Vitamin E Cream and Scars, a Perfect Match?

Letter E with cracks that look like scars
Letter E with cracks that look like scars

vitamin E and scars, not such a good combo as many think

Vitamin E cream improves scars? According to popular belief it does. According to studies it does not and may even aggravate scar tissue. Interestingly, one study shows that when used in conjunction with silicone gel there seem to be some benefits. Read on to learn more.

When it comes to scar removal, many believe that creams, oils, and capsules containing vitamin E are the solution to finally getting rid of them. When you look at what vitamin E actually does, it seems that this should be true. In reality it’s not. This is a persistent myth that embraced by the masses.

The properties of vitamin E make it seem like an excellent choice for scar removal and most capsules and creams are quite affordable. Furthermore, most scars improve over time so the use of certain topicals may unfairly suggest efficacy. That’s is why this belief is so popular. If you have decided to try out this method on one of your scars, you should reconsider. Here’s why.

Debunking The Myth

In many cases, vitamin E has not only been useless in removing scars, but it makes the affected area worse. The NY Times pointed this out years ago. It can cause redness, rashes, allergies, and more. Seeing as these effects can cause your scar to look even worse, these are not the results you are searching for. Many people claim that vitamin E helped them repair their scars, but there are no studies that prove this.

You may have had good effects with vitamin E cream, but these types of results are extremely rare according to this study. It is never a good idea to gamble with your skin. Here’s another study on this matter.

Vitamin E is said to improve scar appearance because it allows skin to be grown quicker than without the vitamin. It has also shown that it can heal certain wounds faster. (other research demonstrates it inhibits wound healing)

A review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Dec. 2006) states that:

“vitamin E has complex effects on wound healing,” and concludes “the evidence that topical vitamin E alone improves the cosmetic appearance of scars is poor. It is also associated with a high incidence of contact dermatitis. The use of vitamin E should, therefore, be discouraged.”

If you plan to use vitamin E oil on the skin, test it first on the inside of your forearm to make sure it will not cause a bad reaction. (e.g. rash)

Does Vitamin E Oil Help Scars?

clinical trials on the effectiveness of vitamin E on scars

vitamin E capsules

vitamin E capsules are thought to help scars heal

Vitamin E is supposed to be beneficial in scar healing. It is applied as oil or by opening vitamin E capsules and applying the content on the tissue. But does this topical use of vitamin E help scars?

In 1986 one of the largest studies to investigate the effect of vitamin E on scars was published in The Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation.

A group of 159 people with scars from burns were randomly selected, some to regularly apply a normal topical cream and others to apply vitamin E to their scars.

The vitamin E group showed no noticeable improvement in the size, thickness or appearance of their scars by the end of the study.

Abstract of the research report by the Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation

In another study conducted in 1999, scientists at the University of Miami followed a group of patients who had recently had minor surgery. (Dermatologic Surgery, Apr. 1999)

Each patient was instructed to apply each to a separate half of their scars twice daily for four weeks. One half with a vitamin E containing ointment and the other with another ointment. Finally the scars were evaluated by the patients, the scientists and an independent observer.

The appearance of the scars treated with vitamin E did not improve. In fact, many looked worse. Almost a third of the patients actually developed an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis (red rash) in response to vitamin E.

Abstract of the “The Effects of Topical Vitamin E on the Cosmetic Appearance of Scars” study report by the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida

Scars, on the other hand, are when skin cells have been damaged and cannot be replaced. When your body is cut or scrapped, it fills up the hole with collagen. These collagens are placed at random and may grow excessively after the skin is cut. This causes it to be noticeable to the naked eye and appear discolored. Also restriction of movement of muscles and ligaments, scar itch and pain may occur.

Once the scar becomes matured and raised on the skin, it can be improved with certain over the counter products but the use of vitamin E is discouraged. There is no evidence or studies that confirm that vitamin E is in anyway beneficial to scars. (there’s one exception, more in a bit..) It also has no effect on acne scars or keloids. Keloids are permanently red and are described as benign tumors of scar tissue that never mature.

