Cutaneous vitamins A and E in the context of ultraviolet- or chemically-induced oxidative stress

Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol. 2001 Nov-Dec;14(6):363-72. doi: 10.1159/000056370.


Vitamins A and E are present in mammalian skin. Although the main circulating form of vitamin A in the blood is retinol, the epidermis stores it as retinyl esters. The epidermis can be easily loaded with high amounts of vitamin A by topical application of either retinol or retinaldehyde, two well-tolerated precursors of the biologically active retinoic acid, while topical alpha-tocopherol loads the epidermis with vitamin E. The probable physiological function of epidermal vitamin E is to contribute to the antioxidant defense of the skin, whereas that of epidermal vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters) is not yet well understood. Besides being a precursor for retinoic acid, vitamin A also has a free radical scavenging potential. Due to their physical properties, vitamins A and E absorb ultraviolet (UV) light in the region of solar spectrum that is responsible for most of the deleterious biological effects of the sun. In the mouse, topical vitamin A has been shown to prevent the UV-induced epidermal hypovitaminosis A, while topical vitamin E prevents oxidative stress and cutaneous and systemic immunosuppression elicited by UV. Thus constitutive epidermal vitamins A and E appear complementary in preventing UV-induced deleterious cutaneous and systemic effects, and these properties can be reinforced by topical application of retinol or retinaldehyde and topical alpha-tocopherol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects*
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • Vitamin A / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin A / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use*


  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E