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It’s embarrassing to have an obvious scar that people can see when they look at you. Scars that involve the face are some of the most difficult to deal with. Scars form when cells on the surface of the skin are injured or damaged. This can come from a cut, scrape, burn, or puncture, or, from picking at acne bumps. It’s also not uncommon to have scarring after a surgical procedure.

What Causes Scarring?
When skin cells are damaged, cells in the deeper layer of the skin known as fibroblasts are called into play. These cells produce collagen, one of the strongest proteins in the body. These powerful proteins help to reinforce the damage. In a sense, they form a natural bandage over the wounded area. Unfortunately, the collagen fibers laid down by the fibroblasts are arranged in a somewhat disorganized manner. This causes a scar to be visible on the skin.

In some cases, the fibroblasts produce too much collagen, leading to a very thick, raised area on the skin. This is called a hypertrophic scar. People with darker skin are more prone to hypertrophic scarring. Most wounds will have some degree of scarring, but some people have fibroblasts that “overreact” and form a thick, heavy raised scar that can be disfiguring.

Once a scar has formed, it can’t be completely removed. Fortunately, there are ways to make it appear less noticeable. There are procedures a doctor can perform, such as dermabrasion or laser resurfacing to improve the look of a scar, but most people don’t need to resort to these procedures in order to achieve results. There are topical treatments that don’t require the care of a dermatologist, and which can make scars less noticeable.

One treatment that can improve the appearance of a scar is onion extract. Onion extract is an ingredient in some skin care products, and has natural anti-inflammatory properties that seem to help block the collagen production that leads to scarring. It may take several months of consistent use to see results.

Another treatment that can improve the appearance of scars is silicone. Silicone comes in the form of a gel in some products. When you apply the gel, it dries quickly leaving a moisturizing membrane over the surface of the scar. It’s not clear how silicone works, but it seems to rearrange the collagen fibers so they’re more uniformly placed. This can reduce the severity of the scar.

Alpha-hydroxy acids can also improve the appearance of superficial scars, although they’re unlikely to have much impact on deeper ones. They work by gently exfoliating the surface cells that overlay the scar. You can buy alpha-hydroxy acids in a concentration of up to 5% over the counter. Dermatologists can do skin peels using alpha-hydroxy acid concentrations as high as 70% to treat acne scarring. Alpha-hydroxy acids can cause stinging and skin irritation in many people.

Other Treatments
For deep scars, topical treatments may not be effective. In these cases, laser resurfacing or dermabrasion is an option, although these procedures are expensive, and they require time for healing. In some cases, deep scars can be injected with a filler to even out the skin surface.

The Bottom Line?
The appearance of many superficial scars can be improved by using products containing silicone or onion extract. Alpha-hyxdroxy acids are an option for superficial acne scars, although skin irritation can be a problem with these products. It can take several months to see results, so don’t expect an improvement overnight. Be patient and chances are that scar will be less visible if you are consistent with your products.