Does Vitamin E help the appearance of scars?

From time to time, people ask me about Vitamin E…and whether rubbing some of it on their incision will make it heal and look better.

It’s an interesting “urban legend”. The belief that Vitamin E helps scars seems pretty widespread.

First of all, what is Vitamin E? It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that was discovered in 1922. It acts primarily as an antioxidant, helping to protect the membranes of cells from what is known as oxidative stress. It also seems to have anti-inflammatory effects, and adversely affects platelet aggregation (which is why we have our patients stop taking it prior to surgery, as it can cause more bleeding at surgery!)

As I always say, “Let’s look at the science.”

Although there have been a few animal studies where Vitamin E seems to have helped wound healing, the outcomes in human volunteers have been very disappointing.

There are two very good studies on the use of Vitamin E as a scar treatment.

In the first study, published in Dermatologic Surgery in 1999, researchers compared the use of twice-daily application of Vitamin E in Aquaphor ointment versus Aquaphor alone, applied for a twelve week period. They then had the patients and independent observers rate the appearance of the wounds. There was no difference and no improvement in the appearance of the Vitamin E treated incisions.

Unfortunately, 33% of patients developed a reaction to the Vitamin E, with a contact dermatitis rash – so the appearance was actually worse with Vitamin E treatment. Not only did the Vitamin E fail to help the scar look better, it actually had a side-effect problem.

In the second study, published in 1986, researchers from the well-known Shriner’s Burn Institute in Cinncinati investigated whether the use of topical Vitamin E cream or steroid lotions would help the appearance of the skin grafts that are often necessary in the treatment of burns. Once again, there was no beneficial effect on the scar appearance with either Vitamin E or topical steroid. Side effects were again a problem – 16% of patients had reactions to the Vitamin E.

Despite the science, the myth persists. In a recent questionnaire of physicians, nurses, medical students and pharmacists, nearly 68% incorrectly thought that Vitamin E would improve scars, and 21% had tried it on themselves.

But now, you know betterDon’t bother with putting Vitamin E on your scar. We have other products that work much better….and that actually been scientifically proven to work! We’ll talk about these options in an upcoming blog.

Isn’t myth-busting fun?!

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