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As someone who’s had five surgeries in the past six years (a result of my hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), I know a thing or two about scars—namely, that they can be an eyesore. For years, I’ve struggled to find a scar treatment that works to minimize their appearance. From vitamin E oil to moisturizing creams to silicone patches, I’ve tried a slew of concoctions, but nothing has worked. If only I’d known about these 17 options.
Scar Treatment: First Steps
The key to a successful scar treatment is starting early. The following should be your first line of attack:
- Clean the wound. Wash the cut gently with a soft cloth soaked in soap and water. Don’t put soap directly in the wound. Pick out excess dirt with clean tweezers, then apply an antibiotic ointment (i.e. Neosporin) to help prevent infection. After a week, add petroleum jelly to keep the wound moist, which aids healing. TIP: Don’t use hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound. While it kills bacteria, research claims that it destroys new cells, slowing the healing process and worsening scarring.
- Apply a bandage. Always apply a bandage to keep the area moist and prevent dirt and infection from getting in. Letting a cut “air dry” is an old wives’ tale. If you’ve had surgery, follow your surgeon’s advice. You’ll likely have to keep the wound covered and dry for at least a week while it heals. Silicone sheets and pressure dressings could be beneficial (see “Medical Scar Treatment Options” below).
- Massage your scar. Once everything has healed, it’s time to break up the scar tissue that’s formed beneath your wound. In the beginning, this can be quite uncomfortable (especially for larger surgical scars), causing sharp, prickling pain or a strange feeling of numbness. Some people feel nauseous during this phase. Massage gently in a circular motion a few times a day to release the collagen that’s clumped beneath the wound.
- Protect it from the sun. “One thing that is very helpful is to keep the scar completely out of the sun with a zinc-based sunblock, plain zinc oxide, or a band-aid covering,” recommends Dr. Rebecca Baxt, a board-certified dermatologist at Baxt Cosmedical in Paramus, N.J., and New York. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, too—or, better yet, avoid the sun. UV rays can slow healing and alter the pigment in your scar, turning it darker.
STEER CLEAR OF VITAMIN E
Your mother may have told you to put vitamin E on a scar, but some research claims this method may slow wound healing and cause an allergic reaction. A study published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery found that using vitamin E to treat scars following a skin cancer removal either had no effect on, or worsened, the appearance of the scar in 90 percent of the cases.
To make things worse, 33 percent of those studied developed a rash (a.k.a. contact dermatitis) as an allergic reaction to the vitamin E. That said, vitamin E is an essential part of our diet, and those who eat too little of it don’t benefit from its anti-oxidant and skin-protecting effects. The result: increased acne and decreased wound healing. Fill a bowl with leafy greens like spinach, indulge in avocado or grab a handful of nuts and seeds to up your intake naturally.
Best Scar Treatment After Surgery
Laser treatments can help reduce disfigurements like surgical scars, burns, wounds, and acne marks by using a high-energy light to burn away the defects. The earlier you treat your scars, the better, according to South Korean researchers. Their study of the effects of ablative fractional lasers as scar treatment on 108 scarred volunteers found noticeable improvements in the scars’ elevation, pigmentation, and vascularity (i.e. efficiency of blood vessels). Another review in The Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy claims that multiple lasers improve the appearance of atrophic (i.e. sunken or pitted) acne scars.
Medical Scar Treatment Options
Laser therapy isn’t your only line of defense against uncomfortable or unsightly scars. Here are a few scar treatment options to discuss with your doctor:
- Chemical peels. During this procedure, the top layers of skin are removed via application of a chemical. The skin then regenerates, reducing sun damage, color irregularities, and scarring.
- Collagen injections. Known best for their ability to smooth out wrinkles and plump lips, collagen injected into a scar (i.e. one left from acne or chicken pox) can help fill the indent, making skin smoother.
- Compression therapy. Also known as pressure therapy, compression stockings or bandages are applied over the burns or keloid scars to help increase enzymes that break up collagen. It’s thought that the pressure decreases both oxygen and blood flow to the wound, reducing the number of collagen-producing cells and shrinking scar tissue; however, more research is needed to prove the efficacy of this treatment.
- Corticosteroid injections. Once injected into the scar, the corticosteroid can soften and shrink the area. In some cases, they can also prevent hypertrophic (a.k.a. raised) and keloid (i.e. thick, irregular, overgrown scarring) scars from forming.
- Cryosurgery. A localized application of intense cold to kill unwanted tissue. Research has proven that cryotherapy is an efficient and effective therapy to rid you of unwanted scars, especially in smaller areas (i.e. acne).
- Dermabrasion. This procedure removes the top layers of skin through a rapidly revolving abrasive tool. The result: smoother skin with smaller scars.
- Radiation therapy. This treatment is rarely used but can be successful at minimizing scars that don’t respond to other therapies.
Scar Treatment: Home Remedies and Over-The-Counter Solutions
Not a fan of medication? Try one of these natural therapies:
- Aloe Vera. The gel from this tropical plant can help reduce inflammation and improve healing of burn wounds, says the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center. Apparently, aloe can hinder the formation of thromboxane (a substance that causes blood clotting). Aloe has also been shown to combat bacteria and fungi, helping prevent infection.
- Onion extract gel. A study of 60 patients published in The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that those who applied onion extract gel (e.g., Mederma) on their surgical scars noticed significant improvements in redness, texture, and overall appearance. Other studies reveal that onion extract gel has no effect on reducing the height of scars, leaving researchers to suggest combining the gel with a silicone dressing to achieve optimum results.
- Petroleum jelly. A split-study of patients with new surgical scars found better reduction in scar symptoms and cosmetic appearance on the section treated with a petroleum-based product (e.g., Vaseline) in comparison to the area treated with onion extract gel. The results were likely improved due to petroleum’s ability to keep the area hydrated.
- Silicone sheets or gel. This treatment for hypertrophic and keloid scars has been used on burn scars since the early 1980s. According to an Indian study, silicone gel can reduce a scar’s texture (by 86 percent), color (by 84 percent), and height (by 68 percent). Here’s how: Silicone can increase the hydration of the area and reduce the production of collagen. It allows the skin to breathe while softening and flattening the scar. It also protects the scar from bacteria. Another bonus: silicone gel can reduce itching and discomfort.
While natural home remedies may work for your scars, it’s important to have them checked for signs of skin cancer. “Patients should be sure to have a board-certified dermatologist evaluate scars, as skin cancers can potentially develop within a scar,” says Dr. Meghan Feely, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City and New Jersey.
Effective Acne Scar Treatments
Sick of those tiny pock-marked reminders from ninth grade? Luckily, many of the options mentioned above can successfully reduce annoying pitted scars. “Often, in-office procedures are necessary to treat acne scars” says Dr. Meghan Feely, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and New Jersey. These include treatments like chemical peels, subcision (where the scar is “freed” from underlying tissue and allowed to “float” back up to the surface before being smoothed), fillers, microneedling (tiny needles repeatedly puncture the skin, rejuvenating it), skin tightening, and lasers. Finally, Feely suggests using topical retinoids, medications which may help remodel collagen.
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