Medical science and the public, alike, have long agreed on the positive relationship between vitamins and good health. Nonetheless, vitamins have, for the most part, been snubbed from cosmetics, skin creams, and beauty-care products.

Not only has the media ignored, dismissed, or blurred the connection between topical vitamins and healthier skin, but the beauty industry has primarily stressed camouflaging blemishes and age spots. Mainstream physicians, meanwhile, have endorsed surgical techniques to reverse the visible signs of advancing time. Now, however, just as vitamins have helped maintain health and longer life, so has more emphasis gone into vitamins as protective and restorative factors, to promote more youthful, radiant skin.

Smoking, exposure to air, chemical pollution, and sunlight induce the formation of free radicals. These molecules, in turn, can age and damage cells over time.

The research on antioxidants – especially that which has been centered on vitamins C, E, the carotenoids, alpha-lipoic acid, and others – has stressed oral dietary supplementation to support bodily systems which prevent certain diseases. Antioxidants nullify the effects of free-radical oxidation by acting as electron contributors, thus inhibiting free-radical reaction and damage. Taken internally, antioxidants may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Beyond the evidence of the protective internal factors of antioxidant compounds, researchers have discovered how these substances can help correct environmental damage inflicted on skin and can help impart beautifying and moisturizing effects.

Without a doubt, sun exposure causes most of the signs of premature aging. Researchers have concluded that a full 90 percent of all visible aging results from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Worse than the short, but intense, episodes of sun exposure, the greatest harm to skin comes from the long-term cumulative effects of exposure to any sunlight.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have concluded that ozone pollution rapidly pares away vitamin E from the thin surface layer skin, called the “stratum corneum.” The stratum corneum’s role is to help prevent pollutants and other chemicals from entering the body. With a reduction in the strength of this barrier, free radicals gain an easy porthole into the body. The researchers also concluded that the depletion of vitamin E could expose important skin fat molecules to pollution. The destruction of these `lipids,’ regulators of matter streaming into and out of the skin, could aggravate skin ailments.

Oxidation, or the aging process of the skin, occurs primarily because UV light stimulates the production of free radicals. In its own defense, the body manufactures natural antioxidants. However, aging and sun exposure make the body’s sustained fight against UV rays more and more difficult. As a result, the free-radical damage can lead not only to older-looking skin, but also to potential skin cancer.

Studies at the University of California, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, suggest that a 10-day period of a 5 percent vitamin E application sent the skin extra vitamin E protection. Another study showed a 2.5 percent vitamin E gel reduced skin damage caused by UV rays. Because antioxidants absorb radiation not neutralized by sunscreens, vitamin E increases their protection and lessens the damaging effects of solar UV radiation.

Still, vitamin E does more than protect skin from the sun. The vitamin also helps keep skin smooth and soft – the greater the internal moisture, the smoother and softer the skin. Without sufficient internal moisture, skin cracks, deep furrows increase more rapidly, and the space between wrinkles decreases.

Studies show topical vitamin E improves skin moisture by offsetting dryness caused by aging and environmental factors.

While a good diet, and specific compounds (such as vitamin E, silica, and products of the hive), will help the skin, some suggest that only about 10 percent of vitamins reach the skin. Further, although vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, the lowest concentrations within the body occur in the skin tissues.

No research has yet determined the exact amount and strength of vitamin E needed to repair and protect skin. While some criticize products bought over the counter for their low potency, other studies show the effects of products with vitamin E appear to be cumulative. For example, commercial soaps containing vitamin E increased skin softness, while soap made without the vitamin made skin stiffer.

Caution: Don’t create your own vitamin potions. When used on the skin, some oral vitamins can cause serious allergic reactions.