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Ingredient Watch List: Tocopheryl Acetate, the Potentially Irritating Form of Vitamin E

If you have read up on your vitamin E, you may recognize the word “tocopheryl” in this ingredient. Wouldn’t that be something good for you?

Take anything and mix it with something else, and you can come up with something potentially harmful. That can be the case with tocopheryl acetate. The tocopheryl part is vitamin E, but the acetate comes about when the vitamin E is mixed with acetic acid.

The resulting ingredient can actually irritate your skin more than help repair or heal it.

It contains vitamin E, but it’s been messed with in the lab.

What is Tocopheryl Acetate?

What's Your Skin Score?

This ingredient is basically a form of vitamin E created in the laboratory. Manufacturers take natural vitamin E and add acetic acid to it.

Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar. The word “acid” means just what you’d think—it’s corrosive, and attacks the skin. A simple carboxylic acid, it’s used in the production of chemicals for photographic film, wood glue, and synthetic fibers and fabrics. Why would manufacturers mix perfectly good vitamin E with this irritating ingredient.

Two words: cheaper, and longer lasting. Adding the acid to vitamin E makes it last longer on the shelves. That makes it easier for manufacturers to process, ship, store, and sell their products.

What are the Concerns?

The concerns with this ingredient are first, that it can be potentially irritating to skin, causing redness, rashes, and potential allergic reactions. According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) of the ingredient, tocopheryl acetate helped protect against oxidative damage, but produced skin sensitizing or skin irritating effects in one animal study. A 1991 study detailed four cases of contact dermatitis caused by cosmetic creams that contained tocopheryl acetate.

The CIR, though it concluded that tocopheryl was safe for cosmetics, also noted that studies with the ingredient demonstrated some “enhancement of photocarcinogenesis,” which means it may actually encourage the carcinogenic effects of UV rays.

High doses of this ingredient have also been found in animal studies to cause tumor formation. Though that’s not likely to be a concern if you’re using only a little of the ingredient, as in most personal care products, the concern is the potential buildup over time. We simply don’t have the necessary safety studies on this ingredient when used for several times a day over many years.

Another issue comes from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which notes concerns regarding contamination with hydroquinone, a whitening compound. During the manufacturing process, tocopheryl acetate may be contaminated with hydroquinone, which can also cause dermatitis, increase sensitivity to UV rays, and may have potentially carcinogenic properties.

Why Take the Risk?

Of all the potentially harmful ingredients, this is probably one of the milder ones. It is vitamin E, which can have some benefits. The thing is, why not just stick with vitamin E? Why take the risks with tocopheryl acetate when you don’t have to?

All Annmarie Gianni products that have vitamin E have the pure kind. No acids added! I say, get the full benefit of the real stuff that hasn’t been tampered with in the laboratory. Your skin will thank you!

Have you had a reaction to tocopheryl acetate? Please share.

* * *

Photo courtesy Administrador Galeria Uninter via

Cosmetic Ingredient Review, “Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopheryl Linoleate, Tocopheryl Linoleate/Oleate, Tocopheryl Nicotinate, Tocopheryl Succinate, Dioleyl Tocopheryl Methylsilanol, Potassium Ascorbyl Tocopheryl Phosphate, and Tocophersolan,” International Journal of Toxicology, November 2002, Vol. 21, No. 3, suppl 51-116,

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COMMENTS ( 127 and counting )
  1. G. says:

    I have had redness and soreness and peeling at the ends of my fingers for several years. Have been testing various products. Just noticed that babywipes (Kirkland) which I’ve been using for several years, contain tocopheryl acetate.

  2. Susan says:

    Ok just applied Vitamin E oil from Rite Aid directly on my face. Eyes, nose and mouth now exploded with red itchy,, burning inflammation. Had no idea this would affect me like this as I have used E my whole life.
    Now that I’m 61 I am allergic.
    Be careful people

  3. Zoe says:

    My vitamin E cream has caused me to break out in severe hives all over my face and neck (basically where I’ve put it). I have only been using it for a few days and was not expecting this type of reaction.
    My cream is from a name brand vitamin brand that specialises in topical treatments.
    I read the ingredient list and it does contain the acetate as mentioned in the article, however the main selling point (other than the premium shelf price) is the fact the cream is fragrance free. Like that means anything when you are covered in swollen hives.
    Safe to say I’m glad I read this article and I will look into other products that have vitamin e in a pure form.

  4. Paul says:

    I have developed an erosive cheilitis and just realized I have been putting Vaseline lip therapy on my lips constantly for the last two months. One of the ingredients is Tocopheryl acetate. I have stopped using this product the last few days and it is getting better. stay tuned.

  5. Linda says:

    I have to avoid soy. I think soy is likely “Tocopheryl Acetate” – Vitamin E.
    It is a cheap product, and sounds good.

  6. Audrey says:

    I have been using Charming ultra soft for several months, the last 4 months I have been going nuts with anal itching. For some reason tonight it hit me to check the toilet tissue for vitamin e as I have known for 40 years I have an allergy to vitamin e topically. There in the ingredients I found “tocopherol acetate”,

  7. Dani says:

    I can’t use anything with Vitamin E or tacopheryl acetate. The contact dermatitis has been so bad I’ve ended up on steroids several times. I have to use pure coconut oil to shave with as I can not find a shave gel with out it. So many lotions and. Body washes have it as well.

  8. Maria says:

    Any vitamin E derivative makes my skin very clogged. I always have to check the products’ ingredients before I buy and make sure they don’t contain any tocopherols. It’s so difficult to find skincare products but I have no choice!