Vitamin E – Facts and Fiction

You will read a plethora of information on the benefits of vitamin E both as a supplement and as a preservative. The question is how much of what you read is true and how much is hype? Hype not only misleads, but can be detrimental. For this reason, I decided to dig deeply into the research studies and see what I could find. I think you may be surprised.

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is the fat soluble alcohol, tocopherol. It comes in four forms: alpha, beta, gamma and delta.  But wait, there’s more to it than that. There is a group of related chemicals that can also be considered vitamin E. They are the tocotrienols.

They also come in an alpha, beta, gamma and delta form and have similar properties as the tocopherols.

To muddy the water even further, there are natural tocopherols and synthetics made from (drum roll) can you guess? Petroleum. Synthetically made tocopherols are not as bioactive as the natural, therefore less effective. One study had them at 74% as active as the natural, but they’re considerably cheaper. You will be able to recognize the synthetic varieties of vitamin E by looking at the ingredients list. If it has dl-tocopherol or dl-tocopheryl acetate on the label, it’s synthetic.

How your body uses vitamin E

  • Antioxidant helps protect body from free radical damage
  • Supports immune system function
  • Instrumental in the red blood cell formation
  • Prevents blood clots by helping to expand blood vessels
  • Interacts with vitamin K (the blood clotting vitamin)
  • Plays a role in cell metabolism (the chemical processes within cells)

Symptoms of Deficiency

Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Loss of body movement control (ataxia)
  • Weakened muscles attached to bones (skeletal myopathy)
  • Damage to the eye’s retina (retinopathy)
  • Impaired immune response

Therapeutic Uses of Vitamin E

Vitamin E has been held in esteem as helpful in many maladies from cancer to arthrosclerosis when taken in capsule form and for anti-aging and scar tissue treatment when applied topically. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence calls foul on much of this information.

I was totally disheartened when I read the research papers. Particularly when I read that studies indicated that vitamin E could actually worsen some conditions. Here I am out there looking for ways to help our goddesses have improved health and beautiful skin and end up with almost nothing good to report. What follows are the results of this research.

Dl-alpha tocopherol acetate (synthetic vitamin E) – There is sufficient evidence to indicate that this is not the form you should use internally. You can review the research at If you want to consume more vitamin E, do so in your diet. Wheat germ oil has the highest concentration of natural vitamin E. The concentration of vitamin E in various foods is provided here for your convenience. The following chart comes from

Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) [7]


Milligrams (mg)
per serving

Percent DV*

Wheat germ oil, 1 tablespoon



Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon



Safflower oil, 1 tablespoon



Hazelnuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons



Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce



Corn oil, 1 tablespoon



Olive oil, 1 tablespoon



Spinach, boiled, ½ cup



Broccoli, chopped, boiled, ½ cup



Soybean oil, 1 tablespoon



Kiwifruit, 1 medium



Mango, sliced, ½ cup



Tomato, raw, 1 medium



Spinach, raw, 1 cup



*DV = Daily Value. DVs were developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers compare the nutrient content of different foods within the context of a total diet. The DV for vitamin E is 30 IU (approximately 20 mg of natural alpha-tocopherol) for adults and children age 4 and older. However, the FDA does not require food labels to list vitamin E content unless a food has been fortified with this nutrient. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

Dl-tocopheryl acetate may be beneficial if applied topically. In one study, 12% dl-tocopherol acetate was used in a base cream and applied to UV damaged skin and it demonstrated a significant reduction in a precancerous chemical in the tissue. That is a very good thing for us sun lovers. However, the dl form of vitamin E used on the skin to reduce scarring appears to be ineffective. Whether the natural form works better, if at all is still in debate.

Though some people swear it was the vitamin E (type unknown) that eradicated and prevented scars, there are an equal number who swear that vitamin E either had no effect or made the scar worse.

Preservative Uses for Vitamin E

Alpha tocopherol has the highest vitamin E activity, however it’s the gamma and delta vitamin E’s that you will want to use as well if you are using them as anti-oxidants in skin care formulations. Gamma and delta vitamin E are more stable, perform better at higher temperatures and work better as an antioxidant. Remember, an anti-oxidant is only designed to prevent the oils in your formulas from going rancid. It will not prevent bacterial growth. In short, if you are using vitamin E as an antioxidant, purchase one that has the full range of tocopherols such as Covi-ox T-50 at a concentration of .5 – 1.5%.


What I’ve brought away from this research is that most of us get sufficient vitamin E in our diets. Too much vitamin E is damaging to our health when taken over a long period of time. So how much is too much? The maximum dosage according to the European Food Safety Authority is 300 milligrams daily if you are over 17. Children 1-3 years the dosage is 100 milligrams and for kids 15 – 17 it’s 260 milligrams.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that when you purchase vitamin E, the dosage may be in international units (IU). To convert international units to milligrams multiply the number of milligrams times 1.5. So the 300 milligram maximum for adults over 17 would translate to 450 IU. For children 1-3 100 milligrams would be 150 IU and for ages 15 – 17 the 260 milligrams would equal 390 IU.

Unless you are on a low fat diet or are unable to absorb nutrients, you probably don’t need vitamin E supplementation.

For topical use, vitamin E applied to the skin directly or as an addition to body and face creams is beneficial as a softener (what about sun damage). It also offers possible partial protection from the damage to your cells caused if you bask in the sun too long. As with most products, you should perform a patch test before using to be sure you don’t have a reaction.

As a preservative, it’s best to use a mixed tocopherol product that includes alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocopherol.

Now go have fun and relax.

Related Articles:

How to Preserve Your Bath and Body Creations

Wheat Germ Benefits – Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Vitamin Facts – Shhh It’s a Secret

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