For over 50 years, vitamin E has been regarded as the go-to vitamin for healthy skin, nails, and hair. Hair and skincare companies proudly tout it as an ingredient in their products. Since vitamin E is seemingly so good for the skin, could vitamin E cream help eczema?
Vitamin E: A Concise History
The term “vitamin” was coined by Polish American physician Casimir Funk in 1913..The micronutrients he discovered were named in alphabetical order as they were identified, beginning with A.
The Childbearing Vitamin
Herbert Evans and Katharine Bishop, medical researchers at University of California at Berkeley, discovered vitamin E in 1922 as they researched sterility and pregnancy loss in mice.
On a diet high in lard and milk, the mice had grown to a seemingly healthy adulthood. They struggled to reproduce, though, tending to be either sterile or incapable of supporting a pregnancy to full term. Bishop and Evans supplemented the mice’s diets with lettuce leaves, and the mice were able to reproduce normally and carry pregnancies to term.
They identified a compound in lettuce and some other plant-based foods that was essential for normal reproduction. They named their compound tocopherol, from a combination of Greek words tokos (pregnancy, childbirth) and phero (to carry).
Vitamin E, A Powerful Antioxidant
As time went on, it became obvious that vitamin E was essential for functions well beyond reproduction. In the 1940s, scientists discovered that vitamin E exists in several different chemical forms–eight of them, to be exact. However, only one form–alpha-tocopherol–was found to be useful for humans. Subsequent to these discoveries, they discovered that vitamin E was a powerful antioxidant with protective benefits in human cells.
By the 1980s, studies had found that deficiencies of vitamin E in mice were associated with dryness and ulceration of the skin. Its power to restore health to dry, ulcerated skin in mice was attributed to its antioxidant properties. Soon, vitamin E became known as the “beauty vitamin. It quickly became ubiquitous in cosmetic products.
A Vitamin for the Skin
Mouse studies make it abundantly clear that vitamin E is vital to the skin’s health–in mice. Does this micronutrient do anything for human skin, though?
The answer is a resounding yes. In the skin, vitamin E is found mostly in the epidermis. It offers antioxidant protection and boosts the health of the stratum corneum’s extracellular matrix, a “scaffolding” of lipids and proteins surrounding the skin cells of the stratum corneum.
The extracellular matrix is a pretty important part of your skin barrier. It acts as a sort of “mortar” between skin cells and prevents external molecules from penetrating your epidermis.
The extracellular matrix also keeps moisture in. Studies have found that skin cells treated with vitamin E for 18 days had a much lower rate of transepidermal water loss (TEWL) than controls.
Vitamin E also stimulates ceramide production, a much-needed emollient and an important part of the skin’s barrier function.
Vitamin E defends the skin from some types of UV radiation. It also reduces oxidative stress, which slows the aging process. It modulates the expression of genes related to keratinocyte production and differentiation, promoting the development of healthier skin cells that are less prone to inflammation.
Does this mean vitamin E is good for eczema?
This is the million-dollar question. So far, human studies have had a limited scope. However, most studies indicate that vitamin E has a lot to offer eczema sufferers.
In some studies, vitamin E treatment resulted in shorter healing time, as well as improvements of swelling, redness, and itch. Vitamin E appears to fight eczema flares on multiple fronts, which is important with such a complicated disorder.
We’ve already seen how it boosts the skin barrier, which is especially important for eczema sufferers. It seems to alleviate eczema symptoms in other ways, too.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) are antibodies produced in response to certain allergens. These antibodies stimulate mast cells, which release histamines and pro-inflammatory proteins. In flares of atopic dermatitis, food allergy, and allergy-induced asthma, IgE levels tend to be high.
A study conducted by Italy’s Institute of Dermosciences in 2002 tested oral vitamin E treatments on 50 adults with active eczema symptoms. Another 46 adults were given placebos. After eight months, most of those in the vitamin E group showed some measure of improvement. Several experienced complete remission of symptoms. Three months after the conclusion of the study, there were fewer reports of relapse in the vitamin E group.
Those with dramatic improvements or remission of their symptoms in the vitamin E group saw a decrease of 62% in IgE levels. In the placebo group, those whose symptoms improved saw only a 34.4% decrease.
Inhibits pro-inflammatory enzymes
Encounters with irritating or harmful substances in the environment trigger a defensive response by the immune system. Damaged tissues swell as fluid is channeled to them. Redness indicates increased blood flow at the site of the injury.
Several different molecules play a role in this response. Prostaglandins, interleukins, and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) are a few of the molecules that act in response to UV damage or exposure to pollution.
Great, right? Let the healing begin! Unfortunately, this response can become disordered. When this happens, inflammation is excessive or does not stop once the damaged tissue is safe. This is a rough outline of what happens during atopic dermatitis flares.
Numerous studies suggest that vitamin E reduces the synthesis or release of these proinflammatory molecules after UV exposure. In one study, skin cells treated with vitamin E after sunburns healed faster than untreated skin, with lowered swelling and redness after treatment.
In a 2012 mouse study, vitamin E treatment resulted in lowered levels of proinflammatory molecules in skin cells during flares.
