The People's Perspective on Medicine

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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I’ve broken open vitamin e capsules for two serious burns last two decades. First was spilled boiling water on foot. skin came off in sheets and pain was intense. I flooded the area with Vitamin e gel and continued as necessary. The gel soothed the area almost immedaitely. I went through 2 bottles for a week but at the end the healing was complete. And no scarring. Same happened on my hand last week. Same results.

I never use Vitamin E and my scars heal by themselves.

Trust the scientific evidence. Trust your doctor. Trust your body. <3

I had a hysterectomy and applied vitamin e oil everytime I got out of the shower for about 6 months. it kept the scar soft and 2 years later, you cant see the scar or even feel it.

Hey I have oily and acne prone skin with pimple scars. Should I use vitamin e directly on my skin? I have oily skin… will it make my skin greasy? I really need help to reduce the acne scars.

I’ve used pure Vitamin E oil for dry skin (including mild eczema), cuts, burns & scar-prevention for over 2 decades and it has always worked wonders. For people who’ve experienced contact dermatitis, I’m in agreement with other posters who say it may be allergies or additional additives/ingredients causing the problem, so if you ever use Vit E make sure it’s the 100% pure, high-IU oil and not any commercial ‘cosmetic’ “body lotion” that also contain chemicals and/or ‘fragrance’. That said, I find the capsules others have mentioned to be really expensive and so (imo) a waste of time & money; here in Canada you can buy a 28 ml bottle (with plastic applicator) of 28,000 IU Vit E in most pharmacies – on the more expensive side, Jamieson brand is about $16 per bottle, whereas Shopper’s Drug Mart’s “Life” brand is only about $10 per bottle (either way you don’t need much so it lasts a long time – I use it daily and a bottle lasts me at least a few months). Imo highly recommended.

Lyette, yes Vitamin E can clog pores. If you have oily scan and want to try to control it then try mixing a small amount of jojoba oil or virgin olive oil (or extra virgin its less acidic) in your face wash. These two oils have nearly identical molecular structure as sebum (the oil our face produces) Our skin will produce extra oil (sebum) when there is an imbalance or if your skin feels there is not enough it will overproduce.

By washing your skin with face wash, which contains either jojoba or olive oil, you can trick your skin. This will prevent your skin from overcompensating and producing too much oil. If you have a cut or have broken skin on your face, you can rub a small bit into the spot. You can also take a vitamin C supplement which makes collagen and will aid in healing scrapes, scratches and broken skin.

Fran, did you start applying it before the incisions had closed? That could be the culprit, or perhaps you had an allergic reaction.

I used to bask in the sun. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed these unsightly, brown spots (not pretty). I am using vitamin e oil and I haven’t experienced any of the adverse side effects described by some of the others (dermatitis). I will definitely give everyone a heads up if it works well.

I have only ever had any skin dryness, or any problem, with DI-alpha tocopherol. This being the synthetic version, often mixed with Acetic Acid. Hence, the skin irritation. Perhaps? The D-alpha tocopherol has had no unwanted side effects whatsoever. Of course, this could vary in each individual case. I’m just suggesting that the acid in the cheaper version of vitamin E could be the culprit of the dermatitis.

Fran, you say vitamin E ointment or was it the tablets, maybe there were other ingredients in the ointment you used that May have caused it, although if it was the pure vitamin E that you need to break out of capsules I stand corrected.

I recently had bilateral mammoplasty surgery. I started applying vitamin E ointment to my incisions & ended up with contact dermatitis, a very painful condition. I have been dealing with this condition now for over three weeks. First I was put on an antibiotic for a week, then on cortisone cream for two weeks and it’s still there. It’s a miserable condition. Had I known that vitamin E can burn the skin I would never had used it.

I am interested in the contact dermatitis aspect of it. I get contact dermatitis when the Vitamin E is based in soy oil but not the pure Vit E oil. I burned my face at work and I intend to use Vit E on it.

I really don’t know why most doctors don’t recommend natural vitamin E oil on surgical scabs or burns. My experience has always been positive using natural vitamin E capsules whenever I did not want a scar.
I feel people should research things on their own and then make their own educated, informed decision on the route they want to take. After all, it’s your body and you have to live with it. Doctor’s get paid whether something they recommend works or not. I do feel that doctor’s shouldn’t tell patients that something is not going to work unless they know for sure. In a nutshell, people must make their own educated and informed decision and do what they feel is best.

