Treatments Help Smooth Scars

Every year, millions of Americans develop scars after surgery or from flesh wounds. For those who want to minimize the appearance of a scar, CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains the various medical treatments and home remedies people now use.

Almost half of all scars are the result of surgery, and many patients like Roberta Berkwits want to do something about them.

Berkwits had surgery on her back for scoliosis two years ago.

"I don't like the things most people don't like about scars -- certainly unsightly, it's very uncomfortable, easily irritated by clothing," she says.

Since the operation, Berkwits has tried a variety of treatments to diminish the scar that runs down the length of her back. She has had steroid injections, has covered the area with strips of silicon gel, and has just begun laser treatment.

"What I want is a flatter, less red, less prominent scar," Berkwits says.

While Berkwits has seen an improvement, she still has a long way to go.

The following are treatments used to help diminish the appearance of scarring:

Silicon Gel. Silicon gel strips such as the ones Berkwits uses are available in drug stores and pharmacies. They are placed over the scar using adhesive tapes. Silicon treatments are usually available over-the-counter in different forms, including sheets, cushions, and gels.

While many people use silicon strips, some doctors prefer that their patients apply silicon gel -- which can be very greasy until it dries -- directly over the skin.

Although doctors do not yet understand how the silicon works, it can smooth scars and diminish redness. However, the treatment can be fairly expensive - from $30-$100 - and can take several months to work.

Scar Creams and Gels. One cheaper alternative to silicon gel are scar creams or scar gels that are available on the market. One popular scar cream, Mederma, is made from an onion extract. While it's not medically proven, Mederma's manufacturer claims that the cream improves the appearance of scars, smoothing and softening them.

Vitamin E Ointment. Vitamin E is also used for scar treatment, but is very controversial. Many dermatologists say that it does not minimize the appearance of scars.

While vitamin E may provide moisture over the scar or soften it, there is no medical research to back up claims that it reduces scarring. Doctors also warn that applying too much vitamin E on the face can lead to acne.

Petroleum Jelly. To prevent infection and scarring from a cut or burn, doctors recommend petroleum jelly. After a wound is cleaned, a small amount of petroleum jelly can be applied. If an infection develops on the wound, an antibacterial ointment or prfessional medical treatment is necessary.

Medical Procedures. For severe scarring, dermatologists have various procedures that may minimize the problem. Skin specialists now used steroid injections, dermabrasion surgery (also known as laser resurfacing), skin grafts, and some newer laser treatments.

Scar Makeup. For those who want to cover up a scar, there are a variety of makeup products that have been developed especially to cosmetically hide scarring.

However, while many scars fade over time, no scar can be completely erased. In general, the older the scar, the less it responds to treatment.

Reported by Dr. Emily Senay