Need Scar Treatment? Here Are Some of Your Options

If you have a scar on your body or face that’s bothering you, it may be helpful to speak with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon about the best treatments for it.

A scar is a visible marking that your skin may create during the healing process after damage. For instance, you may develop a scar after an accident, a surgery or cutting yourself by mistake while cooking. Scar tissue is mostly made of collagen. Collagen is a protein found naturally in the body, and it’s important for healthy skin and bones.

[See: Questions to Ask a Dermatologist.]

Types of Scars

There are several types of scars and different treatments depending on the type of scar and how mature the scar is.

Different types of scars include:

Fine line scars. These happen after a minor wound, such as a cut. They usually leave a raised line that will fade over time, says Dr. Troy Pittman, a board-certified plastic surgeon with Somenek + Pittman MD Advanced Plastic Surgery in Washington, D.C.

Pitted scars. Also called atrophic or “ice-pick” scars, these look sunken. They may be caused by acne, shingles or chicken pox.

Keloid scars. Keloids form due to an overgrowth of collagen, Pittman explains. The scar will continue to develop even after the original wound has healed. Sometimes, keloids are painful and itchy.

Hypertrophic scars. These scars also form due to overgrowth of collagen, just like keloids do, but they don’t go beyond the area of the original wound.

If you see a scar on your body or face and you don’t know how it got there, you should see a dermatologist for it. That’s because some skin cancer growths can resemble scars.

Medical Reasons to Treat Scars

It’s perfectly normal to seek treatment for scars because you don’t like the way that they look. However, you may have some medical reasons for scar treatment:

The scar gets in the way of your normal functioning. For instance, a tight scar near the lower eyelid could cause it to pull down, leading to dry eye or vision problems, says dermatologist Dr. Lisa Chipps, of Moy-Fincher-Chipps Facial Plastics/Dermatology in Beverly Hills, California and an assistant clinical professor with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.

The scar causes itching and pain. This may happen with keloid scars.

You’re having self-esteem issues related to the size or visibility of the scar.

The scar inhibits your ability to move other parts of your body fully. For instance, a scar on or near your hands may restrict hand mobility.

What to Know Before Treatment

Before you embark on treatment for a scar, there are a few helpful things to know:

It’s best to seek treatment earlier rather than later for your scar. “The old school of thought was to allow the scar to mature for a year before trying treatment. Newer research shows the earlier, the better,” says Dr. Arisa Ortiz, an associate clinical professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the Laser and Cosmetic Surgery Clinic at UC San Diego Health in San Diego. If you have a new scar, it’ll probably improve over the next several months anyway. However, it doesn’t hurt to try treatments if you’re concerned about it.

A dermatologist or plastic surgeon will probably not be able get rid of your scar entirely, but can improve the way it looks or reduce its size. Some people are more likely to retain scars or scar more easily, Pittman says. This can relate to your age, ethnicity and whether or not you smoke. Smoking negatively affects your wound healing. Younger people, as well as people of Asian descent and those with darker skin are more likely to develop scars.

Keloid scars are the most challenging to treat, says Dr. George J. Hruza, director of the Laser & Dermatologic Surgery Center and an adjunct professor of dermatology at St. Louis University in Chesterfield, Missouri. Keloid scars are thicker, and people who form keloids tend to form them again. Keloids are more common in Black people, but anyone can form them. Those who are prone to form keloids may get a keloid removed through surgery, for example, and then another keloid could very well form in its place.

If you have health insurance, ask in advance what is covered for scar treatment. Coverage tends to vary, and many medical treatments aren’t covered because they’re considered cosmetic.

[Read: Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer.]

Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Scar Treatments

You can try a few home remedies or over-the-counter treatments for scars.

You may hear about natural remedies for scars, like honey, aloe vera or vitamin E. Although these may initially help with wound healing, they aren’t likely to improve the appearance of a scar by the time it forms, Chipps says. Plus, vitamin E will cause an allergic skin reaction in some people, Ortiz adds.

However, there are some things you can try at home for a scar, including:

— Sunscreen.

— Massaging the scar.

— Petroleum jelly.

— Paper tape.

— Silicone sheets.

— Antihistamine cream.

Sunscreen. Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen is the easiest and cheapest way to protect a scar and your skin in general, Ortiz says. This is important because the sun will darken a scar, especially in people with darker skin.

Massaging the scar. This can help to break up the scar’s thickness.

Petroleum jelly. This is helpful for newer scars that are still healing, and it can help the wound from becoming too large or deep. Keep it on the scar as often as you can, though it’s also good to keep the scar covered up while treating it.

Paper tape. Good ol’ paper tape that you find in the first-aid section of your drug store can help a scar, Hruza says. It’s best to start using it once the wound has healed and there’s no open area. You should plan on using the paper tape for about six months. If you can, wear the tape all the time. If that’s not possible, then wear it at least 12 hours a day, such as when you’re home, he advises.

Silicone sheets. Another over-the-counter option is something called silicone sheets, which also help to cover the area with a wound that has healed. You place the sheet over the scar, and that compression helps to prevent the scar from thickening, Ortiz says. Silicone ointment also is an option, but silicone gel sheets appear to work better, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. You usually have to use this treatment for a few months. If you develop a rash or other side effects, let your doctor know.

Antihistamine cream. This is especially helpful for newer scars that are itchy, Pittman says.

[READ: How Much Sun Do You Need for Vitamin D?]

Scar Treatments Provided by a Doctor

If over-the-counter treatments don’t help, or if the scar is particularly large or concerning, seek help from a doctor for your scar. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons have many treatment options nowadays, Hruza says. Your doctor will consider several factors to help steer treatment:

— Your age.

— The scar’s location.

— The size of the scar.

— The color of the scar.

Here are some of the scar treatment options you can find at your doctor’s office:

— Cortisone injections.

— Laser treatment.

— Microneedling.

— Use of a cosmetic injectable like Botox.

— Surgery.

Cortisone injections. Cortisone is a type of medication that can help with pain and inflammation related to many health issues, including skin problems. With this treatment, the cortisone is injected directly into the scar. This is more commonly used for thick, hard or puffy scars, Chipps says. You will probably need more than one injection to see improvements. These injections also can help to decrease pain caused by the scar.

Laser treatment. There are different types of lasers used for scars, such as an ablative fractional carbon dioxide laser and a nonablative fractional laser.

Laser therapy can do several things to help with your scar, such as change the scar’s appearance, reduce redness or lower any pain or swelling. Your doctor will use numbing creams or injections to help control any pain during the laser therapy.

You may need at least four to five treatments with laser therapy to see improvement, keeping in mind that the skin will continue to improve up to six months after treatment, Ortiz says. Some people may get more than four or five treatments but eventually, the improvements will plateau, she adds.

Microneedling. This is a newer procedure that uses many small needles to prick the skin, and that can stimulate the production of collagen, Pittman says. The new collagen can help to smooth out the scar. This is a potential option for acne scars, burns, surgical incisions and stretch marks.

Use of a cosmetic injectable. Botox, an injectable medication used in cosmetic surgery, can relax the muscles in the area of the body affected by the scar. This may not always help the scar’s appearance, but it can relieve some of the discomfort from the scar, Pittman says.

Surgery. Using surgery to help change the appearance of a scar may be an option when the scar doesn’t respond to other treatments, Chipps says. Surgery can help to remove excess scar tissue or release tension in the scar.

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