was published as an unbiased review of the benefits of topical vitamin E application.  Integrated into all of Riversol products is the most stable, bioavailable Phosphate-form vitamin E available. Please feel free to browse the catalogue here.  

Get a 15-Day Riversol Sample


Altavilla, D., Saitta, A., Cucinotta, D., Galeano, M., Deodato, B., Colonna, M., Torre, V., Russo, G., Sardella, A., Urna, G., Campo, G.M., Cavallari, V., Squadrito, G., Squadrito, F., 2001. Inhibition of J.J. Thiele, S. Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage / Molecular Aspects of Medicine 28 (2007) 646–667

Baumann, L.S., Spencer, J., 1999. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatol. Surg. 25, 311–315.

Bissett, D.L., Hillebrand, G.G., Hannon, D.P., 1989. The hairless mouse as a model of skin photoaging: its use to evaluate photoprotective materials. Photodermatology 6, 228–233.

Bissett, D.L., Chatterjee, R., Hannon, D.P., 1990. Photoprotective effect of superoxide-scavenging antioxidants against ultraviolet radiation-induced chronic skin damage in the hairless mouse. Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 7, 56–62.

Bissett, D.L., Chatterjee, R., Hannon, D.P., 1992. Protective effect of a topically applied anti-oxidant plus an anti-inflammatory agent against ultraviolet radiation-induced chronic skin damage in the hairless mouse. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 43, 85–92.

Burke, K.E., Clive, J., Combs Jr., G.F., Commisso, J., Keen, C.L., RM, N., 2000. Effects of topical and oral vitamin E on pigmentation and skin cancer induced by ultraviolet irradiation in Skh: 2 hairless mice. Nutr. Cancer 38, 87–97.

Galeano, M., Torre, V., Deodato, B., Campo, G.M., Colonna, M., Sturiale, A., Squadrito, F., Cavallari, V., Cucinotta, D., Buemi, M., Altavilla, D., 2001. Raxofelast, a hydrophilic vitamin E-like antioxidant,  stimulates wound healing in genetically diabetic mice. Surgery 129, 467–477.

Gensler, H.L., Magdaleno, M., 1991. Topical vitamin E inhibition of immunosuppression and tumorigenesis induced by ultraviolet radiation. Nutr. Cancer 15, 97–106.

Fuchs, J., 1992. Oxidative Injury in Dermatopathology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, 360 pp.

Jenkins, M., Alexander, J.W., MacMillan, B.G., Waymack, J.P., Kopcha, R., 1986. Failure of topical steroids and vitamin E to reduce postoperative scar formation following reconstructive surgery. J. Burn Care Rehabil. 7, 309–312.

Jurkiewicz, B.A., Bissett, D.L., Buettner, G.R., 1995. Effect of topically applied tocopherol on ultraviolet radiation-mediated free radical damage in skin. J. Invest. Dermatol. 104, 484–488.

Kowald, A. Kirkwood, TBL. (1996) A network theory of ageing: the interactions of defective mitochondria, aberrant proteins, free radicals and scavengers in the ageing process Mutation Research / DNAging 316(5-6): 209-236

Maras, J.E., Bermudez, O.I., Qiao, N., Bakun, P.J., Boody-Alter, E.L., Tucker, K.L., 2004. Intake of a- tocopherol is limited among US adults. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 104, 567–575.

Pehr, K., Forsey, R.R., 1993. Why don’t we use vitamin E in dermatology? Can. Med. Assoc. J. 149, 1247– 1253.

Thiele, J.J., Traber, M.G., Packer, L., 1998a. Depletion of human stratum corneum vitamin E: an early and sensitive in vivo marker of UV induced photo-oxidation. J. Invest. Dermatol. 110, 756–761.

Tsoureli-Nikita, E., Hercogova, J., Lotti, T., Menchini, G., 2002. Evaluation of dietary intake of vitamin E in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a study of the clinical course and evaluation of the immunoglobulin E serum levels. Int. J. Dermatol. 41, 146–150.

Woolery-Lloyd J, Baumann L, Ideno H. 2010 sodium L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate 5% lotion for
the treatment of acne vulgaris: A randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. J Cosmet
Dermatol; 9(1): 22–27.