Vitamin E, Eczema, and Gene Expression
When the skin is inflamed, keratinocyte production speeds up. The basal layer of the epidermis produces more keratinocytes; as they migrate through the layers of the epidermis, they gradually change form. This process is called differentiation.
While this would be a good thing under normal circumstances, excessive keratinocyte production can aggravate inflammation during eczema flares, as the developing keratinocytes often signal for the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. This ramped-up keratinization can also lead to thickened patches of skin. Furthermore, keratinocytes can delop improperly.
Vitamin E triggers the expression of genes responsible for normal keratinocyte differentiation. This prevents abnormal keratinization, which is associated with heightened inflammation and worsening symptoms.
Back to antioxidants!
Oxidative stress appears to play a role in atopic dermatitis; it may also play a role in other kinds of eczema. While we don’t know exactly how oxidative stress might influence eczema, we do know that it contributes to chronic inflammation generally. Vitamin E’s potent antioxidant properties interrupt oxidative processes. This amazing micronutrient fights inflammation in so many different ways!
Nothing is perfect…
Vitamin E supplementation sounds like a no-brainer for eczema sufferers, right? Sadly, even this amazing, multifaceted vitamin has its limitations. For one thing, some researchers dispute the data produced by vitamin E studies. While most studies appear to at least show promise, other studies suggest that vitamin E’s benefits are negligible.
Additionally, this hard-working compound causes contact dermatitis for a few unlucky souls. In some paradoxical cases, it can also increase oxidation!
While vitamin E does provide some protection from UVB radiation, it isn’t effective against UVA. Also, exposure to UV light or ozone lowers levels of vitamin E in the skin.
Furthermore, not all forms of vitamin E are stable. Some degrade faster than others. While products containing vitamin E can be formulated to be more stable, it’s hard for consumers to know whether a product has a more stable formulation.
Is vitamin E cream good for eczema?
The best results in studies have come from oral supplements. Topical creams have been less effective, with some studies showing moderate benefits and others showing none. Vitamin E degrades faster on the skin, so many of its benefits are lost shortly after application.
Vitamin E can be stabilized, though. Ferulic acid, an antioxidant found in plants, both improves chemical stability of vitamin E (and C!) and doubles the levels of UV protection it offers.
Is Vitamin E Supplementation Right for You?
Most research suggests that vitamin E supplementation at a dose of 400 IU daily is both safe and effective for managing eczema. However, excessive vitamin E can be harmful and can even exacerbate symptoms.
It’s important to use high-quality supplements from a distributor who takes care to ensure the stability of the vitamin. Vitamin E is degraded by exposure to light and air, and packaging should take this into account.
If you choose a topical application, make sure that the formulation is stable. Allow your skin to absorb the cream before going outside. All supplements and creams should be stored away from light.
Be wary of contact dermatitis, a rare adverse effect of topical vitamin E for some people.
Vitamin E Isn’t a Panacea
Vitamin E supplementation may be beneficial, but it isn’t a cure-all for the skin. Regardless of supplementation, preventing eczema flares demands good, consistent skincare and regular moisturization. In fact, moisturization is one of the most important facets of skincare.
Dr.Steve Harlan understands the importance of moisturizing. As a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Harlan has years of experience in treating eczema. He stresses the necessity of moisturizing to his eczema patients. This is why he formulated HarlanMD Perfect Repair™ moisturizing cream.
Perfect Repair™ incorporates a prebiotic strategy for reducing harmful bacteria and yeast in the skin. It’s loaded with natural ceramides, and it contains fragrance-free coconut oil for its powerful healing benefits. It can help you get the maximum benefits from vitamin E if you choose to supplement.
When eczema flares…
Eczema flares can happen even with the best supplements and skincare. When it does, it’s important to respond quickly to dampen inflammation and accelerate healing. This is where SmartLotionⓇ comes in.
Like Perfect Repair,™ SmartLotionⓇ was created by Dr. Harlan to meet the needs of patients with chronic inflammatory skin conditions. It too features a prebiotic formula to help the skin barrier repair itself.
Since SmartLotionⓇ promotes the overall health of the skin barrier, can effectively use a smaller dose of hydrocortisone (0.75%) to treat inflammation without the risk of topical steroid withdrawal or skin atrophy. When used with a dermatologist’s supervision, it can even be used long-term. This is important when treating chronic conditions like eczema.
Best Practices for Healthy Skin
We all want healthy, radiant skin. Our skin is our largest organ, after all, and it’s the primary way we interact with the outer world. Good skincare and diet are important parts of maintaining your skin’s health.
Vitamin E and other antioxidants can be found in vegetables such as lettuce, as well as nuts and whole grains. At safe doses, supplementation can supply more of this micronutrient, possibly boosting your skin’s health and alleviating eczema symptoms.
As always, avoiding excessive UV exposure is a must. Use an SPF of 50 daily to protect the skin from damage and accelerated aging.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. At least twice a day, apply a moisturizer such as Perfect Repair.™
And when eczema flares, get inflammation under control quickly with the best eczema cream you can lay your hands on.