Though most fade to a pencil-thin line in a year or two, they never completely disappear. "The key to making scars less visible is treating them early," says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.
What works: Mederma, an over-the-counter topical gel. Studies suggest its active ingredient, onion extract, helps realign the skin's collagen and smooth out scars. The gel, which is safe to use while you're nursing or pregnant, works best on scars under a year old but may minimize ones you've had for as long as eight years. Other treatments include self-adhesive foam strips, such as Curad Scar Therapy Cosmetic Pads. "They apply slight pressure, which may flatten the scar and lighten the redness," says David Leffell, M.D., professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale School of Medicine and author of Total Skin. Doctor's-office procedures, such as laser treatment and steroid injections, typically give better, faster results but cost more.
What doesn't: Vitamin E products. Moisturizer can help skin look younger, and the massaging action can soften a new scar. "But there's nothing about vitamin E that can actually change the skin's collagen, nor is there any proof that topically applied vitamins have any impact," says Stephen Metzinger, M.D., a plastic surgeon and director of burn services at Children's Hospital, in New Orleans.
Quickest fix: Trade in your teeny bikini for a suit that provides more coverage. Or cover the scar with a cream like Dermablend or a spray-on foundation like Era Face. Both are long-lasting and available in multiple shades, and they won't rub off on your clothes.