Tocopherol (Vitamin E)

What is it? Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and beneficial skincare ingredient, helping protect the skin from environmental damage. It’s a naturally occurring vitamin that can be found in many carrier oils, like argan oil and cherry kernel oil, but when we talk about adding vitamin E to our formulations, it is a refined and concentrated ingredient.

The term “vitamin E” refers to 8 different chemical compounds: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta). Different vitamin E products can contain different blends or isolations of these different vitamin E chemicals. Those different blends can mean the product is better suited to certain uses than others, and can also impact the price. I recommend this very thorough article from Skin Chakra to learn more. The Wikipedia article on tocopherol is also very helpful.

It is important to know that vitamin E is not a preservative. While it can help extend the shelf life of our products by delaying the onset of rancidity, it does nothing to prevent microbial growth.

I use Vitamin E MT-50 Full Spectrum in my formulations. This product is composed of 50% tocopherols (d-alpha, d-beta, d-gamma, and d-delta) in a base of GMO-free soybean oil. You could use Vitamin E USP instead, but it is typically more expensive. I don’t recommend using vitamin E capsules or oils that are designed for direct application to the skin as these are not cosmetic ingredients, but cosmetic products.

INCI Tocopherol
Appearance Viscous amber liquid
Usage rate I typically use vitamin E at 0.5% of the oil phase to delay oxidization. New Directions Aromatics recommends 2–30% for skincare benefits.
Texture Sticky, thick
Scent Oily
Approximate Melting Point The 50% vitamin E I have is a thick liquid at room temperature; the more concentrated the product is, the thicker it will be.
Solubility Vitamin E is oil soluble.
Why do we use it in formulations? When you see vitamin E used at low concentrations (≤0.5%), it is there as an antioxidant, acting to delay the onset of rancidity. At concentrations of 2% and more, it will be contributing skin benefits as well as antioxidant benefits to the formula.
Do you need it? Yes.
Refined or unrefined? Vitamin E only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Vitamin E is an excellent, readily available antioxidant that also has skincare benefits.
Weaknesses It can be a bit pricy, but a little goes a long way!
Alternatives & Substitutions Look for other oil-soluble antioxidants; rosemary seed extract is a common one, though it is more expensive.

Vitamin E acetate is not a great alternative for tocopherol if you are including vitamin E in a formulation as an antioxidant (source). Vitamin E acetate can sub in for skin benefits, but not as an antioxidant.

How to Work with It Include tocopherol in the cool-down phase of your formulations.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, vitamin E should last 12 months. I don’t recommend purchasing vitamin E in bulk; at 0.5% you likely won’t use much over the course of 12 months!
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Learn more about vitamin E with this great blog post from Realize Beauty! This awesome post includes a de-bunking of the myth that excess vitamin E becomes a “pro-oxidant”.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. I don’t recommend using dietary capsules, though if you really want to please research exactly what is in the capsules you want to use so you understand what you’ve got.

Some Formulations that Use Vitamin E


Posted on

December 3, 2020