The content and composition of different vitamin E isoforms was analyzed in normal human skin. Interestingly the epidermis contained 1% alpha-tocotrienol, 3% gamma-tocotrienol, 87% alpha-tocopherol, and 9% gamma-tocopherol. Although the levels of tocotrienol in human epidermis appear to be considerably lower than reported in the hairless mouse, the presence of significant amounts of tocotrienol levels leads to speculation about the physiological function of tocotrienols in skin. Besides antioxidant activity and photoprotection, tocotrienols may have skin barrier and growth-modulating properties. A good correlation was found for epidermal alpha-tocopherol (r = 0.7909, p <.0003), gamma-tocopherol (r = 0.556, p <.025), and the total vitamin E content (r = 0.831, p <.0001) with the free radical 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) scavenging in epidermis, as assessed by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. In human epidermis, alpha-tocopherol is quantitatively the most important vitamin E isoform present and comprises the bulk of first line free radical defense in the lipid compartment. Epidermal tocotrienol levels were not correlated with DPPH scavenging activity. The minimal erythema dose (MED), an individual measure for sun sensitivity and a crude indicator for skin cancer susceptibility, did not correlate with the epidermal content of the vitamin E isoforms. Hence it is concluded that vitamin E alone is not a determinant of individual photosensitivity in humans.
We previously showed that alpha- and gamma-tocotrienols accumulate in adipose tissue and skin but not in plasma or other tissues of rats fed a tocotrienol-rich fraction extracted from palm oil containing alpha-tocopherol and alpha- and gamma-tocotrienols. To clarify the nature of tocotrienol metabolism, we studied the distribution of alpha- or gamma-tocotrienol in rats fed alpha- or gamma-tocotrienol without alpha-tocopherol, and the effect of alpha-tocopherol on their distribution. Wistar rats (4-wk-old) were fed a diet with 50 mg alpha-tocotrienol/kg alone or with 50 mg alpha-tocopherol/kg in expt. 1, and a diet with 50 mg gamma-tocotrienol/kg alone or with 50 mg alpha-tocopherol/kg in expt. 2, for 8 wk. alpha-Tocotrienol was detected in various tissues and plasma of the rats fed alpha-tocotrienol alone, and the alpha-tocotrienol concentrations in those tissues and plasma decreased (P < 0.05) by the dietary alpha-tocopherol in the rats fed alpha-tocotrienol with alpha-tocopherol. However, gamma-tocotrienol preferentially accumulated in the adipose tissue and skin of the rats fed gamma-tocotrienol alone, and the dietary alpha-tocopherol failed either to decrease (P >/= 0.05) gamma-tocotrienol concentrations in the adipose tissue and skin or to increase (P >/= 0.05) in the urinary excretion of 2,7,8-trimethyl-2(2′-carboxymethyl)-6-hydroxycroman, a metabolite of gamma-tocotrienol, in the rats fed gamma-tocotrienol with alpha-tocopherol. These data suggest that alpha-tocopherol enhances the alpha-tocotrienol metabolism but not the gamma-tocotrienol metabolism in rats.