With all the products available for preventing stretch marks and eliminating scars, choosing the best product can be confusing. It is important to look into your options and findone that will work and won’t cause side effects. This is what we found on the popular product, Bio-Oil®.

What is Bio-Oil®?   

Bio-Oil® is a topical oil formulation claiming to improve the skin’s elasticity, appearance, and comfort1. With these properties, Bio-Oil® claims to assist in the correction and prevention of stretch marks, scars, skin tone, aging skin, and dehydrated skin (but may not eliminate these skin imperfections completely). This product also claims to be appropriate to use on sensitive skin and is hypoallergenic1.   The Bio-Oil® product information manual also states that every scar is different and that means they heal differently. The final appearance of scars after treatment with Bio-Oil® may vary between people1.

Stretch marks result from tears in the dermal layer (underneath the outermost layer) of the skin2.  They are often seen during puberty, pregnancy, bodybuilding, and periods of rapid weight gain1,2,3.  Bio-Oil® markets itself to reduce the chance of stretch marks developing by keeping the skin flexible and hydrated and improve the appearance of existing stretch marks.

How does it work?  The key ingredients in the formulation are Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Calendula Oil, Lavender Oil, Rosemary Oil, Chamomile Oil and PurCellin Oil™1.   We will try to go through each ingredient separately and summarize them (although a separate article could be written on each ingredient!):

Vitamin A in Bio-Oil® is thought to help increase skin elasticity, improve skin tone and texture1. Vitamin A is used to improve wound healing, reduce wrinkles, and to protect the skin against UV radiation.  Although Vitamin A has antioxidant effects that could potentially be helpful, there is no reliable evidence that applying vitamin A supplements topically can reduce scars5.

Vitamin E in Bio-Oil® is used as an antioxidant and is thought to prevent skin damage and premature aging, as well as moisturize the skin1.   Again, there is no strong evidenc
e stating that vitamin E reduces surgical scarring6.

Calendula in Bio-Oil® is used for wound healing due to potential anti-inflammatory effects. However, there is not enough reliable information available about the effectiveness of calendula for wound healing7.

Lavender Oil in Bio-Oil® is thought to have skin conditioning properties that provide a calming and soothing benefit, and act as a natural antiseptic1.  When used topically, it can be used to improve circulation8. However, evidence regarding the effectiveness of lavender as a calming property is mixed. Further research is needed before a strong conclusion can be made8. Lavender oil may have antibacterial activity (but this hasn’t been studied well in humans) but further study is needed to draw conclusions8.

Rosemary Oil in Bio-Oil® is thought to provide skin invigoration and conditioning, soothing properties and mild antiseptic effects1.  Topically, rosemary can be used for wound healing9. Rosemary does seem to have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties9.

Chamomile in Bio-Oil® is used topically for inflammation and as an antiseptic in ointments, creams, and gels to treat skin irritation.  The type of chamomile in Bio-Oil® is called Roman chamomile, which is also is also used topically for wounds and burns. However, there is not enough information available about how effective Roman chamomile is on skin10.

PurCellin Oil™ was incorporated into Bio-Oil® to reduce the th
ickness of the formulation, improving its application and spreadability and making Bio-Oil® readily absorbed by the skin. It is also said to make the skin soft and smooth1.

What does the evidence say?  

The manufacturer lists 14 studies on their website that support Bio-Oil®’s effectiveness for skin care1. Although, these trials state positive results there are some shortcomings.  First, the number of participants seem surprisingly low and second, no citation is provided for further investigation into the validity of the results.

After we researched this a little more, we found one individual study supporting the claim that Bio-Oil® will improve stretch marks in the abdomen of women2.  However, the trial had a small sample size of only 20 women, was funded by the product manufacturer, and is conducted in South Africa where Bio-Oil® was founded2. The study did not test it on pregnant and breast-feeding women but the product states that women can begin applying Bio-Oil® in the first trimester for stretch marks. Another review found that there was no high-quality evidence to support the use of any particular topical preparation to help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy11.  Some clinical practice guidelines state that some “topical preparations might reduce incidence of stretch marks” but no published results of a particular product have been that significant12.  Overall, there is a lack of convincing evidence for the efficacy of Bio-Oil®.

Are there any safety concerns?  Bio-Oil® has completed safety assessments with the Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on Cosmetic Products1. Each ingredient was individually looked at and safe for use. Bio-Oil® is safe to use during pregnancy but caution should be used during breastfeeding13. The oil should not be applied to the nipples to make sure the baby is not ingesting the oil. It should not be used on children under the age of two because they have very sensitive skin and the fragrance in Bio-Oil® could irritate their skin. Bio-Oil® should not be applied to broken skin because it is not sterile and can irritate open wounds1.

Bottom Line:  From a scientific standpoint, there is not enough strong evidence to prove that Bio-Oil® is effective in reducing skin imperfections. However, some people have noted success with this product. It is important to keep in mind that the final appearance of a scar or stretch mark can be influenced by factors such as skin type, scar location, type of injury, age and diet3,4; therefore, the  results will vary.  The only real harm associated with trying this product is its cost and energy put in to using a product that may not work!

Kristen MacDonell, Rebecca Peat, Yasir Iqbal, Cassidy Mozak

Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

University of Alberta

Edited and Reviewed by the Health Aisle Team

References

  1. Bio-Oil® Professional. Bio-Oil® Product Guide. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®_Product_information_booklet.pdf
  2. Summers, B., & Lategan, M. (2009). The effect of a topically-applied cosmetic oil formulation on striae distensae. South African Family Practice, 51(4), 332-336.
  3. Bio-Oil® Professional. Training booklet – Bio-Oil® tutor programme: Stretch Marks facts. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®-Stretch-Mark-Facts-Training-Booklet.pdf
  4. Bio-Oil® Professional. Training booklet – Bio-Oil® tutor programme: Scar facts. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Campaign%202%20-%20Bio-Oil®%207%20Scar%20facts.pdf
  5. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Vitamin A. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
  6. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Vitamin E. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
  7. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Calendula. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
  8. Natural Standard. (2013). Lavender. Bottom Line Monograph, Natural Standard.
  9. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2013). Rosemary. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
  10. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Roman Chamomile. Product Monograph, Natural  Medicines Comprehensive Database.
  11. Brennan, M., Young, G., & Devane, D. (2012). Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online), 11.
  12. Treatments of discomforts during pregnancy. In DynaMed [database online]. December 2, 2013. Accessed April 12, 2014.
  13. Bio-Oil® Professional. Bio-Oil® Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®_Frequently_asked_questions.pdf