Tocopherol at a Glance
- The name of one of four forms of vitamin E
- Tocopherols can be either naturally occurring or synthetically derived
- Offers significant antioxidant properties, including defense from pollution
- Works as a supporting ingredient to help stabilize vitamin C
Tocopherol is the name given to one of four forms of vitamin E. These four forms are d-alpha-tocopherol, d-alpha-tocopherol acetate, dl-alpha tocopherol, and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate. The “d” prefix indicates that the product was derived from natural sources, such as vegetable oils or wheat germ; whereas the “dl” prefix indicates that the vitamin was created from a synthetic base.
Research has shown that natural forms of vitamin E are more effective than their synthetic counterparts, but both have antioxidant activity. You’ll most commonly find vitamin E listed as tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate on the ingredient list.
Vitamin E is a naturally occurring component of healthy skin, and its second most prevalent antioxidant behind ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It offers significant antioxidant properties to help defend from pollution and other environmental stressors that would otherwise weaken skin, causing unwanted changes.
In skin care formulas, vitamin E also works as a good supporting ingredient. For instance, in vitamin C products, vitamin E will donate a key electron that vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) needs to stabilize itself. Vitamin E also works well with other antioxidants such as rosemary, ferulic acid, and the amino acid taurine.
Claims of using vitamin E to prevent scarring when skin is wounded haven’t yet been confirmed by published scientific research.
Vitamin E (tocopherol) can visibly improve hyperpigmentation when used in a 1% concentration. Typically, lower amounts are used in skin care for antioxidant benefit and to help preserve the stability of delicate ingredients.
Tocopherol as used in skin care is almost always supplied as an oil, since it is derived from sources like soy, rice bran, or flax oils, among others. It has a characteristic yellow to gold or even light brown color and subtle odor. However, depending on the supplier, tocopherol may also be clear (transparent) to pale yellow. It will oxidize and become darker in color from exposure to air and light.
Journal or Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 2010, pages 7013–7020
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, November 2001, pages 1212–1217
Canadian Family Physician, July 2006, pages 855–856
Dermatologic Surgery, April 1999, pages 311–315
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!