Heard of Vitamin K and E? The world of beauty seems abuzz with these skincare vitamins which we never really noticed, until now. Is this fact or fad? If you ever had a question about your skin and skincare, here’s a tip —ask a dermatologist. Dermatologists are skin specialists who undergo years of specialist medical training to qualify on skin diagnosis and treatment. They are the go-to medical specialists on aesthetics, skin pigmentation, acne scarring and skincare. So if you have a burning question on skincare vitamins, this article is for you.
We interviewed our founder, skincare specialist and accredited Singapore dermatologist, Dr. Teo Wan Lin about vitamin E and K in skincare, and here are the answers we got! So what exactly is a dermatologist’s opinion on skincare vitamins? Dr. Teo Wan Lin is Consultant Dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. She is also author of the Skincare Bible —Dermatologist Tips on Cosmeceutical Skincare, available at leading bookstores Barnes and Noble and Apple Books. She is the key formulator and the dermatologist behind Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, a cosmeceutical skincare line for anti-ageing and sensitive skin. It boasts retinol and acid free cruelty free formulations that are effective and backed by dermatological science.
Dr. Teo, why do you think there is an increased interest in these skincare vitamins?
The beauty industry is driven by a lot of commercial interests and marketing. The skincare audience is always on the lookout for ingredients that are “novel” or “old” ingredients with a twist or a new scientific perspective. This makes it very exciting to be part of the skincare industry especially as a dermatologist. I get to exercise the scientist, dermatologist (clinician) and business perspective all at once.
As a business woman, I see how brands are increasing visibility of their products. This is by capitalising on known “proven” active skincare ingredients in dermatological research. However, the unique perspective I have is that as a dermatologist, the topicals we develop directly impact patients in my practice. The key difference as a medical specialist looking after patients’ skin health, we do have the privilege of monitoring the clinical efficacy of skincare active ingredients. This is in a scientific laboratory setting. Accordingly, this also means that the products have to be more than marketing fad or trends. These ingredients have to actually work.
Vitamins are a concept familiar to the layperson. The public knows that vitamins are essential nutrients in one’s diet. Essential nutrients that are important in the functioning of important organs and vital physiological processes. The skin is an organ too. So it is relatable to talk about skincare vitamins. We are familiar with Vitamin A from retinol and retinoids which are widely in skincare products. In addition, we have Vitamin C which is a potent antioxidant, and the Vitamin-B derivative niacinamide. Moving down the alphabets, we arrive at Vitamin E and the lesser known and recently popularised Vitamin K.
What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin naturally in various plant products and available for intake through one’s diet. There are in total eight types of vitamin E. Amongst these, alpha and gamma tocopherol are types of vitamin E occurring in the human skin. The basic function of vitamin E is that it is an antioxidant and also anti inflammatory. For example, when one sustains a sunburn on skin, the presence of gamma tocopherol blocks the production of inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals include prostaglandins that will exacerbate and worsened the sunburn reaction. In a sense, it offers skin tissue protection from this oxidative stress.
What is the efficacy of Vitamin E as compared to other skincare vitamins?
It is very common to find topical vitamin E in skin cosmetic preparations. The key feature of it is it functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants work by scavenging free radicals. The skin generates free radicals as a consequence of a process known as photoageing. Ageing is partly due to environmental causes, sun exposure, pollution, as well as underlying genetics.
The efficacy of topical Vitamin E is actually not very well supported in terms of medical data. We usually look at randomised control trials in peer reviewed literature to support the use of a topical ingredient before saying that it is helpful. Right now, the general consensus is that it does function as an antioxidant. Vitamin E can serve as a preservative as well in skincare by reducing the product degradation rate and increasing the shelf life of the product. We do know that it has a role to play in protecting the skin. However, when it is in its topical form, we do not have specific data to show the potency in treatment.
Meanwhile, the same sort of robust data actually exists for say vitamin C and certain plant derived antioxidants. However, for vitamin E, the studies mainly have been on the use of topical vitamin E and the use for treatment of burns and scars. Unfortunately, the results from these studies thus far are actually non-conclusive. There was a study on an eye gel containing vitamin E, vitamin C and vitamin K. It was shown to be fairly to moderately effective in reducing under eye dark circles, especially those caused by vessel congestion.
What is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is what we call a cool factor. It is part of the physiological processes that takes place in our body. These include the process of bone formation, healthy function of blood vessels, cell death, and immune system responses. Vitamin K also has anti inflammatory properties, and is an important factor in the blood clotting process. It is relevant to skin because of direct influence in the wound healing process. Phytonadione is another name for Vitamin K which is also fat soluble.
What are the potential benefits of Vitamin K as skincare vitamins?
I would say that these studies are extremely limited. The only one that I am aware of with regards to cosmetic dermatology was over a decade ago. This was where they combined these vitamin K with retinols, vitamin E and vitamin C in an eye gel for dark circles. There was some improvement in the clinical observations. But most studies on topically applied vitamin K have actually been for animal studies, in the context of wound healing. How is wound healing relevant to anti ageing? The key premise is the stimulation of collagen production that is present both in wound healing process as well as in the anti-ageing process that we’re looking at. When your skin ages, the ability to produce collagen, which keeps the skin looking plump and healthy, reduces.
At 1% concentration, topical Vitamin K in these studies appear to benefit the wound healing process. It essentially accelerates the rate of wound healing. However, in order to postulate that this is going to be the same in anti ageing, is really purely theory based on our understanding of physiological processes. The other thing of course is to appreciate that when they do these studies of topical vitamin K wound healing, is that there is a wound. This means that the skin barrier is no longer intact and hence absorption may be enhanced. On the other hand, if we are applying it to intact skin, we are not really certain if the same thing would happen and more studies are certainly needed.
Who should use Vitamin K and who should not?
I don’t think there is any major risk in using vitamin K topically. This is because as with most topicals, whatever you apply on the skin, there is negligible systemic or internal absorption. Consequently, there should not be any concerns about this. However, I do feel in general, if you have broken skin or a severe skin condition on the face or any part of body, I would refrain from putting these anti-ageing ingredients. This is because the skin barrier is compromised and they may cause more irritation to the skin. These reactions are not very well studied.
What is the best way to use Vitamin K?
Similar to Vitamin E, Vitamin K is best used in combination with other well-established anti-ageing ingredients. These include plant-derived botanical antioxidants, stabilized forms of vitamin C, a good moisturizer, hyaluronic acid, ceramide molecules, traditional skin moisturizers like glycerin and other anti-ageing ingredients like peptides as well. The concentration of vitamin K that has been used in the few studies that have been done are at a minimum of 1 percent.
Dr. Teo Wan Lin is an accredited Singapore dermatologist practising at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. The centre is a Ministry of Health accredited dermatology practice. She is widely regarded by the media as an expert on cosmeceuticals, with the development of her own cosmeceutical line, Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals. In December 2019, she was invited as the key scientific speaker by Christian Dior for their press conference held at Capella Singapore, featuring the launch of their latest serum Capture Totale. The Skincare Bible – Dermatologist Tips on Cosmeceutical Skincare is available as an e-book on Barnes and Noble, Apple Books and Scribd. Get your hands on the hard copy here or at bookstores islandwide in Singapore.