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Vitamin E and Oily Skin: Is There a Benefit?

Hyperserborrhea, or the overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands, is visually characterized by shiny skin and enlarged pores. Managing this skin type can be quite challenging as it requires finding a balance in one's skincare routine by incorporating astringent and purifying products without neglecting hydration. Is Vitamin E, found in many cosmetics, suitable for oily skin? Learn more.

Summary
Published April 16, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read

Vitamin E and Sebum: A Protective Antioxidant Effect.

The vitamin E refers to a group of eight fat-soluble molecules, meaning they are soluble in fats: 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. Classified as essential, it is not synthesized by the body but is provided by the diet, mainly in the form of α-tocopherol. Vitamin E plays a major role in individual health and is particularly involved in reducing cardiovascular risk by acting on cholesterol levels. Considered a marker of acne severity, it is also found in sebum, where it protects its composition. In adults, sebum is composed on average of 57.5% triglycerides, 26% wax esters, 12% squalene, 3% cholesterol esters, and 1.5% cholesterol.

Beyond abnormally high levels of androgens (testosterone and 5-alpha dihydroxytestosterone) that stimulate the activity of the sebaceous glands, hyperseborrhea can result from a deficiency of vitamin E in the sebum. Indeed, this antioxidant plays a protective role for squalene, one of the first lipids in the skin affected by oxidative stress and free radicals. These are capable of reacting with squalene and oxidizing it into squalene peroxide, a comedogenic compound. Studies in vitro have also shown that it triggers the release of inflammatory mediators. Thanks to its chemical structure, vitamin E can inhibit lipid peroxidation by donating a hydrogen, which stabilizes free radicals. It then becomes a free radical itself but is relatively stable due to its aromatic character, provided by its double bonds.

Furthermore, a study conducted with 100 volunteers demonstrated that exposing sebum to UV radiation equivalent to 4 times the minimal erythema dose (MED) reduced the quantity of vitamin E by 84.2%, that of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), another antioxidant found in sebum, by 70%, and only that of squalene by 13%. The same UV dose applied in the absence of vitamin E and CoQ10 resulted in a 90% decrease in the quantity of squalene. For reference, the MED is the smallest amount of light capable of causing a sunburn at the site of exposure 24 hours later.

Vitamin E thus plays a crucial protective role for the sebum, inhibiting the peroxidation of its lipid compounds and preventing their comedogenicity.

External intake of Vitamin E: Is it beneficial for oily skin?

The antioxidant properties of vitamin E allow it to be truly effective for individuals with oily skin. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, hyperseborrhea can be linked to a deficiency of vitamin E in the sebum. The topical application of cosmetics containing this active ingredient could thus help combat skin issues related to oily skin, although more research on this topic would be beneficial. It's worth noting that due to its fat-soluble nature, vitamin E can only be incorporated into oily formulations or emulsions.

While vitamin E found in topical treatments provides several benefits to the skin, especially for oily skin, it is through oral intake that it is most effective. Some studies mention its antioxidant action on the skin and its cosmetic virtues after 8 to 12 weeks of daily intake, for doses ranging between 100 and 300 mg. In addition to being included in many dietary supplements, vitamin E is found in numerous vegetable oils (peanut oil, olive oil, canola oil, corn oil...) and in cereals. Oilseeds such as walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds as well as certain fatty fish also prove to be interesting sources of vitamin E.

Please note : Vitamin E is not a sebostatic molecule, meaning it does not reduce sebum production. It simply protects its compounds from oxidation, which could potentially make them inflammatory and comedogenic.

Sources

  • PACKER L. & al. Sebaceous gland secretion is a major physiological pathway for delivering vitamin E to the skin. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology (1999).

  • LITTARRU G. & al. Lipophilic antioxidants in human sebum and aging. Free radical research (2002).

  • SAKUMA T. & MAIBACH H. Oily Skin: An Overview. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (2011).

  • ENDLY D. & MILLER R. Oily Skin: A Review of Treatment Options. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (2017).

  • ERKEKOGLU P., SANTOS S. & BLUMENBERG M. Vitamin E in Health and Disease: Interactions, Diseases and Health Aspects. Biochemistry (2021).

  • Mohammed GUIGA's Thesis. Vitamin E: Metabolism, Physiological Role: Benefits and Risks of Supplementation (2021).

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