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Preventing Those Ugly Scars

Scars are mainly collagen, a protein that's found in the second layer of your skin. When you suffer any cut or scrape that's beyond superficial, you cut down to this second layer, exposing the collagen, which is then allowed to come to the skin's surface.

The key to preventing scars is to break up the collagen and not allow it to bond to your skin's top layer.

Although it is possible to lighten, or even get rid of an old scar, your best move is to stop scars before they form. Liz Vaccariello, Fitness magazine executive editor, has six do's and don'ts for everything from acne scars to cuts from kitchen accidents.

DON'T Use Hydrogen Peroxide: Who doesn't love those little bubbles that froth up over a cut when it's swabbed with hydrogen peroxide? The bad news is that while the solution cleans, it also destroys new skin cells that immediately begin to grow when you hurt yourself. This slows down the healing process and gives scars a greater chance of forming.

DON'T Treat With Vitamin E. Vaccariello said she had been told her entire life that vitamin E prompted healing, but more recent studies show that it, like hydrogen peroxide, actually impairs healing. To make matters worse, about one-third of people will develop an allergic reaction to vitamin E.

DON'T Expose To Sun: Not only do ultraviolet rays slow the healing process, the can discolor the scar. The sun stimulates the cells that produce pigment, and when your skin is sensitive and healing, it's prone to discoloration. Cover the area with SPF higher than 15.

DO Cover A Cut: Many people are confused by this tip, is it best to let a cut "breathe," or should you always stick a Band-Aid over it? The answer is - go with the Band-Aid. When you don't cover a cut, it dries out and scabs over. This scab is not a good thing; it only presents a barrier to healing. You want to keep a cut moist and prevent a scab from forming. Vaccariello advises treating cuts with Neosporin and covering with a band-aid for a week. Then continue to dab the wound with Vaseline or something similar and keep covered until new skin begins to grow.

DO Place Pressure On Cut: You know how sometimes when you lightly run your fingers over your skin, you can feel your scars? You can go to the store and buy special pads that apparently serve to flatten scars; they don't allow the collagen to pop up above the skin when a wound is healing. Some examples of these pads are: Curad Scar Therapy Cosmetic Pads, ReJuveness Pure Silicone Sheeting, Scar Fx and Sypres Scar Sheets.

DO Massage The Wound: Once new skin has grown, massage the mark. This helps break down the dense bonds of collagen. If they are not allowed to take hold, the appearance of the scar will be much less noticeable, or may not form at all. Massage - with lotion - in a circular motion for 15 to 30 seconds a few times a day. One lotion to try is Mederma. It's a nonprescription ointment that contains onion extract and has been shown to inhibit the formation of collagen. There are lots of other products for sale that promise to lighten or prevent scars, however, no studies show that they are effective.

All of these DOs and DON'Ts apply to preventing new scars. What about old battle wounds? Your only real option for these marks, Vaccariello said, is laser surgery.

There are new treatments out there, and specific laser treatments are especially designed to treat certain scars. Some help smooth and remove redness, others are perfect for acne scars, and still others vaporize shallow scars and allow smoother skin to grow.

Ask your doctor what's right for you. The thing to remember here is that these treatments are expensive - anywhere from $300 to $600 a pop -- and you will need multiple treatments to make a scar lighten or disappear.

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