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Reducing Scars: What Works and What Doesn’t

Once you have a scar, there are many strategies and products for minimizing scarring. Here’s the scoop on how they work.

  • Sunscreen. Sun protection is vital for minimizing a scar and preventing hyperpigmentation, says California dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD. She recommends a sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide -- blocking agents protect against UVA and UVB rays. Look for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Badreshia-Bansal also suggests massaging around a wound to help prevent the development of thick scars.
  • Fancy creams. Skip pricey creams, says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. You'll find many creams that claim help healing because they contain vitamin E or cocoa butter, but there's no hard evidence that they work. To keep a scab moist -- and hopefully free from itch -- dab on a little petroleum jelly instead, Tanzi says.
  • Silicon gel sheeting. Putting a sheet of silicon gel on a scar every day may help it fade or keep it from getting worse. The sheeting is available at pharmacies or from dermatologists. Florida dermatologist Andrea Cambio, MD, says gel sheeting should be used for at least three months for best results.
  • Concealer. This can be a good temporary way to make a scar go undercover. Pick a shade that is most effective with the color of your scar. "If the scar is red or pink, try a concealer with a green undertone,” Cambio says. “If the scar is brown, try a concealer with a yellow undertone. If the scar is lighter that your normal skin, pick a concealer that matches your skin tone." Cambio also suggests using a concealer that is waterproof.
  • Bleaching creams. These may help fade some dark scars, also called hyperpigmentation. Some hyperpigmentation is permanent, however. Ask your dermatologist for suggestions.
  • Injectible fillers. Injecting substances such as collagen or fat can immediately raise sunken scars. However, this treatment doesn’t last permanently and may need to be repeated.
  • Steroid injections. These may help flatten raised scars, but a long-term course may be needed.
  • Dermabrasion. This procedure uses special equipment to remove the surface of the skin, helping to reduce the look of raised scars. Microdermabrasion, a less invasive process, can help superficial scars.
  • Laser resurfacing. This is done two ways: The skin surface is removed with lasers, or lasers are used to work on the collagen in the dermis without removing the upper layer of skin.
  • Surgery. You can’t remove a scar entirely with surgery, but you can alter its size, depth, or color. Surgery isn't suggested for hypertrophic or keloid scars because it can make them worse.

Scar Prevention: When to Call a Doctor for Wounds

In some cases, special attention is needed to heal a wound well and prevent or reduce scarring. See a doctor if a wound is:

  • Bleeding heavily and doesn't stop after five to 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Deep or longer than 1/2 inch
  • Located near your eye or on your face
  • Dirty or was caused by a dirty or rusty object
  • Ragged
  • From an animal or human bite
  • Very painful or shows signs of infection, such as increased warmth or tenderness around it, yellow or green fluid, redness, swelling, fever, chills, body aches, or swollen lymph nodes at your armpit, neck, or groin.