Is there really one best scar treatment? With so many scar treatment options available it’s often difficult to decide which one is best for you. Unfortunately most promise great results but deliver little. Here’s what works and what doesn’t based on the clinical and scientific studies available.
Common scar treatment ingredients available include:
Silicone Gel And Silicone Sheets Silicone improves the appearance of both old and new scars. Silicone sheets are cumbersome and interfere with clothing and make-up. Silicone gel (Dimethicone) is as effective as silicone sheeting and is much easier to apply. Easy make-up and sun-block application is an added benefit of the gel. Always check the ingredients to make sure the silicone is Dimethicone (certified as safe) and not potentially harmful silicones like D4 or D5 (eg Cyclomethicone, Cyclotetrasiloxane, Cyclohexasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane). These D4/D5 silicones are also volatile, meaning that they evaporate after application on the skin. Any potential silicone benefit is therefore very short-lived. Dimethicone silicone is not volatile.
Vitamin C One of the skin’s main components is collagen. Scars heal through new collagen formation. Untreated skin produces unorganized, haphazard collagen. Vitamin C helps to improve and organize collagen formation. Improved collagen formation leads to faster, more cosmetic scar healing. Vitamin C also decreases inflammation and is often used to lighten dark scars and brown spots. The main problem with vitamin C is its stability. Most formulations contain unstable vitamin C which oxidizes on exposure to air. This is associated with a change in the color, typically a dark yellow or brown. While applying oxidized vitamin C is not harmful, it is no longer useful as the effectiveness of the treatment is lost completely. Avoid vitamin C creams that are brown to begin with as this is typically done to camouflage oxidation.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol) Topical vitamin E may be good for preventing sun-induced skin damage but it has NO effect on, and actually may WORSEN the appearance of scars in up to 90% of adults. Up to 33% of users develop a contact dermatitis to vitamin E (redness, itching and flaking). American dermatologists and Canadian pediatricians recommend completely avoiding scar creams containing vitamin E.
Topical Steroids Most people know that steroids decrease inflammation. However, independent studies have shown that topical steroids have no effect in reducing scar thickness or improving the cosmetic appearance of scars.
Onion Extract (eg. Mederma skin care) Several scientific studies in humans and animals have focused on onion extract, one of the main ingredients in Mederma skin care products. All showed NO benefit from topical use. Mederma performed no better than plain petroleum gel (or Vaseline) for scar redness, itchiness, pain, burning, thickness and overall scar appearance.
Botanicals (Natural Plant Extracts) Many skin care products include natural plant extracts as ingredients, mainly because of their anti-inflammatory effects. Examples include onion extract (see above), aloe vera, licorice, curcumin, green tea, ginko, ginseng, soy, tea tree oil, arnica, bromelain, sunflower oil, safflower oil and chamomile to name but a few. Of these, only a small handful have been shown to improve the way a scar heals and fades:
Linoleic Acid (Safflower Seed Oil) and Oleic Acid (Sunflower Seed Oil)
Interestingly, many scar treatments on the market contain vitamin E, steroids, onion extract, or combinations of these ingredients. All of these either do not improve scar appearance, or worse still can cause contact dermatitis. Of the scar treatments frequently recommended, only stable forms of vitamin C, dimethicone silicone and a handful of botanicals have been shown clinically to help get rid of scars as well as dark spots.