Sebaceous gland secretion is a major physiologic route of vitamin E delivery to skin

J Invest Dermatol. 1999 Dec;113(6):1006-10. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.1999.00794.x.


Skin plays an important part in the protection against oxidative stressors, such as ultraviolet radiation, ozone, and chemicals. This study was based on the observation that upper facial stratum corneum contained significantly higher levels of the antioxidant alpha-tocopherol than corresponding layers of arm stratum corneum. We hypothesized that the underlying mechanism involves sebaceous gland secretion of vitamin E. To test this, we examined in eight human volunteers: (i) stratum corneum levels and distribution profiles of vitamin E in sites with a different sebaceous gland density (arm versus cheek); (ii) whether vitamin E is a significant constituent of human sebum; and (iii) if there is a correlation between levels of vitamin E and squalene, a marker of sebum secretion, in skin surface lipids. Using standardized techniques for stratum corneum tape stripping and sebum collection, followed by high-performance liquid chromatography analysis of tocopherols and squalene, we found that: (i) the ratio of cheek versus upper arm alpha-tocopherol levels was 20 : 1 for the upper stratum corneum and decreased gradually with stratum corneum depth; (ii) vitamin E (alpha- and gamma-tocopherol forms) is a significant constituent of human sebum and is continuously secreted at cheek and forehead sites during a test period of 135 min; and (iii) vitamin E correlates well with levels of cosecreted squalene (r2 = 0.86, p < 0.001). In conclusion, sebaceous gland secretion is a relevant physiologic pathway for the delivery of vitamin E to upper layers of facial skin. This mechanism may serve to protect skin surface lipids and the upper stratum corneum from harmful oxidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Epidermis / chemistry
  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sebaceous Glands / metabolism*
  • Vitamin E / analysis
  • Vitamin E / metabolism*


  • Vitamin E