I was burned three months ago in a car accident, which resulted in 3rd degree burns to about 40% of my body. I had multiple skin grafts and was admitted into Johns Hopkins (the best hospital in the country) for a month. The burn doctors there (and I’d take their advice over anyone’s) highly recommended vitamin E to prevent redness and scarring. I’ve also learned that compressing the scars, like with compression socks, helps greatly.
Another excellent investment is this sticky silicone sheet called Topigel. I use it on the large raised scars on the side of my face, and it does a really good job of softening and smoothing out the scars.

Hello Emily

Hope u r doing well!

My son also just underwent graft surgery due to third degree burnsand has scars on his face and neck besides a lot of other areas on the skin. Can u tell me which brand of vitamin E did u use. Also is there any particular doctor in John Hopkins who recommended this….please advice as this would greatly help us.


Hi Emily,

Read your post. My daughter also got burned 2 months ago. Can you please share the brand of Vitamin e Oil that was recommended to you.


Alright …. after I had an accident I start searching on the internet what will be the best way to remove my forehead scars, and after loooong searching between the reviews of the people, I went directly to pharmacy n purchased a pack of VIT E .. I started using it for about a week or so then I saw my doctor and told about it and he recommended to stop using it n he said that it most prob. worsens things out .. after his words I quit using it on my scars ….. frankly am quite lost , I don’t know whether to use it and follow the people whom experienced positive effects with it, or follow the doctor AND ALL THE STUDIES on the internet that assures that VIT. E worsen out the cosmetic appearance of the scars …..
any recommendations from you guys?

Since most vitamin E products are derived from soy, that is probably what caused the contact dermatitis for some people. For those of us with soy allergies, that is a common occurrence that means most commercially available lotions and creams cannot be used, either, due to soy content. Since soy is the least expensive source and it usually appeals to the health-conscious, it’s added to MANY health care products and foods. I’ve even seen it used for ‘healthy’ fabric softener. Read labels carefully. There are non-soy brands of vitamin E available in some stores and online.

I love vitamin E…very good for skin.
I haven’t tried it on scars but I think there’s no harm in doing that.

I’ve burned myself numerous times and on all the burns I used Vitamin E on, none left scars. On those I didn’t use Vitamin E on, I have scars from almost all of them. Once, when I was a kid, I burned my leg pretty badly (about a 4″ x 5″ area) on a motorcycle muffler pipe. I applied Vitamin E every day while it healed and today you can’t even see a scar.
I bet the contact dermatitis people experienced was from the soybean oil that’s in almost all Vitamin E products. Soy is a fairly potent allergen. I really doubt it was the Vitamin E that caused the reaction.

I hope you have listened in earnest to the replies you have received about Vitamin e oil as a treatment for scars. It is the absolute best, most inexpensive, healthiest way to treat scars. No maderma, no bio oil, nothing works as well as vitamin e oil. I don’t know how these scientists conducted their study, but as all of us can attest here, vitamin e oil — the higher concentration the better — is the way to go. Just massage the oil in — the longer the better, in my opinion — several times a day. Good luck and let us know how it works!

My son burned his neck with hot water.
He has had a skin grafts many times. I am really worried, especially now all his friends call him ugly.
I would really like him to tried the vitamin E but I am scared it wouldn’t work.
Please if you all think it will help him then let me know.

7 years ago, I foolishly opened a radiator cap with a rag. Instantly, the pressure
knocked my hand and rag off the radiator and my face, chest, and stomach got hit
with the steam and boiling hot water coming from the radiator. I went to the emergency room who treated me and wanted to admit me. I refused to be admitted because I lacked insurance. Within 2 days, I had horrible huge blisters on face, neck, chest and stomach.
I didn’t leave my house for 3weeks. I had read about Vitamin E on the internet. I starting breaking the capsules open and applying the vitamin E to my face,neck and chest area which had the most serious burns. Within 2 months, I was scar free and completely healed where I had applied the Vitamin E. The only scaring I have is on my stomach and it is the only area – I did not bother to apply Vitamin E.

Ten years ago I had uterine cancer surgery with a large incision across my pelvis. I used vitamin E from capsules twice a day and to this day you cannot see any scar. I rubbed the oil from the capsule on the scar for about a mo.

Where do you get 32000 iu vitamin e? What is the difference? Where do you get natural vitamin e? How many times a day do you apply it? Do you need to massage it in, leave it on? How many days, months, etc, do you use it?

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!

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 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 have used 32000 IU of vitamin E on my face and I do not have any wrinkles on my face. Naturally I have been blessed with good skin, but at 77 I think the vitamin E had something to do with it.

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.

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