What’s the Best Scar Cream and Why?
I don’t know many people who don’t have a scar of some sort. Some of the stories behind them can be very entertaining actually. For some people though scars can be embarrassing or a constant reminder of something they’d like to forget. If you find yourself in this position it is important you know your options before deciding which over the counter scar cream or scar treatment to use.
The good news is that you don’t need a prescription from a doctor for most scar products. The bad news is that most popular scar creams are successful because of clever marketing rather than true science. Before you commit, research the ingredients to find out what science, if any, exists to support the claims made on the packaging.
Vitamin E is the perfect example. Most people think vitamin E is the best remedy for scars. In reality it causes contact dermatitis in 33% of people who use it topically and it doesn’t even do anything for scar healing! Scientific and clinical studies have shown this time and time again yet many products continue to include it as an ingredient because of marketing…. because people expect it.
Another great example is onion extract (the main ingredient in Mederma skin care). Again, many companies, including the “chain store own brands”, have jumped on the onion extract bandwagon despite studies showing it fares no better than plain petroleum jelly in improving scar appearance.
Vitamin C on the other hand DOES improve scar healing, as does silicone. Both help improve scar appearance and texture, fading and softening both old and new scars. Vitamin C acts by encouraging healthy collagen formation (rather than unorganized collagen), and improves orientation of collagen fibres within the scar. The exact mechanism by which silicone works is unknown but it is thought to draw moisture into the scar.
Most scar products contain water which encourages the growth of bacteria. These bacteria are introduced into the cream once the container is opened by the user’s hand. To prevent this growth of bacteria and potential infections, skin care companies use preservatives like parabens, methylparabens and formaldehydes. While there are plenty more to choose from, these are the most commonly used preservatives. Unfortunately, they are also among the most irritating and cause contact allergy in as many as 9% of users.
It’s not jut the picking the right product that’s important. Some people don’t actually take care of the fresh wound as they should. Use an antibacterial, skin-friendly soap like Dial to keep the affected area clean and decrease the risk of infection. Fresh skin wounds should also be kept covered for the first few days. Half-strength peroxide works well to clean dirty wounds but should be avoided once the injury has been cleaned of all debris. This is because peroxide not only kills germs, but also the “good” skin cells needed for wound healing.
It takes time for scars to improve, up to 2 years in fact. Even the most effective scar treatments usually need to be used for several weeks before improvement is seen. Start using your treatment of choice as soon as the skin heals over (or your sutures are removed), and keep using it as long as the scar continues to fade and improve.
Sun block is crucial for protecting newer scars. Prolonged sun exposure can cause progressive and permanent redness. Fresh scars repeatedly exposed to the sun can also turn very dark. Protection from the sun should continue at least until the scar is 2 years old. Once scars are over 2 years old, color changes are much less likely with sun exposure.
Scar massage is a must, regardless of which product you choose. Most plastic surgeons recommend massaging scars firmly for several minutes a day (you can’t overdo it) to help soften and flatten scars. This can be performed when applying the scar cream or lotion and may actually help the absorption of some ingredients by the skin.