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Best Ways to Minimize Scars

Regardless of the cause, scars are something everyone has to deal with at some point. Whether big or small, they’re an amazing example of the miraculous way skin recovers when it’s wounded and you can take action along the way to ensure any scar you get looks as normal as possible.

How Scars Form

Scar formation itself is often an imperfect process. The formation of a scar is literally the re-forming of damaged skin. It involves multiple factors and processes, from hereditary influence to health concerns, diet, and lifestyle choices like smoking, sun tanning, and alcohol consumption (Hint: Unhealthy lifestyle choices hurt skin to its core, including its ability to heal from wounds).

Depending on the depth of the damage, scars can be flat or raised; red, tan, or dark in color; almost invisible or way too obvious; straight, round, ragged, or snake-like; or even look like tire treads. None of these looks are what anyone hopes to have left over from skin damage.

Scarring is a complicated discussion because wounds, ranging from a simple scrape to surgery, can result in a minor or major scar. This review is mostly about what to do, in general, to help a wound heal, as the basics apply to most situations. What you do to aid wounded skin’s healing process and how you take care of the area afterward makes a big difference in maintaining skin that looks as smooth and even as possible.

Minimizing the Appearance of Existing Scars

Skin’s healing process varies greatly from person to person—some people heal better than others—but how well your skin heals also depends on how you care for your skin. Following are guidelines and steps to follow when skin is wounded.

  • Keep the wound clean, but be gentle. Any kind of irritation, whether from hot water, scrubs, or drying soaps, can and probably will make matters worse.
  • If you get dirt in the wound, be very careful to clean out the debris, and do it as soon as possible. The longer foreign matter stays in a wound, the more likely the risk of infection (and infection makes scarring worse).
  • Cuts that occur in the kitchen during food prep can be especially problematic for infection, so cleaning the wound quickly is doubly important.
  • Using antibacterial ointments have been shown to NOT be helpful, unless you see signs of infection such as redness and swelling. There’s also a concern that routine use of topical anti-bacterial products may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Anti-bacterial products also have been shown to increase the risk of irritation. When in doubt, consult your physician.
  • Keep the wound covered (bandaged) and moist. A little Vaseline is rather helpful.
  • Once the wound is mended, ongoing care is important. Aside from treating skin gently, daily sun protection is essential to accelerate healing. That’s because sun damage, even for brief periods of time, hinders your skin’s ability to heal.
  • Products that contain quercetin or onion extract (such as Mederma) have some research showing they are helpful, but don’t expect any miracles.
  • After skin is mended, apply a lightweight moisturizing serum or lotion loaded with antioxidants and skin-replenishing ingredients to help restore skin’s hydration balance.

For some raised scars, over-the-counter silicone gel patches (scar sheets) have been shown to have good results if you’re willing to use them regularly for at least 1–2 months, and possibly longer. Brands to consider include ScarAway and Cica-Care.

When to See a Doctor

There are certain situations where home care for a wound is not advised until you’ve seen a medical professional for treatment. You should contact your doctor or healthcare center if:

  • The wound is very deep.
  • Is caused by an object that’s rusty or that gets rust in it.
  • Is bleeding heavily or won’t stop bleeding.
  • Is from an animal or human bite.
  • Starts to look red, inflamed, swollen, or feels warm to the touch.
  • Begins to ooze fluid.

After a wound has healed, but is still raised, ragged, deep, rough, or looks like a tire tread, there are many options a physician can take advantage of to improve the skin’s appearance. These processes range from laser treatments to scar revision surgery, all of which have pros and cons, which you must discuss with your doctor.

What Not to Do

To minimize the eventual appearance of a scar while skin is healing, avoid doing the following:

  • Do not gunk up the area with heavy creams and oils. A thin layer of Vaseline will do the trick for the first days of healing.
  • Don’t soak skin in water, which can weaken it.
  • Don’t scrub; it causes micro-wounds and impedes healing.
  • This bears repeating from above: Do NOT skip sunscreen. Unprotected sun exposure damages skin and that’s never good!

We also can’t say this enough: Avoid drying cleansers, products with fragrance (natural or synthetic), and products that contain any amount of peppermint, menthol, citrus, eucalyptus, camphor, or sensitizing plant extracts. All of these increase irritation and impede healing.

We know this is easier said than done, but: Don’t pick or disturb the scab. Let it come off on its own or you risk making the scar worse. Scabs protect the delicate new skin forming below and the longer you leave them on, the smaller and less apparent the scar is likely to be.

Massaging your skin with vitamin E, coconut oil, essential oils, or expensive products that claim to heal scars have mostly been shown to be a waste of time and money. Surprising fact: They can actually disturb the skin because all the rubbing stretches the skin’s elastin and/or breaks down collagen.

References for this information:

Archives of Dermatology, June 2015, pages 461–477
Neuroreport, May 2015, pages 387–393
Journal of Korean Medical Science, November 2014, pages S249–S253
European Journal of Dermatology, July-August 2014, pages 435–443
International Journal of Dermatology, August 2014, pages 922–936
Dermatologic Surgery, March 2012, Pages 414–423
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, March 2011, pages S1–S7
Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, October 2010, pages 227–234
International Journal of Molecular Medicine, March 2010, pages 347­352
Journal of Cutaneous Aesthetic Surgery, July-December 2009, pages 104–106
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, December 2009, pages 31–47
British Journal of Dermatology, September 2008, pages 567–577
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, March 2007, pages 1,091–1,095