Ways to minimize the appearance of scars

December 1, 2006

Topicals, lasers and time can diminish scars

Key Points

For some people, the presence of a scar is life altering; for others, it is merely a nuisance.

You may have been scarred in any number of ways. Childhood often confers upon us the marks of mishaps at the playground, running and falling or playing sports. You may carry into adulthood the scars of severe acne. Surgical procedures may have left you with lines and scars that make you feel self-conscious.

If you have a scar that makes you feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, makes you avoid certain types of clothing, or worse, avoid social situations, take heart. Dermatologists offer a wide range of procedures to help minimize the appearance of scars.

Some, especially on the face, can be concealed with makeup. But, if you'd really like not to feel "scarred for life," talk to a trusted dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Scar appearance can be improved in several ways.

Keep in mind that if you know you are going to be scarred by a surgical procedure, there are steps you can take in advance to help the scar heal in a better fashion. Newly formed scars sometimes respond especially well to occlusion (covering up) with silicone strips, which can help flatten the scar, reduce some of the redness and promote collagen growth while the incision is healing. Ask your doctor about the appropriate time to begin such treatment. Once the area is fully healed, after about six weeks, gentle massage can also be useful.

MORE AGGRESSIVE If you want to pursue more aggressive treatment to reduce the appearance of unwanted marks, lasers may be among the options to discuss with your dermatologist.

If the scars are red and raised, the pulsed dye laser (PDL) can diminish the intensity of the redness and help flatten the scar, according to Yardley, Pa.-based dermatologist, Richard Fried, M.D., Ph.D. Intense pulsed light (IPL) lasers with their blended wavelengths can also be useful in this regard.

An important avenue to consider is microdermabrasion. It can help flatten scars and make them far less visible and noticeable. This is especially true for the pit marks and grooves left behind by adolescent acne. A procedure called fractional laser resurfacing can help improve scars and possibly stimulate repigmentation in depigmented scars - these are scars that, over time, have developed a distinctly white or silvery appearance.

This procedure heats collagen deep in the skin working with thin columns of heat. As the collagen is affected, it plumps up, helping to fill out the scar and make it look more like the surrounding skin.

You might also consider topical treatments with Retin-A. Dr. Fried explains that scar thickness can also be treated by injection of dilute corticosteroid solutions. Some people swear by applications of aloe vera taken directly from the leaf of an aloe plant. Regular applications of emollients can also help.

So don't despair. Bring your scar out in the open with a trusted dermatologist and move on to the more enjoyable aspects of living your life to its fullest.