How to Improve the Appearance of Scars
Some of us treasure our scars for the stories they tell, while others prefer to keep them under wraps. No matter how you feel about your scars, there may be times when you’d like to cover them up or make them look less noticeable. And depending on the type of scar, there are a few options available to you.
What causes scars?
Although they can look quite different to one another, all scars occur when the body tries to repair damage to the deeper layers of the skin, caused by injury, burns, acne, surgery or other trauma. During the repair process, a new tissue forms that is thicker than skin, which is why it looks and feels different.
There are two main types of scars: hypertrophic are raised scars, including keloids, that occur when excessive collagen is produced during wound repair; atrophic are indented or sunken scars, and occur when not enough collagen is produced.2 Atrophic scarring is commonly associated with inflammatory conditions like acne, as the inflammation can actually destroy the collagen in the skin.
Some people are more likely to develop scars than others, including those with severe acne, dark skin tones, or who have a family history of scarring or a personal history of keloid scarring.2 Certain areas on the body are also more prone to scarring, such as the chest and shoulders.
A scar doesn’t only look different to the non-damaged skin around it, it may also cause physical discomfort, including itching, stiffness, tenderness and pain. Scars are frequently drier and the skin’s barrier function may be compromised, although this can improve over time if methods such as moisturising are employed.
The chance of minimising a scar may be improved through proper wound care, so it’s important to follow any care guidelines given by a doctor or surgeon, especially after surgery. Keep the wound clean; make sure it’s properly dressed and taped; and get stitches if your doctor or surgeon tells you that you need them – avoiding them can put extra stress on the skin as it heals, which can lead to scarring.
The sun’s UV rays can make a scar darker and more obvious,3 so be sure to cover up with clothing and use a high-SPF sunscreen to help protect it as the scar begins to heal. Doing this may help to improve a scar’s appearance and may also help to prevent discolouration.
Keep in mind that, as they heal, some scars may naturally fade over time without any additional treatment.
Moisturising may help
Because areas with scarring are more susceptible to moisture loss, you might notice that they can feel dry and tight, even months after the scar first forms. Using highly moisturising emollient and humectant creams can help with this immediate discomfort, leaving skin feeling smoother, softer and less tight. It’s also been found that diligent and intensive moisturising may help to improve the appearance of the scar itself. It’s thought that hydration might work to suppress the formation of extra collagen, which gives raised scars their pronounced appearance.
While moisturising alone can help, it becomes even more effective when it’s teamed with silicon-based sheets or gels, to help cover the area and lock in the moisture. Speak to your surgeon or dermatologist to see if a silicone sheet could help with your scar recovery.
If you’re concerned about new or existing scars, a dermatologist may be able to suggest other strategies that can help improve the appearance or make them look less noticeable. Depending on the type of scar, its location and your own propensity for scarring, these might include surgery, pressure therapy, laser, radiotherapy and injectable treatments. Chat to your dermatologist to find out more about which options will be most effective for you.
The right makeup can be very effective at temporarily covering and camouflaging a scar, as well as any skin-discolouration that may accompany it. Look for a thick and blendable non-shimmery cream foundation or concealer that can be used to build more coverage where you need it, and that won’t budge once it’s set.
Use a brush to apply the makeup to the individual area; a larger foundation brush is great for bigger areas, whereas a fine-tipped concealer brush is ideal for small scars, such as acne scarring. Once you’ve built up the coverage with the brush, gently press the makeup into your skin with a fingertip, so there are no obvious lines or edges.
For atrophic (indented) scars, use a silicone primer first to help fill in the scar and create a smooth and even surface. Give it a couple of minutes to set, then simply apply your foundation and/or concealer over the top.
- American Academy of Dermatology. Scars: overview [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2019 Apr 14]. Available from: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/bumps-and-growths/scars
- Lim DS. Australasian College of Dermatologists. Scar treatments [Internet]. 2015 [updated 2015 June 1; cited 2019 Apr 14]. Available from: https://www.dermcoll.edu.au/atoz/scar-treatments/
- Monstrey S, Middelkoop E, Vranckx JJ, Bassetto F, Ziegler UE, Meaume S et al. Updated scar management practical guidelines: non-invasive and invasive measures. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2014;67:1017–1025.
- Rawlings AV, Bielfeldt S, Lombard KJ. A review of the effects of moisturizers on the appearance of scars and striae. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2012;34:519–524.
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