How to Reduce the Appearance of Scars

From acne scars and stretch marks to general burns and scrapes, there are a surprising number of effective remedies.


I had quite a talent for collecting scars when I was a kid — I cracked my forehead open twice, once on my metal bed frame and again on a slippery pool deck. I sliced my hand open once, too: I was rolling down the sidewalk on those shoes with wheels while holding a large glass bottle (dumb, I know). The wheels got stuck in a crack, I tumbled forward and the bottle exploded into several extremely sharp pieces, one of which punctured my palm. Yep, that left a good scar.

I could go on, but you get the point.

I was insecure about my scars growing up. My mom took notice and told me, “Someone is going to love your scars someday.” I appreciate that, mom, and I think I may have found that someone (or maybe that someone just never noticed my scars, which is cool, too).

While learning to accept your scars is wonderful, wanting them gone (or at least a little less noticeable) is also completely reasonable. Before diving into that, though, I want to quickly touch on a few scar facts — namely, that some people scar more easily than others: Asian skin, for instance, is particularly prone to all kinds of scarring, because Asian people generally have a thinner stratum corneum (the outer layer of skin). Similarly, those with dark skin are extra susceptible to keloid scarring, which is when the skin raises after healing. None of this means your scars necessarily need different treatments if you have these kinds of skin — you might just benefit from these treatments more so than others.

Now, with some help from dermatologist Rajani Katta, author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet, let’s get into those treatments. “When it comes to reducing the appearance of scars, one of the main questions we focus on first is what type of scar we’re dealing with,” she explains. “That’s because our treatment approaches are different for each type.”

The first and most common type is hyperpigmentation, or darkened patches of skin. “This is commonly seen in people who have acne on their face and later develop brown spots,” Katta says. “For these types of scars, most of the time they’ll fade on their own, although it can take multiple months. A key part of treatment is reducing the inflammation as quickly as possible, which means treating the acne. For the brown spots, sometimes dermatologists will prescribe a prescription retinoid cream, or a prescription-strength bleaching cream, which can speed up the process.” These retinoid creams work by speeding up the cell turnover rate to help even out discoloration and smooth the skin.

Retinoid creams are also a common treatment for stretch marks — another notorious kind of scar — since they encourage the production of healthy skin cells that keep the skin taut. What might help even more, according to dermatologist Lisa Chipps, is applying a topical growth factor serum, which can stimulate the fibroblast cells in our skin, encouraging them to produce healthy collagen (the protein that gives our skin its structure) to take the place of the damaged collagen that caused the stretch marks in the first place.

Next, we see hypertrophic scars and keloid scars, which are raised patches of skin that typically develop after a burn or an injury, like when I hammer-slammed that glass bottle into the ground. “For scars that are raised and thickened, also known as hypertrophic scars, sometimes silicone gel sheeting applied to the scar every day can help reduce the thickness of the scar,” Katta explains. Studies show that silicone sheets work for several reasons, including simply providing extra hydration, which “results in [a] softer and flatter scar.” 

Finally, there are atrophic scars, which leave a kind of pit in the skin. “For scars that are depressed or pitted, also known as atrophic scars, we recommend seeing your dermatologist,” Katta emphasizes. “We usually see this type of scarring after acne on the face, and there are several procedures that have been shown to help, ranging from laser treatments to microneedling to chemical peels.”

I hope you found all of this useful, especially the most important part: To help avoid scars in future, never hold glass bottles while wheeling around like a reckless idiot.