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Does vitamin E increase melanin?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions as an antioxidant in the body. It exists in eight different natural forms, with alpha-tocopherol being the most active and abundant in the human body (1). Vitamin E protects cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals and reactive oxygen species (2). This helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

Melanin is a pigment that gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. It is produced by melanocytes, specialized cells in the skin that contain the enzyme tyrosinase. This enzyme converts the amino acid tyrosine into melanin. Melanin protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage that can lead to sunburn, accelerated skin aging, and skin cancer (3). The amount and type of melanin produced determines skin color and sensitivity to UV light.

There has been some research interest in whether taking supplemental vitamin E can increase melanin production and skin pigmentation. This article reviews the current evidence on the effects of vitamin E on melanin.

Does Vitamin E Supplementation Increase Melanin?

Several small clinical studies have investigated whether taking vitamin E supplements increases skin melanin and pigmentation. The results so far are mixed.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in 2013 examined the effects of 400 IU/day of vitamin E supplementation for 4 months in 38 healthy adults (4). The vitamin E group had a statistically significant increase in facial skin melanin index compared to placebo. However, skin lightening only occurred in less than 25% of the vitamin E group.

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2007 found that supplementation with 800 IU/day of alpha-tocopherol for 12 weeks led to a significant increase in the melanin index in 22 healthy female volunteers (5). The increase occurred in a majority of the vitamin E group.

Conversely, two other small studies found no change in skin pigmentation with vitamin E supplementation:

– A 2008 double-blind trial in 47 women found that 400 IU/day of vitamin E for 6 months did not affect facial skin melanin (6).

– A 1998 study in 17 elderly patients found no change in skin melanin levels after supplementation with 800 IU/day of vitamin E for 4 months (7).

Summary of Clinical Studies on Vitamin E and Melanin

Study Participants Vitamin E Dosage Duration Results
Mahmoud et al 2013 (4) 38 healthy adults 400 IU/day 4 months Increase in facial skin melanin index
Nachbar et al 2007 (5) 22 healthy females 800 IU/day 12 weeks Increase in melanin index
Pechayre et al 2008 (6) 47 women 400 IU/day 6 months No change in melanin
Correale et al 1998 (7) 17 elderly patients 800 IU/day 4 months No change in melanin

While some of these studies showed increased skin pigmentation with vitamin E supplementation, the effect seems to depend on the dosage and duration of treatment. Overall, the evidence that vitamin E affects melanin levels is preliminary and inconsistent at this point.

How Could Vitamin E Potentially Increase Melanin?

The mechanism by which vitamin E could theoretically increase melanin production is not fully understood. Here are a few ways it might act:

– Vitamin E may upregulate tyrosinase, the key enzyme involved in melanin synthesis (4).

– Its antioxidant properties could protect melanocytes from oxidative stress, allowing greater melanin production (8).

– Vitamin E may increase proliferation of melanocytes, allowing more melanin synthesis (5).

However, these potential mechanisms need to be confirmed with more rigorous molecular and cell studies. The variability in clinical trial results also indicates that vitamin E’s effects on melanocytes may depend on the specific conditions in each study.

Other Factors That Increase Melanin

While the influence of vitamin E is still unclear, other natural and lifestyle factors are known to increase melanin levels and skin pigmentation:

– Sun exposure – UV radiation from the sun stimulates melanin synthesis to protect skin from damage (9). This results in tanning. However, excessive sun exposure increases risk of skin cancer.

– Genetics – The number, size, and distribution of melanocytes are genetically determined. Ethnicity substantially affects constitutive skin color (10).

– Alpha-MSH hormone – Alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone secreted by the pituitary gland induces melanin production (11).

– Inflammation – Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and acne can increase melanin deposition in affected areas (12).

– Medications – Certain drugs like antimalarials and cytotoxic agents may cause increased skin pigmentation as a side effect (13).

– Micronutrients – In addition to vitamin E, nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper help support melanin synthesis (14).

Is Increased Melanin Desirable?

Having more melanin in the skin does offer some health benefits:

– Greater sun protection – More melanin reduces susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancer risk from UV radiation (15).

– Reduced signs of aging – Melanin can counteract age spots and wrinkles to some degree (16).

– Faster wound healing – Melanocytes accumulate around a wound and promote healing (17).

– Antioxidant effects – Melanin scavenges free radicals and reactive oxygen species (18).

However, there are also potential disadvantages:

– Increased dark spots – Higher melanin increases the risk of conditions like melasma that cause uneven skin pigmentation (19).

– Social perceptions – Artificially increased skin darkness may be viewed negatively in certain cultural contexts.

– Limited nutrient production – With aging, melanin synthesis may impair vitamin D production in the skin (20).

So, while modestly increasing melanin levels may help protect skin, excessive amounts could be counterproductive aesthetically and medically. The health impact of manipulating melanin should be carefully considered.


In summary, while vitamin E supplementation has shown potential to increase skin pigmentation in a few small studies, the overall evidence is mixed at this point. The mechanism of how vitamin E may induce melanin synthesis is also not fully clear yet. Other natural factors like sun exposure and genetics play a larger role in determining melanin levels. Modulating melanin may provide some skin health benefits but also has disadvantages to consider. More rigorous controlled studies are still needed to clarify if vitamin E has a substantial impact on melanin production in humans. The decision to take vitamin E should be based on meeting nutritional requirements rather than dramatically altering skin pigmentation.