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

Tocopheryl Acetate

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.

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

What is Tocopheryl Acetate?

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 natural vitamin E? Why take the risks with tocopheryl acetate when you don't have to?

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

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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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Reader Interactions


  1. TJ Thrasher says

    I have a severe allergy to tocopherol acetate…like many others, I was trying to use “natural” products on my face and whipped up a concoction of whipped coconut oil and vitamin E oil. It started slowly with these big deep bi=umps along the jawline, and then progressed to extreme swelling, like I had been beaten. The skin around my eyes swollen the size of limes, my whole face just huge. Eyelids hard like cardboard once the swelling went down, scaly dry skin, stretched out loose skin…..
    Numerous Doctors visits…testing for Hereditary angio-edema, extensive allergy testing, with no conclusive results.
    Super Frustrating.
    Then…in scouring the internet for ANY help I found a tiny blip about synthetic vitamin E reactions.
    Bam! there it was… my answer.
    It was a frightening a debilitating experience. I also learned that the FDA doesn’t require an ingredient breakdown for things labeled “fragrance”, so that can be anything.
    I tell everyone I know to watch for this ingredient…and it IS in everything, just about.

    • Irmina says

      Started having sun rashes a year ago. Went to a dermatologist. She told me sometimes, sun sensitivity happens to Asians as they age. She never even mentioned I could be allergic to Tocopherol Acetate. I systematically began changing what I apply to my face, even though I use all natural stuff. Last night, I applied vitamin E oil to my face before I slept. Yup, sure enough, my face turned red and puffed up. Seems she was more interested in making me do body mapping several times than really finding out the cause of my rashes.

    • Jnute says

      Omg! I feel your pain! We share the exact same experience, trying to go all natural, doctors not being able to figure out why my eyes would swell shut.

      Now I steer clear of all eye creams but I have the damage from all my allergic reactions on my aging skin!

      Has anyone been able to find an eye cream without Tocopherol that doesn’t cause irritation??

      • Jax says

        I just use 100% organic Argan oil to moisturize and it works great! And to wash my face I use Aleppo soap with 50% bay leaf concentration. The combination has been great for my highly sensitive, allergy prone skin! 🙂

  2. Cory says

    I have had a really itchy face after using two different beard care products. (Face is Uber the beard so not sure what it looks like) The only 3 ingredients in common are avavado oil, sunflower oil and tocopherol. Avavado is in another product I have no reactions too so it’s gotta be sunflowers or tocopherol…. After a quick Google search and this article, my money is on tocopherol. I’ll be steering clear of it for sure!

  3. Jackie says

    Massive reaction! I have used many products over the years but recently have begun reacting to tocopherol acetate / Dl alpha tocopheral. Severe swelling/angio edema of the face and eyelids. So bad that I have had to go to the acute care clinic and get steroid shots to stop the swelling. I find this ingredient in many body lotions, face creams, shampoo and conditioners. I have to read every ingredient.

  4. Frances Swolgaard says

    When I take vitamin E supplements or use vitamin E oil I get boils on my face. My mother has the same issue.

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