2D structural formula of Tocopheryl acetate


What is it?

Tocopherol is the naturally-occurring vitamin E, while tocopheryl acetate is the synthetic version of vitamin E.

“Tocopherols (TCP) are a class of organic chemical compounds (more precisely, various methylated phenols), many of which have vitamin E activity.” Wikipedia

What are the effects?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Both natural tocopherol and tocopheryl acetate can be made synthetically. But synthetic manufacture of tocopherol reportedly requires the use of hydroquinone, and this is of concern as hydroquinone has been shown to be harmful on many levels (see below). The manufacturing process may leave trace amounts of hydroquinone impurities in the various tocopherol compounds and in the products where they are used.

There are safe forms of Vitamin E (or tocopherol) but to find out which ones that are safe you will have to ask the manufacturer. There is no way of knowing just by looking at the list of ingredients.

Vitamin E is in fact a vital nutrient for our bodies and there are many studies showing that vitamin E is beneficial against cancer. 

Tocopheryl acetate is on the Red List* from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (previously the Breast Cancer Fund) because it might be contaminated by hydroquinone.

There are also a few derivates of this substance that contain polymers of ethylene oxide. This refers to ingredients containing the words PEG or polyethylene glycol. They might contain trace amounts of impurities from ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxine.


So, even though it is not listed on the list of ingredients, products with tocopherols may contain impurities from:

  • Hydroquinone– linked to organ system toxicity, cancer, respiratory irritation, environmental hazards, allergies and immunotoxicity. Hydroquinone is banned or restricted for use in cosmetics in some parts of the world.
  • 1,4- dioxane – linked to cancer
  • Ethylene oxide – linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, genetic defects and irritation

“The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.” – Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

How is it used?

Tocopherols are used as a skin conditioning agent, antioxidant (to keep products from going bad), and fragrance ingredient in cosmetic products*. The compounds can be found in products such as such as creams, moisturizers, lipsticks, foundations, anti-aging products, conditioners, sunscreen, eye shadows, body and facial cleansers, nail polish, and mascaras.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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