Time may heal all wounds, but it’s not so good at erasing them. Scars occur when an injury slices through the top layer of skin and penetrates the dermis, says Dr. Neal Schultz, a dermatologist in New York City. What happens next depends on your body’s collagen response. If it generates just the right amount of this skin-repairing protein, you’ll be left with a flat, faint scar. If your body *can’t* drum up enough collagen, you’ll wind up with a sunken scar. You can even fill up on the protein via collagen powders.
But if your body churns out too much collagen? You’re stuck with a raised scar. That’s not to say you’ll develop the same type of scar every time you’re injured, “but people tend to be predisposed to scarring a certain way,” says Dr. Diane Madfes, an assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. In other words, if you have one raised scar, you’re more likely to have another in the future.
Injury location factors in as well. Scars on the chest and neck tend to be especially obvious because the skin there is so thin, and skin trauma below the waist can scar badly because cell turnover is slower and there is less blood flow to the lower body.
As for your still-burning question of how to get rid of scars if you’re sick of them? Fortunately, no matter what kind of scar you have, there are new and effective ways to get rid of scars and prevent being left with a permanent mark.
How to Get Rid of Most Scars
When the initial insult happens, the most important step (after cleansing, of course) is to keep the skin well-lubricated, says Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. A moist environment promotes growth needed for the repair process. Contrary to popular belief, scabs delay the healing process, she says.
Oil-based lubricants work, too—and no need to glop on topical antibiotics either. According to research, there is no difference in the infection rate between wounds treated with Vaseline and wounds treated with over-the-counter antibacterial cream, says Dr. Gohara. “If there are stitches in or if the skin is open: lube, lube, lube.”
To get rid of scars, try to minimize strain, too, she notes. Especially in the case of sutures, less strain means less scarring. Take your back for example: When doctors remove skin cancers there, they recommend patients keep their arms down as much as possible so that the back muscles are not in motion. “When the muscles move, the scar can stretch and widen (a term called “fish mouthing”),” she says. “Daily activities like reaching into the cupboard, driving, and brushing your teeth produce enough tension, so any additional activity should be minimized. It’s important to identify points of strain and avoid them as much as possible.”
And while scars can heal to a tone lighter, darker, or redder than the skin, there isn’t *much* you can do in the case of hypopigmentation (lightening). To avoid hyperpigmentation (darkening), apply a good physical broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher daily, and reapply it every two hours, she suggests. Fading creams with hydroquinone, vitamin C, kojic acid, retinol, soy, licorice root, and berry extract can also fade down darkened marks, she says.
Otherwise, how to get rid of a scar might depend on what kind of a scar you’re looking to get rid of in the first place. Here, four common kinds of scars, plus the best ways to (hopefully) clear up each.