Whether from cuts, scrapes, burns, or other injuries, most people carry scars with them throughout life. And for those people, it's likely they're curious about how to remove them or lessen their appearance.
This is a question that Dermatologists receive regularly, considering how you can pick up scars from many places—even too much sun damage can lead to sunburn scars. Although Derms never like to see skin damage, they can help you learn how to fade burn scars and other blemishes. Here is some general information on scarring and tips on how to both prevent lasting markings and fade burn scars once they've already occurred.
How a Scar Forms
Regardless of the event (or habit) that led to the damage, your skin is at risk of scarring from any injury. Trauma elicits a cascade of events that starts with hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and scar maturation.
Essentially, the injury elicits signals to first stop the bleeding and recruit the immune cycle to clean up the wound and fend off infection. Then, your skin starts to heal by stimulating the production of fibroblasts (the cell that makes up the body's connective tissue) and keratinocytes (the cell type that primarily makes up the epidermis) to rebuild the intricate layers of the skin. This all starts very quickly, beginning within minutes and lasting many days depending on the severity of the injury. Once a fresh scar has formed, the scar tissue continues to remodel and strengthen over the course of months.
How the scar ultimately will look depends on how well you take care of your skin during the initial healing phase. The first few days to weeks are an absolutely critical period for scar reduction that requires meticulous wound care to minimize the appearance of the mark left behind. See below for tips on wound care.
How to Fade Burn Scars—Immediate Aftercare
If you've just suffered a severe burn, here's how to treat the area to minimize scar appearance.
Whether you've experienced a sunburn, a burn from heat, or any other trauma that has broken the skin, you should begin by washing the injury. Gently and thoroughly clean the wound with soap and water. Any foreign matter will slow healing and could cause infection, ultimately increasing the visibility of the scar.
Next, apply petroleum jelly and bandages to keep your damaged skin covered and moist. These are the conditions under which skin does its best and fastest healing. For larger or deeper wounds, consider applying a high-quality topical antimicrobial medicine, such as EltaMD Silver Gel, directly against the wound under the petroleum jelly. This will further minimize risk of infection and speed healing.
Be sure to change your wound dressing daily until the skin has completely reepithelizalized—regenerates, that is—closing the wound to the outside environment. Until then, you should keep the damaged skin moist with antimicrobials and petroleum jelly and covered by bandages for as much of the time as possible. You may have heard that letting a healing wound "breathe" helps the healing process, but this is untrue—it may actually cause additional discomfort and disrupt the healing process.
Following Up and Care for Older Scars
After the skin has healed over, there will continue to be discoloration of the skin; this will take many more months to finally settle down. This dyspigmentation, either darker or lighter in color, is more pronounced and takes longer to fade in individuals with a darker skin tone. Just as ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes your healthy skin to change color, exposure to UV light can cause persistent discoloration. To minimize the red to brown color, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to the scarred area daily. In fact, you'd be doing your body a favor by applying a daily sunscreen to any exposed skin, but this is especially important for scars and damaged skin. Be sure to touch up those areas too, taking care to reapply every 2 hours or as needed.
In the case that your scars are older and you're just now looking to lessen their appearance, a silicone gel may help soften and lighten the damaged tissue. Sun care remains key as long as the scar is exposed to the sunlight. Don't put too much stock in over-the-counter scar removers and reducers, as results are mixed. The American Association of Dermatology also recognizes steroid injections, laser treatments, and surgery as possible solutions for scar reduction, especially for keloid, the raised pink scars that some get.
Finally, if the burn or wound is deep or there are concerns of infection, see a doctor or your board-certified Dermatologist immediately for proper medical treatment. After the initial threat of the wound has been dealt with, your Derm will be happy to discuss treatment options with you that should help minimize the residual signs of damage. They will also work with you to develop a treatment regimen for older burns and scars that you may have collected through life but are interested in kicking to the curb. Remember: Dermatologists are your ultimate ally in all things skin!