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Vitamin E Is Controversial Treatment for Scars

Many people have heard that using Vitamin E oil can help prevent scars, but because dermatitis is a common reaction to topically applied Vitamin E, care should be taken.

Dermatologists insist that putting vitamin E on a burn or a wound will do nothing to prevent scarring and may even do harm. The People’s Pharmacy readers, on the other hand, are convinced that topical use of vitamin E can prevent or reverse scarring.

What kind of evidence convinces you–experiment or experience? Most physicians side with experiments. Those that have been 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).

A recent 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.”

Despite the studies, many readers have a different perspective:

“My personal experience based on applying Vitamin E from the capsule was remarkable. The left side of my face was deeply pock marked from auto window glass being embedded in the skin when I was thrown against the window in a serious auto accident. I pulled pieces of glass out for several weeks afterwards.

“After about three months I began to apply Vitamin E directly from the capsule. Within a year the pock marks were gone and no trace remains today. Most of the teeth marks where the skin was broken from the inside of my mouth are visible only with a magnifying glass.”

Another reader used vitamin E to avoid scars from a burn:

“My 16-year-old son was working in a fast food restaurant when his arm got burned from elbow to wrist due to faulty equipment. He had first, second and third degree burns. When I asked the doctor about putting vitamin E oil on his arm to keep it from scarring, he said it wouldn’t work. I did it anyway and I’m happy to say there are no scars on my son’s arm.”

Serious burns require immediate medical treatment.

Sometimes physicians do recommend vitamin E:

“I had a bone implant in my big toe. When my doctor took out my stitches, he told me to rub vitamin E on the scar. The scar disappeared! When I show my friends my toe, they can’t believe I had the implant.”

Not everyone has had a good outcome with vitamin E, however. Some readers have suffered contact dermatitis:

“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.”

Because contact dermatitis from topical vitamin E is common, it makes sense for anyone who plans to try this treatment to test it first on a small patch of skin on the forearm.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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