As many of you know, I had surgery last week, so while I am loving the fact that I am healthier, I am definitely not adoring the dreaded post-surgical scars. Which raises a relevant question: with all of the “healing” skin care out there, which methods work – and which are just hype? FutureDerm investigates…
For years, doctors have been recommending vitamin E, a known blood thinner, to patients to prevent scarring. Unfortunately, according to a 1999 study in Dermatologic Surgery, vitamin E may actually “be detrimental to the cosmetic appearance of a scar.” The study notes that 90% of patients’ scars were not improved or worsened with use of topical vitamin E oil. This is mostly due to an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis in some patients, which may exacerbate the scarring process.
Otherwise, for non-scarred skin, I still love vitamin E, because it has been shown to have higher antioxidant activity than ubiquinone, vitamin C, or lipoic acid. I also love that it helps to protect skin from the sun (however, keep in mind that it is NOT a sunscreen!). According to a 2001 study, also in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, “topical vitamin E prevents oxidative stress and cutaneous and systemic immunosuppression elicited by UV.” Sweet. Overall: For wound healing: <1 star. For healthy skin: 4 stars.
Research on Mederma® is limited, and unfortunately, independent scientific studies demonstrate that use of Mederma® has no effect on healing, but may cause the incoming collagen fibers to grow in more evenly. In the first study, from Harvard researchers and published in Dermatologic Surgery, it was demonstrated that there is no difference between Mederma and Aquaphor (a petrolatum-based moisturizer) when 24 patients used one or the other three times daily for eight weeks. In fact, in this side-by-side, randomized, double-blinded, split-scar study, there was no difference in cosmetic appearance, erythema, hypertrophy, or patient-assessed side-specific erythema, pruritus, burning, and pain. The second study, a 2002 experiment in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, used onion bulb extract-treated scars on rabbit ears. The ears showed a statistically significant improvement in dermal collagen organization in comparison to scars that were not treated with Mederma (p < 0.05). (No significant difference in dermal vascularity or inflammation was noted.) The authors of the study proposed that improved dermal collagen organization could have an effect on hypertrophic scar formation, i.e., potentially reducing the formation or degree of raised scars. While it would be better if Mederma® had more effects, I’d take more evenly-distributed collagen fibers anyday. For wound healing: 3 stars.
Silicone Scar Healing Pads
Perhaps the best, and the only truly effective, option. According to a 2007 review in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, silicone gel sheeting is the only form of treatment effective against hypertrophic (raised) scars. The study considered popular treatments like Mederma, adhesive tape, and polyurethane, and concluded that only silicone gel sheeting has conclusive evidence for being effective in the treatment of raised scars. Who knew? I myself purchased ScarAway Healing Pads ($66.22 for 12 sheets, Amazon.com) for my new surgical scars! For wound healing: 5 stars.
So here’s a shocker: even though aloe vera has been a popular folk remedy since the 1930’s, aloe only has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, and it is uncertain whether aloe helps wounds heal or not. This comes from a 1999 review of ten aloe vera-related studies, in which aloe vera’s efficacy in wound healing was concluded to be “unclear.” The review further states that aloe vera “might be effective for genital herpes and psoriasis” and that “topical application of aloe vera is not an effective preventative for radiation-induced injuries.” Interesting indeed. I think I’ll save the aloe vera for my friends’ sunburns and invest my money in the ScarAway Healing Pads and copper peptides… For wound healing: 3 stars.
Small concentrations of copper (GHK) peptides are proven in a number of scientific studies to increase collagen production and aid in wound healing. However, in higher concentrations, copper peptides activate matrix metalloproteinase-2, an enzyme that breaks down collagen, according to a 1999 study in Nature. It is highly possible that the reason collagen breaks down in these instances is part of the body’s way of regulating the stimulated production of collagen following copper peptide induction.
Copper peptide-containing products are pretty hard to find, but recently Neova® sent me their Rapid Healing & Recovery Kit, featuring copper peptides. I especially like the kit’s Post-Laser Lotion and which goes on like a balm, but really hydrates the area well. For wound healing: 4 stars.
The Bottom Line
If you have a scar, scientific research most justifies applying silicone healing pads, then copper-containing products. Surprisingly, aloe vera and Mederma are not as proven, and vitamin E might even be harmful. With that said, even applying a basic $5 moisturizer can hydrate the skin and enable your skin to invest more of its energy into the healing process (provided, of course, that you do not have an allergic reaction to the lotion). Personally, with my new surgical scars, I am proud to be using the silicone healing pads and copper peptides.
Got a favorite healing remedy? Let me know in Comments below! 🙂