Vitamin E is extremely versatile. Its healing and strong antioxidant activities make it a popular ingredient in many cosmetic products available on the market today such as soaps, bath products, cleansers, moisturizers, creams, lotions, hair conditioners, shampoos, sunscreens and suntan products, lip balms, lipstick, eye shadow, blushers, foundations, face powders and others. The name vitamin E refers to a group of eight fat-soluble compounds, four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Tocopherols and tocotrienols are a series of naturally occurring organic compounds. They are all similarly structured and all feature a chromanol ring, with a hydroxyl group that can donate a hydrogen atom (to stabilize free radicals). This is attached to a hydrophobic side chain that allows the penetration into biological membranes. There is a difference between them; tocopherols have a long saturated side chain with no double bonds, while tocotrienols have a shorter unsaturated side chain with three double bonds on its tail. Hence tocopherols have a much lower anti-oxidative capacity then tocotrienols, which given their unique structure are able to perform various functions with greater efficiency. The main chemical function of vitamin E is to be a fat-soluble antioxidant that stops the production of chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen, formed when fat undergoes oxidation. Let’s take a scientific look at how antioxidants, in general, work. How do they actually work and do what they do to prevent free radicals from attacking and damaging skin, body and organ cells? To better understand the matter let us refresh our memories with a little high school chemistry lesson. The human body is composed of a plethora of different cells, which are composed of many different types of molecules. The molecules consist of two or more atoms of one or more elements, joined together with chemical bonds. As you might recall from your high school days, atoms consist of a nucleus (the core, which contains positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons). They also consist of negatively charged electrons that circulate, or better said, orbit the nucleus in one or more orbits/shells and form a cloud of negative electric charges that circulates around the positively charged nucleus. They are bound to one another by the electromagnetic force (+ and â€“ attract). An atom or a molecule is stable and electrically neutral when the number of protons equals the number of electrons. When the number of electrons is uneven, the atom or molecule (ion) is searching for another atom or molecule to which it will donate an electron (if it’s negatively charged) or accept an electron (if it’s positively charged). Or, it will continue searching for another atom or molecule to bond with by sharing its electrons to regain the neutral charge and reach the state of maximum stability. Free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions with an uneven number of electrons, which are formed when a weak bond splits. They are very unstable and react quickly with other compounds, trying to capture the required electron to regain stability. In general they attack the nearest stable molecule and “steal” its electron, and the molecule that lost the electron now becomes a free radical itself, stealing an electron from the next stable molecule around it. This triggers a chain reaction that once started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption or death of living cells. This can lead to the formation of tumors and the creation of carcinogenic cells. Some of these free radicals are created naturally during metabolism. Sometimes the immune system purposely creates them to neutralize harmful viruses and bacteria. However other factors such as pollution, radiation, UV ray exposure, herbicides, unhealthy lifestyle, cigarette smoke and excess alcohol consumption also provoke oxidation in our skin and organs which leads to the formation of free radicals. Normally the body and the immune system are able to handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable, or if radicals are being spawned excessively, severe damage can occur when they penetrate through the cell membrane and react with important cellular components such as our genetic scripture - DNA. The important thing here is that free radical damage accumulates with age and hence it should be of big importance for individuals that value their health and wellbeing to educate themselves on the matter and start being cautious and wary of what they put on their skin, and what food they consume, in order to prevent problems like this from happening. On the other hand, antioxidants by definition are compounds or molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is the reaction in which an atom or molecule loses an electron to an oxidizing agent (UV rays, pollution, smoke, alcohol) and as a consequence, is left out of balance. The compounds that lost electrons due to oxidation become free radicals. Antioxidants are substances that can safely interact with free radicals and they possess an extra electron, which they will donate to the free radicals in order to neutralize them and stop their destructive chain of “electron heists”. This is why antioxidants are intimately involved in the prevention of cellular damage and they are the body’s first line of defense against aging, preventing tumors and cancer, heart disease, high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and a wide variety of other diseases. Although the body’s own enzyme systems produce antioxidants, the strongest ones for fighting free radicals are the ones our bodies can not produce on their own. We have to obtain them from other sources like a healthy diet, nutritional supplements or cosmetic products that are actually beneficial for the consumer and contain antioxidants to protect your skin. The strongest and most powerful antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C.
