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Scar Treatments: What Are My Options?

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

A before and after photo of an Asian woman's side profile. In the before picture on the left, she has rolling acne scars.  In the after picture on the right, her skin is softened and the scarring is less visible.

They say that every scar tells a story - but when it comes to scarring from acne or an unpleasant memory, many of us are ready to start a new chapter. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments to improve the appearance of all types of scars. There are four main categories of treatment options: topical creams, injectables, non-surgical cosmetic procedures, and minor surgical procedures. This guide will walk you through the more popular treatments in each category to help you determine the best option for your scar.

Topical Treatments

Best for: Minor scars, hyperpigmented scars

How does it work? If you are dealing with a minor scar (such as a well-healed but still visible surgical incision) a topical cream, gel, or ointment may be an effective option for you. Topical treatments can include steroid, lightening agents, and/or silicone depending on your individual scar.

A close-up image of a redheaded woman with green eyes shows acne scars next to her eye. There are three blots of white-colored acne cream applied to the area.

Steroid: Corticosteroid creams are used to help with scar sensitivity and/or to help reduce the size of the scar. It works by combating inflammation and reducing the amount of scar tissue in the area.

Lightening agent: If your primary concern with your scar is hyperpigmentation (a visibly darker patch of skin), a topical cream containing lightening agents such as hydroquinone and/or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid can help lighten the area when applied consistently.

Silicone: Silicone for scar treatment is available in gel or sheet form and can be applied topically to help smooth out and flatten a raised scar. This is because medical-grade silicone increases hydration levels in the top layer of the skin while slowing down collagen production, reducing scar tissue and softening the skin.

Pros of topical treatments: Non-invasive and nonsurgical; little to no downtime; can be more cost-effective than other options.

Cons of topical treatments: Results show gradually; requires consistent use of products to make a difference; results from topical treatment may be less dramatic when compared to injectables or procedures.

Injectable Treatments

Best for: Very deep or very raised scars

How does it work? Steroid or filler are both used as injectable scar treatments to improve uniformity.

Steroid injection: Similar to a topical steroid treatment, steroid injections can help improve the appearance of very raised (“3-D”) scars by reducing inflammation and scar tissue.

Filler injections: If you have very deep scars (such as hypertrophic acne scars), injectable fillers can be used to fill in the depressed area and create a more leveled-out appearance.

A close-up of a woman's abdomen showing a long, thin scar to the left of her belly button.

5-Fluorouracil: 5-fluorouracil, commonly referred to as 5-FU, is an injectable antimetabolite. It is classified as a chemotherapy drug, but is also used to treat keloids that don’t respond to steroids. It helps improve the appearance of raised, rough skin by slowing the production of scar tissue cells. The best results are typically achieved from a series of treatments.

Pros of injectables: Non-invasive and nonsurgical; little to no downtime; results from filler injections show instantly.

Cons of injectables: Injections can be uncomfortable; bruising or swelling at the injection site is a possibility; results from filler injections may require annual repetition to maintain.

Non-surgical Cosmetic Procedures

Best for: Most scar types - especially acne scars, discolored scars, or C-section scars

How does it work? There is a variety of non-surgical treatment options available. Most work by resurfacing the skin, which is exactly what it sounds like - breaking down the damaged outer layer of skin and promoting the synthesis of new, healthy skin cells in its place.

Laser Treatments: A series of resurfacing laser treatments (like ResurFx) can help make scarring look more regular and blend in better with the surrounding skin. Laser resurfacing creates heated channels in the skin, stimulating the production of new collagen. This process helps to smooth out the scar.

A woman clutches her shoulder as a laser scans a scar on her left shoulder.

Radiofrequency Treatments: Radiofrequency scar treatment works very similarly to laser treatments. However, instead of creating heated channels in the skin by means of a laser, radiofrequency is used. Like laser treatment, radiofrequency treatment is typically done in a series of 3-4 sessions for the best results. However, while laser can be unsafe for darker skin tones, radiofrequency is safe for all Fitzpatrick skin types.

Microneedling: Microneedling is an increasingly popular scar treatment. It works by introducing controlled micro-injuries to the skin, which stimulates new collagen production without causing damage. This treatment is great for smoothing out the skin, and is one of the best options on the market for improving acne scars. Microneedling is usually done in a series of 3 or more sessions for the best result.

Chemical Skin Peel: You may have heard of chemical skin peels before as they are a great treatment for acne and hyperpigmentation. What you may not know is that a chemical skin peel can be used to improve the appearance of scarring! This treatment works by temporarily lowering the pH balance of the skin, which causes the outermost layer of dead skin cells to slough away painlessly over the course of several days. This process reveals the fresh layer of healthy skin that was previously trapped underneath.

Depending on your individual scar, this treatment may be administered in a series of several sessions to achieve the best result.

Medical tattooing: Medical tattooing is what it sounds like - trained professionals use medical-grade tattoo ink to disguise discoloration and help scarring to blend in with the surrounding skin.

Pros of nonsurgical treatment: Non-invasive and nonsurgical; results can be impressive; treatment can be tailored to your individual needs; after completing a full treatment series, the results are usually permanent.

Cons of nonsurgical treatment: Some treatment (like tattooing) can be uncomfortable; most treatment options need to be repeated in a series to achieve the best result; these procedures may not be enough to combat major scarring.

A brunette woman with beautiful skin rests her right hand gently against her face and gazes into the distance.

Surgical Procedures

Best for: Scars that do not respond to non-invasive treatment options, scars that are very prominent, C-section scars

How does it work? Some scars require a treatment option that is beyond nonsurgical intervention. Fortunately, there are a few types of minor surgical procedures that can significantly improve these scars.

Excision: Scar excision involves surgically removing the scar tissue in the area, and then closing the incision in a way that is more aesthetically pleasing and less conspicuous than the original. This can help with scars that are wide, raised, lumpy/bumpy, or irregular looking. A scar will still remain in its place, but the new scar will be much thinner and more subtle in comparison.

Skin Graft: In the case of a scar that is very severe and/or involves a large area (such as scarring from a third degree burn), a skin graft procedure may be the most effective option. This treatment involves removing healthy skin from one part of the body (called a donor site) and moving it to the defective area. This typically is used when there is a lack of skin or the previous scar is painful and needs to be excised. This option will leave two new scars, one which may be more pleasing to look at than the previous, but also a new one at the donor site. This option is only used in extreme cases.

Pros of surgical treatment: Usually provides the most dramatic result in a short period of time; surgical procedures can address aspects of the scar that less invasive treatments cannot; results are permanent and do not typically require re-treatment.

Cons of surgical treatment: Involves the most downtime out of all of the options; treatment is invasive; can be more expensive than more conservative treatments.

Interested in proceeding with one of the scar treatments mentioned above, or have more questions about which option is right for you? Fill out the consultation form on the Ideal Face & Body website to schedule a complimentary virtual appointment with one of our in-house experts.


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