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Beyond skin deep

Once primarily a nonprescription health supplement, vitamin E has now made its way to the cosmetics counter. In a society where health and beauty are at a premium, cosmetics trends are rapidly changing, making skin care an important daily regimen for both men and women. It is not surprising then, that a wide variety of skin care products containing vitamin E are now found in most bathroom cabinets. New research shows that the benefits of vitamin E and vitamin E derivatives extend beyond what has been commonly held. In addition, they can be key ingredients that help brand owners deliver on promises to consumers.

Why is vitamin E still a hot topic in skin care?

For years, consumers and formulators alike have regarded vitamin E as an important ingredient to protect and repair skin. Recent studies show that the benefits of vitamin E in the body and on the skin can go well beyond what was previously appreciated. For example, understanding its real benefits beyond simple antioxidant activity is a key area of interest.

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a naturally occurring organic molecule. In fact, there are eight different kinds of vitamin E. They are broken into two families, tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each family contains four unique compounds of the vitamin: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Tocopherols have saturated side-chains, while the side-chains of tocotrienols are unsaturated. This distinction has no effect on their intrinsic antioxidant activity in simple chemical systems, but a profound effect on how they behave in biological systems.

How do consumers benefit from vitamin E?

Taken within recommended doses, vitamin E may provide important health benefits by protecting the body against free radicals. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals, or oxidants, which result from natural oxidation of molecules in the body. Free radicals are atoms or molecules having unpaired electrons, whose reactivity in the body can damage cell membranes, proteins, and even DNA. Vitamin E's antioxidant properties can be powerfully beneficial in topical applications as well. Vitamin E helps protect natural lipids in the skin from oxidation due to exposure to harmful UV light. Studies show that in the presence of vitamin E, the oxidation of lipids is reduced significantly. Our skin naturally produces vitamin E, oils and lipids to protect it from drying and cracking. Surtactants, however, strip our skin of these natural defenses.

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What are some emerging trends for vitamin E usage?

New studies suggest that certain derivatives of vitamin E, which are widely used as pharmaceutical excipients, may have the same functionality in topical applications. Excipients are pharmaceutical ingredients, which often perform a specific function, such as improving the delivery of active ingredients to the body. Eastman Vitamin E TPGS, for example, acts as both a drug solubilizer and a bioavailability enhancer, increasing the absorption of water-insoluble drugs, as well as the efficacy of drugs that are difficult for the body to absorb. It allows active ingredients to penetrate cell plasma membranes by inhibiting specialized proteins that would otherwise shuttle these ingredients out of the cell. New studies suggest that vitamin E and its derivatives can significantly increase the efficacy of skin care treatments by improving the bioavailability of their active ingredients. Another important trend in beauty care is combination therapy in which dietary supplements are combined with topical treatments to achieve superior skin care results. Natural vitamin E products, such as refined rice bran fractions rich in tocotrienols and tocopherols, are ideally suited for such regimens. Taken together, the antioxidant benefits of vitamin E may provide a significant improvement on the skin's appearance.

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