Vitamin E Ointment Does Not Improve Scar Healing

The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Baumann LS, Spencer J. Dermatol Surg. 1999 Apr;25(4):311-5.

Abstract
BACKGROUND:
Vitamin E is a generic term for a group of tocol and tocotrienol derivatives. Since the discovery that vitamin E is the major lipid soluble antioxidant in skin, this substance has been tried for the treatment of almost every type of skin lesion imaginable. Anecdotal reports claim that vitamin E speeds wound healing and improves the cosmetic outcome of burns and other wounds. Many lay people use vitamin E on a regular basis to improve the outcome of scars and several physicians recommend topical vitamin E after skin surgery or resurfacing.
OBJECTIVE:
We attempted to determine whether topically applied vitamin E has any effect on the cosmetic appearance of scars as suggested by multiple anecdotal reports.
METHODS:
Fifteen patients who had undergone skin cancer removal surgery were enrolled in the study. All wounds were primarily closed in 2 layers. After the surgery, the patients were given two ointments each labeled A or B. A was Aquaphor, a regular emollient, and the B was Aquaphor mixed with vitamin E. The scars were randomly divided into parts A and B. Patients were asked to put the A ointment on part A and the B ointment on part B twice daily for 4 weeks. The study was double blinded. The physicians and the patients independently evaluated the scars for cosmetic appearance on Weeks 1, 4, and 12. The criteria was simply to recognize which side of the scar looked better if there was any difference. The patients’ and the physicians’ opinions were recorded. A third blinded investigator was shown photographs of the outcomes and their opinion was also noted.
RESULTS:
The results of this study show that topically applied vitamin E does not help in improving the cosmetic appearance of scars and leads to a high incidence of contact dermatitis.
CONCLUSIONS:
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.

My comments:

I just looked this up because I had a total knee patient doing leg presses and I commented that her incision looked like it was healing well. She said she had been putting vitamin E on it, and I said I have heard a lot about patients doing that to assist healing and final appearance of their scars. I said, “I wonder if it works,” as I had heard it recommended by physicians, other therapists, and patients over the years. I had always meant to look it up to see if it was true or not. This was the reminder I needed.

The above study found that not only did the vitamin E solution not work, it led to increased complications with 5 of the 15 patients developing an erythematous rash resulting from the vitamin E and none did so with the control solution. At 12 weeks there was no difference in scar appearance judged in 60% of the patients, the control was judged superior in 30%, and the vitamin E superior in only 10% of the patients.

So I think the use of topical vitamin E for scar healing has developed into an urban legend, for which one can look at as a glass half empty or a glass half full. The glass half full conclusion is that most patients are pleased with the healing of their incisions and anecdotal reports of good outcomes with the use of topically applied vitamin E would likely have been at least as good without it. In the future patients can save money by not purchasing vitamin E oil or ointment. What’s interesting is that this study is 15 years old and it’s the first I heard of in only after I looked specifically for it. Medical myths die slow.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have any questions or comments (even hostile ones) please don’t hesitate to ask/share. If you’re reading one of my older blogs, perhaps unrelated to neck or back pain, and it helps you, please remember Spinal Flow Yoga for you or someone you know in the future.


Chad Reilly is a Physical Therapist, obtaining his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. Exercise Science also from NAU. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification as well as a NASM Personal Training Certificate. Chad completed his Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India.

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Hello! Thanks for checking out Spinal Flow Yoga®!

This is one of my older “legacy” blogs from my prior physical therapy site. If the information you find here seems only moderately related, or a bit technical for yoga, it’s because I wrote it with a different, but still overlapping, audience in mind. However, I think each blog does showcase my thought processes and research base, both of which very much influenced what evolved into Spinal Flow Yoga®.

Further, given that spine pain has long been a favorite topic of mine, much of the content within these older blogs will be directly relevant to Spinal Flow® even if at times I criticized yoga. In fact, that’s why I created Spinal Flow Yoga®, to correct what were, and still are, many physical problems in modern yoga sequences. Time permitting, I may revisit some of my favorites blogs add some content relating them to newer Spinal Flow® concepts that aim to cure neck and back pain as well as improve overall health and fitness from the comfort of your own home without the need for equipment. Hopefully that will make more sense out of why this blog is here. And if you have neck or back pain, you're in luck. Before you needed a gym to utilize my methods, but I've been working hard, gearing it towards home training, and efficiency and effectiveness have been remarkable. Hit the button to learn more about SC5 and SF5, my 5-minute flows, both of which I'm very proud of.