What to Do About a Scar

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

When your skin forms a scar, it is trying to heal itself. Scars come in all shapes, forms and colors. How glaring they are will all depend on your skin’s hue, the location of the wound, and how old you are. And although they fade over time, scars never disappear completely from your body.

This is how a scar develops. First off, the wound gets red and inflamed; in non-serious circumstances, this will last two or three days. Second, the body builds new blood vessels and collagen fibers. Along with water and proteins, the fibers head to the skin’s surface to close the wound. This phase lasts many weeks — up to a month or so — during which the scar thickens, grows outward, and gets hard.

Finally, the collagen fibers start to line up and the scar goes from looking wild and haphazard to fairly uniform and organized. It melts down to your skin’s surface, becomes a little less noticeable, and softens up. This goes on for many months.

Sometimes, scars will act out of order. They can become overly red, raised, thick and itchy — these are “hypertrophic scars,” which are caused by too much scar tissue. Or, they can spread outside the wound’s boundaries — these are “keloid scars” and are relatively rare.

Despite all we know about scars, scientists don’t fully understand the complex way that proteins and chemicals mix to heal a wound. This is an important point when we talk about treating a scar. The problem is that it’s difficult to figure out how to influence a scar’s development in a way that would reduce its impact. In other words, since we don’t know enough, it’s too hard to create a proper treatment.

The debate continues in medical circles about how to treat scars — and whether or not we should try at all. Aside from keeping the area clean, there are a couple of accepted approaches you can take. One is to use a bandage or cloth to cover the wound. (There are oodles of products in your pharmacy that can help with this.) Another is using a moisturizer that doesn’t irritate the scar tissue — use this early and keep going for a few weeks.

With that being said, nobody knows why these methods should work; for many people they are useless. That’s because each scar is different from the next, and your body produces scars in its own way. That’s why there are no blanket treatments out there for scars. You can try using a cream with vitamin E or calendula, but no evidence says these will speed up healing, stop the itching, or reduce the thickening. Other treatments may work, even massage therapy.

All told, you should first just cover your scar and keep it clean. If it doesn’t heal the way you want, explore options with your doctor.

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