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I have a general question relating to Vitamin E, which has been confusing to me. Do you happen to know the difference between Tocopherol and Tocopheryl Acetate?

I read somewhere that Tocopherol isn’t as bad as Tocopheryl Acetate in terms of the possibility of it being contaminated with Hydroquinone. Are either of these ingredients ones to try to avoid when going product-shopping?




Natural Vitamin E with the INCI name Tocopherol is an antioxidant used in food and cosmetic applications.  Low alpha mixed tocopherols are used as an antioxidant in skin care products at the rate of 0.5 % to 4.0 % depending on the purpose.  Natural Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble vitamin composed of 8 naturally occurring compounds (the fractions are called alpha, beta, delta, epsilon, eta, gamma and zeta tocopherol, and four other substances called tocotrienols). While each of these compounds exhibits different biological activities, d-alpha tocopherol has the highest biological activity and is the most widely available form of vitamin E in food.

Since the alpha tocopherol activity is most responsible for the effectiveness of the product, the potency of Vitamin E oil is measured by its alpha tocopherol content. A 200 IU/g Vitamin E contains 200 units of alpha tocopherol per gram of oil and the rest of it is unspecified amounts of the beta, delta, epsilon etc components. (1 international unit (IU) of vitamin E is equal to 1 mg of the synthetic form racemic alpha -tocopherol acetate.)

Hydroquinone is used synthetic Vitamin E known as Vitamin E Acetate and is not found in Natural Vitamin E.

  • Tmsig

    Hi!iv a question-deos vitamin e have a real antioxidant effect on skin when is used in cosmetics and whats the level of it that have that effect?thank you

    • Bexchino

      Just wondering what the difference is between Vitamin E (Tocopherol) and Vitamin E (a-tocopherol)? Between the two of them they feature in every one of 100% Pure’s cosmetics & as the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database lists the ingredient as carcinogenic I’m now unsure whether I should continue using them?

      • Dene Godfrey

        Bexchino – I strongly recommend that you stop using the Skin Deep database, rather than tocopherol (there is no difference between a-tocopherol and tocopherol in terms of them both being vitamin E. There are other forms of tocopherol, but these are not vitamin E). If you search this site for articles on Skin Deep, you will find plenty of reasons to stop using it.

  • Hbaker

    Vitamin E Acetate is NOT related to hydroquinone! This is wrong! Give your high school diploma back to wherever you got it! The basic science you were taught didn’t work!

    • Sarah

      Would you care to try that again without the attempt at insult? The manner in which you attempted to insult! Though! Doesn’t lend much credence to your remarks! IMO! So I’m guessing no insult! Was achieved!

    • Jay

      you loser low life. Why are you getting angry ? Seems like you want to defend the dirty money pharmacy industry. Are you insider and do you get a cut of this blood money in terms of a career ? Or are you really this much of an imbecile and no civility. Haven’t you learnt anything living to be this old? What  a shame to come this far in life and still be real loser where it matters.

  • Sarah

    Hi–thanks Kayla! We had discussed this question on the Beauty Brains forum; I’m glad you were able to shed light on it. Just out of curiosity, do you know how often synthetic Vitamin E (Vitamin E acetate) is used in cosmetics? Is it fair to say that the amounts of hydroquinone in synthetic Vitamin E would be very small? Again, just a matter of curiosity.

    • Rich Summers

      I have to admit that I have never encountered a vitamin E ( or Acetate ) natural or synthetic with any Hydroquinone in it, nor the suggestion of such, so i would be quite interested to know where this has come from. If the product is synthetically produced ( all acetate is manufactured from synthetic tocopherol, and anything that is pure Alpha is very likely to be synthetic ) there should be no such impurities in it, as they are normally >99.9% pure.

      • Sarah

        I’m no expert, but these links might help. They suggest that trimethylhydroquinone (TMHQ) is an intermediate in the synthesis of Vitamin E. Not being a chemist, I don’t know how TMHQ relates to HQ.×1509.pdf

        • Sarah

          Other than–to revive decades old chemistry courses–that it would have 3 methyl groups on it (CH3?). Boy, I really have forgotten everything…

          • Sarah

            So…I think the idea that prompted the original question was…is HQ present as a trace contaminant in vitamin E, possibly as a residue from the manufacturing process? Again, not being an expert, I have no clue and couldn’t say yes or no whether or not that is possible or probable.

      • Sarah

        This abstract might also help.

        I quote part: “Because methylhydroquinone is used in the chemical synthesis of Tocopherol, there was concern that hydroquinone may be present as an impurity. In such cases, residual levels of hydroquinone would be expected to be limited to those achieved by good manufacturing practices.”

  • Philippe Papadimitriou

    There is absolutely no chemical relationship between hydroquinone and tocopherol (even for the unexperienced lambda person looking at the molecular structures) and I have never heard about anything like hydroquinone contamination in either tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate.

    True nonethelss that tocopherol is better than the acetate in terms of antioxidant power.

    Today’s science has not been able to show any difference in activity, affinity or penetrability between two identical molecules of differing origins (natural tocopherol vs synthetic tocopherol, for example). Today’s science (physical chemistry in this case) has gone very deep in molecular vibrations and energies. It is thus today considered and even acknowledged that origin doesn’t matter.

    PS: I am not used to vitamins International Units, but believe something is weird in the comment above.

  • Sarah

    @b9cc2966cc8a0e4e5928cb787b36a23f:disqus @32abe9d2d9dc5454f0d45704c1360e2d:disqus Now that I have gone to university of google (lol), would be curious to hear your thoughts on what I found…
    Thanks, Sarah

    • Rich Summers

      Hi Sarah, thanks for this, itdoes make for some quite interesting reading ( that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have bothered with 😉 ). I was aware of the synthesis route ( just a bit long forgotten I think ), I would imagine though as looking at the data for the trimethylhydroquinone it look sa fairly unpleasant material, that any company using this route of manufacture woudl eliminate as much of this as physically possible, if not by law then by due dilligence.
      I think that part fo this is that Hydroquinone was a widely used material in large parts of the world, and people knowing that it has been banned in a number of teritories gives a good thing for people to fix on. It wasn’t mentioned in the SCCNFP ( the scientific committee for consumer and non food products ) in 2001 when they did a safety reveiw of synthetic tocopherol and acetate in skin care ( I think the prelim to the institue of toxicology article you linked to ).

      And as mentioned before I haven’t ever seen it mentioned on a spec for either tocopherol nor the acetate, and consequently I would suggest that it really isn’t anything to be concerned about.

  • Eline

    I came across this article:
    Though the manufacturer mentioned in the article claims that there are no contamination concerns for natural/botanical Vitamin E (tocopherol), EWG (the Environmental Working Group) believes otherwise based on their research, according to the warning on their website:
    Considering the nasty properties of hydroquinone (check EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database) I myself am inclined to stay on the safe side and avoid (added) Vitamin E in cosmetics altogether (although that doesn’t make finding proper cosmetics any easier…).