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 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.” As Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil of Mudgil Dermatology puts it, “Scar tissue is essentially collagen, which is packed denser than that normally present in skin.”
Although scars are an unavoidable part of healing, there are things you can do to minimize — if not eliminate — their appearance. “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,” explains dermatologist Anita Cela, who specializes in cosmetic dermatology. While our experts agree that in-office laser treatments are the most effective way to improve the appearance of scars, they do say there are also ways to treat them at home. To find out about those at-home remedies, we spoke to ten dermatologists about the most effective over-the-counter products for getting rid of scars, plus what to use to prevent a scar from forming in the first place. Because there is no all-in-one, holy-grail scar treatment, we’ve instead organized their recommendations into a step-by-step guide to treating scars.
Keep wounds clean and hydrated
The first line of defense is to keep the wound clean, moist, and covered in the early hours, days, and weeks — before you even start using a scar treatment. “Don’t let the wound get infected,” cautions Dr. Kenneth Howe of Wexler Dermatology. “This may necessitate the use of a topical antibiotic like bacitracin ointment, which is especially important if the wound occurred with concomitant contamination” — for example, a road-rash injury from skateboarding. (Polysporin contains bacitracin zinc in addition to a second antibiotic, polymyxin B, though you can get ointments that contain just bacitracin.) After you’ve treated the wound with antibiotics, Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, who practices with Union Square Laser Dermatology, says that “you want to keep the wound hydrated with something like Aquaphor, as this promotes faster healing.” 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. “Avoid wound breakdown,” adds Howe. “Proper wound dressing can help in this regard.”
“Honey has been used for centuries for wound healing because of its antibacterial and hydrating properties, especially in burn wounds,” says dermatologist Adeline Kikam, founder of @brownskinderm, a platform dedicated to skin care and dermatology information in skin of color. While there haven’t been many studies on how honey heals wounds, Kikam says that new research suggests it can help with scar reduction, so she says it’s worth trying on mild wounds and burns.