Q. I have scars on my arms and legs after a bad outbreak of poison ivy. Are there any natural remedies for scars?
A. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons report that no single therapy has been proven effective for reducing scars (Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America, Aug., 2011). Although some research suggests that onion extract (found in several over-the-counter products) might help, the evidence is not consistent.
Vitamin E oil research is also inconclusive. Dermatologists insist that putting vitamin E on a burn or a wound will do nothing to prevent scarring and may even do harm. Experiments conducted with topical vitamin E are not encouraging:
“This study shows that there is no benefit to the cosmetic outcome of scars by applying vitamin E after skin surgery and that the application of topical vitamin E may actually be detrimental to the cosmetic appearance of a scar. In 90% of the cases in this study, topical vitamin E either had no effect on, or actually worsened, the cosmetic appearance of scars. Of the patients studied, 33% developed a contact dermatitis to the vitamin E. Therefore we conclude that use of topical vitamin E on surgical wounds should be discouraged” (Dermatologic Surgery, April, 1999).
An article in the journal American Family Physician (Aug. 1, 2009) concludes: “Many patients use topical vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) hoping its antioxidant properties will prevent scars. However, there is little evidence that it is helpful, and some patients develop a contact dermatitis that may delay healing.”
That said, many visitors to our website (PeoplesPharmacy.com) report that vitamin E applied topically has been helpful, but it can trigger a nasty rash in up to a third of those who use it. If you try vitamin E, test it first for several days on the inside of your forearm.
So you can see for yourself what visitors to this website have offered when it comes to vitamin E we paste several comments below:
This comes from F.D.
“Whenever I see reports of the lack of effectiveness of Vitamin E for various issues I wonder what type of Vitamin E was used in that study. I use only the d versions rather than the synthetic mix of d/l because that seems to make more sense to me. I also think (educated guess only) that the E complex is probably more natural and probably more effective than any one of the sub-types alone.
“I have had excellent results over many years in scar prevention and pain relief from substantial cooking burns as well as for other injuries.”
Dale offers this:
“I know it works. In an auto accident some years ago, my face slammed into a side window embedding small pieces of glass on the left side of my face and chin. Little by little the pieces dropped out and left very ugly scars. After the wounds healed I began to apply daily Vitamin E. I did the same to surgery scars a few years after that. Within a year the scars in both places disappeared and there is no sign of them forty years later either place.”
“I had a bad burn with an enormous blister that went around half my hand when I was in my 20’s. I had heard about applying vitamin E directly on the wound and used it. I applied it constantly and kept it moist 24 hours a day, covered very loosely by gauze. You could not possibly find anything anywhere on my hand today. The skin looks exactly the way it did before the burn. I continued to use Vitamin E whenever I had anything that affected my skin in terms of potential scars. It has always worked.”
“I got badly burned once when my campstove blew up. I had huge dark blisters all over my face. I decided to try vitamin E straight from the capsule on one side, and Silvadene (sp?), the burn cream they use at a local hospital’s burn unit which is supposed to be the cutting edge in burn treatment, on the other side. Guess what, the results from the 2 sides were identical, i.e., no scar on either side. So how about that? By the way, I heal lightning fast from injuries anyway; still, this seems worth a mention. Cheers!”
We would always say that a bad burn requires immediate medical attention! And not everyone gets good results from vitamin E. Here is just one of many reports of contact dermatitis from vitamin E:
“Many years ago I heard Vitamin E oil was good for dry skin. My skin was always dry and I applied Vitamin E oil for several days on my legs and arms. I ended up with a severe case of dermatitis. It went away after I discontinued the vitamin E oil.”
That is why it is important to test a small patch of skin on the forearm (with some vitamin E under a bandage) for a few days to see if a rash develops before considering it for a scar.