Teach Me

How You Can Minimize the Appearance of Unsightly Scars

Scars happen. Maybe your knife slips when you’re making dinner. Maybe you trip and scrape your knees on the sidewalk. Maybe you need surgery. If you seriously injure your skin, the healing process will probably leave a scar.

“A scar is just your body’s response to an injury, whether that’s a traumatic injury or a surgical incision, said Joshua Tournas, MD, a dermatologic surgeon at Banner Health Clinic in Sun City, AZ.

But he pointed out there’s a difference between typical, expected scarring and abnormal or excessive scarring. “Our job is to coach people through the post-operative period to help make scars as minimally apparent as possible,” he said.

In general, having a good skincare regimen and using sunscreen can keep your skin healthy, so it heals after it’s injured or after surgery. “Good hydration and nutrition, and taking a daily multivitamin, can help create an orderly wound healing environment,” Dr. Tournas said.

Keep the incision or injury site moist

If you have a surgical incision, follow your doctor’s instructions on how to take care of it. Dr. Tournas recommends a moist healing environment with Vaseline and bandages that helps create an air-tight seal around the incision site. “I am not a big fan of leaving wounds open to the air or letting them scab,” he said. “I firmly believe that wounds that are not allowed to scab heal better than ones that are allowed to scab.”

A moist environment is best even with an abrasion or a surgical incision that can’t be closed with stitches, like with some skin cancers. “That way, the new skin cells migrate in from the edges and the wound heals in a more orderly fashion,” Dr. Tournas said.

Be careful with your physical activity

You don’t want to put unnecessary tension on a wound or incision that’s healing, especially on your torso. Dr. Tournas said to avoid activities like golf, tennis and weightlifting for as long as your doctor recommends.

Don’t try to judge what activities you can do based on how your incision appears. Your incision may look like it’s healing well, but there are deeper sutures underneath that bring things together and bear most of the tension. You could break them with excessive activity. “You don’t want a spreading scar,” Dr. Tournas said. “If something pulls open, it’s hard to go back and suture that together.”

Ask your doctor about silicone

There are many creams, gels and medications that claim to help reduce the appearance of scars. Dr. Tournas recommends products that contain silicone, either in a gel or in strips or patches (ie. silicone scar tape). “Silicone is one of the few things that’s been shown in side-by-side studies to have a positive impact on scars. I tell my patients it’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best we have at the moment,” he said.

Your doctor can advise you on when you might start silicone treatments—it’s usually best to wait until the sutures are out and the wound is healed. He said the silicone products you can buy at a pharmacy are comparable to the ones you can purchase in a plastic surgeon’s office.

Talk to your doctor about your concerns regarding your scar

Most surgical scars heal well but ask your doctor about it if your scar seems thick or unusual. “Come in earlier rather than later,” Dr. Tournas said. “Even with the best surgical technique, you can still have some form of disordered wound healing, but we have a variety of treatment options.” Your doctor might recommend:

  • Silicone
  • Massage
  • Steroid injections
  • Mechanical dermabrasion
  • Laser resurfacing
  • Surgical scar revision

The bottom line

Scars are a natural part of the healing process when you injure your skin. But caring for your skin as it heals can keep their appearance to a minimum. And if you’re not happy with the way your scar looks, your doctor can recommend treatment options.

To learn more about caring for your skin, check out these articles: