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Studies contradict vitamin E lore

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 percent 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 percent 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) 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 pockmarked 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 afterward.

“After about three months, I began to apply vitamin E directly from the capsule. Within a year, the pockmarks 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.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. E-mail them via their Web site: www.Peoples They write for King Features Syndicate.

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