From the July 2004 edition of the Pharmacist’s Letter on over-the-counter scar products:

“Vitamin E capsules are often opened and rubbed on the scar. Tell people it doesn’t work . . . and can cause contact dermatitis. Topical steroids don’t help. They’re probably not absorbed well. Onion extract . . . is heavily promoted for scars . . . but so far there’s not enough proof that it’s effective.”

Vitamin E Might Worsen Scars

“Because of its ability to inhibit collagen synthesis, the use of vitamin E early in scar therapy may reduce scar tensile strength and, hence, lead to the development of widened scars.”

source: Topical Treatments for Hypertrophic Scars. Zurada, Kriegel, Davis

Multiple studies have compared moisturizers (emollients) such as Vaseline to moisturizers with added vitamin E on scars. No study has shown any difference between a ‘normal’ moisturizer and a vitamin E containing cream. There are no examples of vitamin E resulting in better healing and scar appearance.

But apart from not being effective, topically applied vitamin E caused an allergic skin reaction called dermatitis in about 30% of people.

Many doctors and surgeons do not recommend vitamin E creams or vitamin E applied to the skin for wound healing or scar improvement.

Or, how Sarah L. Taylor, M.D., M.P.H. from the dermatology website Skinandaging puts it:

“topical vitamin E may actually cause more harm than good, although many patients believe vitamin E speeds wound healing and improves the look of a scar, current evidence from the literature does not support this idea.

In fact, studies report adverse effects with use of vitamin E. Because of this, discourage your patients from using topical vitamin E on healing wounds and scars.”

Vitamin E combined with a Silicone Gel Product

Studies show benefits of additional vitamin E when using silicone gel for scars.

Vitamin E cream in combination with silicone gel sheets has demonstrated to improve:

“preexisting hypertrophic scars by 50% in 95% of the patients, compared with 50% improvement in 75% of the patients treated with silicon sheets alone after 2 months of treatment.”

Another study concludes:

“95% of patients in group A had improved by 50%, whereas 75% had improved by 50% ” and “Vitamin E added to the silicon plate scored better than the simple silicon plate at the end of both periods. We have reported the successful combined action of vitamin E and silicone gel sheets in scar treatment, especially in the short-term prophylaxis* of hypertrophic scars or keloids” source: pubmed Note: prophylaxis means prevention.

While scars may be bothersome and can cause quite a bit of frustration, you should not take drastic measures to get rid of them. Some methods, such as applying Vitamin E to your scars, may seem like a way to be free of your scars, but there are other options. Products that have been proven safe and effective. If there are no studies or tests that prove a theory about the skin, it is best not to try it. It is also a good idea to stay away from treatments that have been known to make the affected area worse in some cases, because it could very well happen to you. There may be some scar solutions out there, but Vitamin E is not it.

Critical note: The use of topical vitamin E is disencouraged by many dermatologists because of the development of contact dermatitis. Taking this into account and since I have not used this combination myself I feel reluctant to recommending this combination of products.

So Vitamin E Does Not Help Scars

but what about all the positive reviews and experiences?

Google on ‘does vitamin E help scars’ and you will be overwhelmed by positive reviews and experiences with applying vitamin E on scars. How is that possible?

Well, to be honest I don’t know exactly. It might be the power of suggestion. If you believe something hard enough it might be true in your perception. The following example might give a better explanation:

Another study evaluated 97 people with old or new scars who used either an onion based gel or a placebo gel.

After two months, there was no difference in scar size, redness, overall improvement, elevation and softness when assessed by physicians. However when asked to assess their own scars, significantly more people using the onion gel thought their scars were softer and less noticeable.

Alternatives?

Luckily, some products do help. Vitamin C, for example, can be beneficial. Read these posts to learn more about the best cream for raised scars, and about your options when it comes to scar lightening creams.

Also, a proven effective scar treatment is silicone sheeting or silicone creams.

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