Natural treatments can encourage these unsightly marks to fade away.
by Jodi Helmer
A regrettable teenage experiment with facial piercing. The list of things that leave scars is almost endless. Scars might not look great but the process is important for healing.
A scar forms when skin is damaged. The body cleans out dead skin and blood cells, creating a scab, while forming new tissue beneath. The scab falls off when the wound is healed but, in most cases, the scar remains.
“It’s the change in the makeup of the tissue that often results in scars,” explains Antonia Balfour, LAc, DiplAc, DiplCH, founder of Yin Yang Dermatology in Pacific Palisades, California. Even if a scar fades from red or pink to one’s skin color, the tissue changes can make scars noticeable.
Treatments to minimize the appearance of scars can include prescription medications and steroid injections. However, natural medicine doctor and nutritionist Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, believes people are seeking out natural alternatives to minimize scarring.
“Conventional alternatives can come with potential side effects,” says Axe, founder of Exodus Health Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “The major benefit of natural scar treatments is that, in addition to seeing a significant change in the appearance of the scar, natural treatments are quite nourishing and can improve overall skin health.”
Before turning to more intense therapeutic measures, you might want to try these gentle, natural healing agents first:
Apple cider vinegar: This pantry staple is astringent; apply it to the skin and it sloughs off dead skin cells and helps scars fade. It’s also a natural disinfectant. A 2012 study found that the pectin, vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E, and minerals like calcium and magnesium in apple cider vinegar were effective in reducing burn scarring.
“It’s really great at soothing inflamed, damaged skin and helping it regenerate quickly,” Axe says.
Mix apple cider vinegar with honey and apply it to the skin, rinsing it off after 10 minutes. Repeat the process two to three times per day.
Silicone gel sheeting: A silicone gel sheet is a clear, sticky pad that is placed over a wound to speed healing and reduce scarring. Research published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery found that the thin film, when used twice a day for six months, was an effective treatment to reducing redness, pain and scarring.
Silicone gel sheets are chemical-free and almost invisible when applied. For those with sensitive skin, the tape can cause skin reactions.
Aloe vera: This popular healing houseplant has been used as a topical remedy for skin conditions like sunburn, psoriasis and frostbite. “It’s had a long reputation for being great for skin,” says Axe.
Scars are no exception. Studies show that aloe vera speeds wound healing, reduces inflammation at the site of an incision or injury, accelerates tissue regeneration and healing and minimizes the appearance of scars.
Axe recommends using gel straight from the plant’s thick leaves; if you don’t have an aloe on your windowsill, the gel found at health food stores will work. Rub the gel into the scar and leave it for at least 30 minutes. The gel can be applied several times per day.
Helichrysum: Derived from a perennial herb with clusters of brilliant yellow flowers, this essential oil is often used in anti-aging products because of its restorative effect on the skin. In Ayurveda, helichrysum is said to stimulate regeneration of the cells and treat skin damage. Like tea tree oil, helichrysum also has antibacterial properties, reducing the risk of infection.
Balfour suggests adding helichrysum to a high-quality carrier oil like argan oil, which doesn’t clog the pores, and applying it directly to the skin.
Although all four treatments can be used to minimize the appearance of scars on their own, Axe suggests a mix-and-match approach. For example, try applying apple cider vinegar, rinsing after 10 minutes and then applying a thick coat of aloe vera.
“It’s similar to the standard skincare routine of cleansing, then toning and moisturizing,” Axe notes. “The apple cider vinegar will provide that astringent, toning effect to remove any dead skin cells and the aloe vera will moisturize and also speed healing.”
Remember, says Balfour, there is no one-size-fits-all natural scar treatment: There are different types of scars and different types of skin, and each will react differently to natural products.
“People with pale and sensitive skin will react differently to any sort of topical treatment than people with darker skin that is more resilient,” she says. “And people with sensitive skin need to be cautious about anything they apply topically, even natural remedies.”
Help from the Inside
All of these natural treatments can help scars fade. However, when it comes to minimizing the appearance of scars, there is no substitute for a healthy lifestyle.
Research shows that eating a balanced diet, staying well hydrated, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding alcohol can all help minimize the appearance of scars by supporting overall skin health.
Not smoking is also essential. Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow; limiting blood flow to small vessels means wounds take longer to heal.
British researchers studied 992 adults with acne and found that of those with acne scars, more than 53% of smokers had moderate to severe scarring compared with 35% of non-smokers.
Even secondhand smoke has an impact on scarring: Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, found that breathing secondhand smoke slowed wound healing and led to greater levels of scarring.
Whether you’re worried about scarring from acne, injuries or surgery, consider using natural approaches to improve your appearance.