American anatomists and embryologists Herbert Evans and Katherine Scott Bishop discovered vitamin E in 1922 as an unidentified factor found in vegetable oil that was proven to increase fertility in female rats. First named “factor x” and the “antisterility factor” it was later renamed to vitamin E in 1924, when Evans suggested they adopt the letter E to follow the last recognized vitamin at the time, vitamin D. Its scientific name tocopherol was given due to the discovery of its aid in animal offspring. It derives from the Greek words tokos-childbirth and phero-to bring forth, the -ol ending was added to indicate the alcohol-like properties of its molecule. For the next decade research on the matter was slow because an abundant source of vitamin E was yet to be discovered. In 1936 Evans and his coworkers successfully isolated alpha-tocopherol in its pure form, from wheat germ oil. Two years later Erhard Fernholz discovered the structural formula of the vitamin E molecule, and with his help, it was Nobel laureate Paul Karrer who successfully synthesized the formula. This led to further research on the topic that provided many new discoveries. After peroxides were found in the fat tissue of test animals with vitamin E deficient diets it was discovered that vitamin E had antioxidant capabilities. In 1962 it was found that vitamin E’s antioxidative properties protect cell lipids from free radicals. In 1968, the US National Research Council’s Food and Nutrition Board had recognized vitamin E as an essential nutrient for humans. Later, in the 1980s and â€˜90s, a new investigation linked it to the possible prevention of the growth of carcinogenic cells in the skin tissue (linked to the prevention of oxidation and stabilization of free radicals). It was also linked to the effectiveness of inhibiting LDL cholesterol oxidation. More recent tests conducted on lab rats in 2004 also demonstrated that vitamin E regulates gene expression in the liver and testes.
ANTI AGING: Vitamin E has amazing anti-aging effects on the skin. Signs of premature skin aging are caused by poor skin care habits, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. Poor diet, UV ray exposure and other factors that add to the damage. These signs could be averted with the regular use of vitamin E either in your diet or by applying it directly on the skin through creams, lotions or even in its pure form. Topical application of vitamin E promotes the production of two proteins that are essential for the skin, collagen and elastin. They improve skin elasticity and have rejuvenating effects that, over time, work towards reducing the visible appearance of age spots, fine lines and wrinkles. They provide your skin with a younger and healthier look. The antioxidant properties of vitamin E and its ability to neutralize free radicals and fight their damaging effects help to minimize the chances of new wrinkles and age spots appearing on the skin. This is why vitamin E is often a key ingredient in anti-aging creams and lotions. DRY SKIN: Vitamin E helps the skin to retain its natural moisture and prevents it from losing additional water. It helps moisturize dull and dry skin so that it appears healthy-looking. Used on a regular basis it can also restore the normal balance of oil in the skin. SCARS, STRETCH MARKS & SUNBURNS: When vitamin E is applied on damaged parts of the skin it first softens up the skin of the affected area. Then it speeds up the process of regeneration of damaged skin cells and increases the growth of new skin cells in the area. Its ability to produce collagen and elastin also come handy here because they help restore the damaged skin’s natural elastic properties. That is why vitamin E is recommended and highly effective in reducing scars and stretch marks. It’s also recommended for women during pregnancy as it may prevent the formation of stretch marks in the first place. Vitamin E is also popular for treating minor sunburns. When applied topically it gets readily absorbed into the skin, providing a soothing relief and healing properties against damage caused by UV radiation. It is also used to provide protection from the sun and is often added to sunscreen lotions of various brands to improve their products quality. SKIN DISEASES: Vitamin E is effective in the prevention of skin cancer, due to its ability to neutralize free radicals, which are often the cause for the formation of tumors and carcinogenic cells. Scientific studies published in April 2008 edition of “Chemico-Biological Interactions” showed the inhibited formation of tumors, and cancer preventive actions in mice that were being applied topically with vitamin E. Other than the prevention of skin cancer, vitamin E can also be used to treat a number of skin conditions. It relieves the itchiness of dry skin and it leaves it well moisturized. Tests have shown its effectiveness in treating Psoriasis, (patients with Psoriasis suffer from dry and scaly skin, with red patches appearing on it). The moisturizing and skin repairing qualities bring relief and improvement to such conditions. Vitamin E has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that are useful for treating eczema along with other conditions that cause skin inflammation, itchy and dry skin.