We’ve talked about how to battle acne scars before, but what if you’re dealing with more serious scarring from, say, surgery or wounds? “Scarring is a normal and necessary response to a wound,” says Dr. Cybele Fishman, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s the result of inflammatory cells coming in to stop bleeding, prevent infection, and lay down new collagen to ‘close’ the wound.”
And while scars are sometimes an unavoidable part of healing, there are things you can do to minimize — if not eliminate — the effects. “The goal is to treat wounds early and well to prevent the formation of a hypertrophic scar, which is a raised scar that stays within the confines of the wound,” says Dr. Anita Cela, a dermatologist specializing in cosmetic dermatology. To learn about the best ways to handle those scars, we spoke to four dermatologists: Fishman; Cela; Dr. Evan Rieder, a board-certified dermatologist and faculty member in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone (he’s also board-certified in psychiatry); and Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, who practices with Union Square Laser Dermatology. Below, their advice for the most effective over-the-counter products for how to get rid of scars, plus how to prevent them from forming in the first place.
Keep it hydrated
The first line of defense is to keep the wound clean, moist, and covered in the early hours, days, and weeks — before you start using a scar treatment. “You want to keep the wound hydrated with something like Aquaphor, as this promotes faster healing,” says Chwalek. It’s a myth that you want to air out the wound and let it dry, because that will form a scab, which can cause more scarring and take longer to heal. You can add a bandage for added protection.
Keep it protected from the sun
Protecting the wound from the sun is also key. “The sun is your enemy and will impede good wound healing and worsen the scar,” says Fishman. Rieder agrees: “Any sort of exposure will make the scar darker.” Rieder recommends sunscreen with physical blockers, or those that contain active mineral ingredients, like zinc and titanium. Cela recommends products from EltaMD, which happens to be a Strat fave.
Silicone sheeting and patches
A week or two after an injury or a surgical incision is the ideal time to start treating the scar, and all four doctors recommend the use of silicone-based patches (or sheeting) and gels, which is more effective than popular onion-extract-based products like Mederma. Although there aren’t definitive medical studies that prove that silicone works best, the dermatologists we spoke to said there are studies and other evidence that show that applying silicone products on a daily basis helps scars maturate appropriately and minimizes cosmetic damage. Chwalek, Cela, and Fishman all recommend ScarAway, which comes in sheets as well as a gel. Change the sheet once a day and keep at it for two to three months, or even longer, depending on the severity of the wound. ScarAway may also help minimize the appearance of old scars.
Fishman likes ScarAway because it also comes in strips that are the length and width of the average C-section scar, making it convenient to use. “Every woman who has a C-section should use silicone sheets, in my opinion,” Fishman recommends, as those scars have a high rate of becoming hypertrophic (raised and often red in color).
Cela and Chwalek also recommend Kelo-cote, a silicone gel that forms a protective barrier over the scar. For best results, it should be applied to the wound after it has healed twice to several times a day for two to three months.
Another gel product Cela and Chwalek recommend is Biocorneum, which has the added benefit of containing SPF 30, which provides protection from the sun to help prevent discoloration and redness in both old and new scars.
Rounding out the list are NewGel, which can help old scars too, and Prosil, an on-the-go glide-on silicone stick for easy application, both recommended by Cela.
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