Many see scars as a physical tapestry of our lives, one that is mapped out by the visible reminders of important moments. The first time we learned to ride a bike, the time we slipped trying to climb a mountain, and more. Others would use any method possible to improve the appearance of scars.
In my case, my tapestry is made up of the many briar scratches I sustained when being dragged through wild blackberry patches. I was dragged by my late dog T-Rex, who loved taking the road less traveled, no matter how dangerous. My ankles and forearms will always be a little worse for wear, but I will also always remember my sweet T. He passed away from lymphoma in June of 2018, thanks to those beautiful scars.
Love them or hate them, scars are there. They form when collagen production occurs on a wound site. It mends the damage the dermis layer sustains when something cuts, scrapes, burns or otherwise injures the skin.
Collagen is the most prevalent protein in humans, and it is found in muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, teeth and in the spaces between organs. It, along with elastin, make up much of the skin’s dermis, the structural layer that provides support. Although they are structurally similar, there are several different types of collagen – blood vessel walls are made of a different type of collagen than bone, for example – but collagen type 1 and type III are the ones most active in skin.
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When injuries of the skin occur, there is a lot of communication between cells, but as part of the inflammatory response to an injury, fibroblasts create the initial patch between the two sides of a cut, for example, and begin to form collagen, which knits together the two sides, creating a bridge between the edges of the wound. Over time, collagen fibers will begin to contract, bringing the edges of the wound together. It is a delicate dance because while collagen production is a necessary part of healing, too much collagen production can result in raised, or keloid, scars.
Depending on their location, scars can be life-altering. Acne scars can be especially problematic because the sunken, pitted scars of severe acne serve as a reminder of what was likely a difficult adolescence.
Because of the damage scars can do to one’s self-esteem, there are numerous products on the market promising to help reduce their appearance, especially silicone, which is the most prevalent compound to reduce the severity of scarring, although onion extract and other interesting products are also popular.
There are, however, natural solutions that harness the power of nature to promote healthy collagen production, helping to improve the appearance of skin.
Essential Oils for Scars
Essential oils are nutrient-dense powerhouses that can have a positive impact on the healing process.
Many essential oils are rich in compounds that directly help stimulate the production of collagen. With them, skin is rejuvenated naturally, while also providing essential antioxidants that protect those delicate new cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are primarily responsible for the fine lines, wrinkles and age spots associated with aging, but they slow healing. That’s why you should quit smoking if you’re scheduled to have surgery. Those toxins have a decidedly negative impact on the recovery process.
Essential oils also provide penetrating moisture that supports healing in the skin’s dermis layer.
Here are some of our favorites, based on the results of clinical research:
Rosehip Essential Oil
Rosehip oil is rich in vitamin C, which helps encourage the production of collagen, which helps skin heal. It is also full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that protects collagen and elastin cells from oxidative stress. Rosehip oil additionally offers fatty acids that penetrate deep beneath the skin’s surface. They add necessary hydration to create an environment conducive to healing. Fatty acids also play a big role in how fibroblasts behave following an injury. this is according to a 2011 study from researchers in Connecticut and Nigeria that appeared in the journal Wounds. They determined that fatty acids helped reduce the risk of keloid stars by reducing fibroblast activity. This controlled collagen production.1
According to Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York-based dermatologist and author of “Skin Rules,” the nutrients work in synergy to help encourage the renewal of skin cells. The redness of scarred skin lightens and skin begins to heal beneath the surface, where collagen and elastin create the structural layer. A stronger structure helps improve the appearance of surface skin.2
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is primarily used to help ease stress and promote sleep. However, it is also beneficial at preventing the development of scars. According to 2016 research appearing in the journal Complementary and Alternative Medicine, lavender helped reduce the size of wounds in rat models.
Researchers found that lavender essential oil helped encourage the healthy production of collagen. Wounds knit together more quickly and evenly with lavender.
Another 2016 study, this time from researchers in Tunisia that appeared in the Journal of Tissue Viability, also found faster, more regulated healing with the application of lavender. When wounds heal at a faster rate, with healthy collagen production, there is less likelihood of scarring.3
Calendula Essential Oil
The moisture in calendula helps keep skin hydrated, creating a healthy environment for healing. It also prevents the formation of harder scar tissue.
Studies have shown that calendula also speeds healing by encouraging the production of collagen and boosting the flow of blood. This ensures that nutrients are on hand to promote healthy skin.
A 2009 study from researchers in India supported the findings of previous research.4
A 2008 study that appeared in the journal Wounds found that calendula’s antioxidants helped protect against free radical activity. They prevented the delay of wound recovery caused by damage to collage cells at the site.5
Frankincense Essential Oil
Collagen production is an important part of the healing process when it comes to scar tissue. However, too much collagen production can cause raised, or keloid, scars that are difficult to reduce. When applied to injured skin, frankincense slowed the production of skin’s fibroblast production during the remodeling process. This significantly reduced the risks of scarring.6
Helichrysum Essential Oil
Researchers from Italy found that helichrysum essential oil acts as an anti-inflammatory that helps promote healthy collagen production. The 2001 research appeared in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.7
Blue Chamomile Essential Oil
This versatile oil helps wounds heal faster thanks to the volatile compound bisabolol, which helps stimulate the production of collagen at the site of a wound, promoting healthy healing, while improving the appearing of damaged skin by adding hydrating moisture, which goes beneath the skin’s surface, where structural healing occurs.8
The bisabolol in blue chamomile also encourages the faster turnover of surface cells, so over time, as surface cells slough away, the healthier skin beneath reveals itself, and scars slowly fade.
Researchers from the University of Brazil in 2015 found that chamomile helped improve wound healing, perhaps because blue chamomile helps encourage blood flow to the skin’s surface, so more nutrients are available at the wound site, creating an environment that’s better for healing.9
Arnica Essential Oil
Arnica is rich in skin-friendly nutrients that help prevent the appearance of scars. It also offers antioxidants including C, D, and E to fight off free radicals and protect healthy, new skin cells. Arnica oil is not only effective at preventing scarring after surgical procedures, but it also helps ease the appearance of existing scars.
Other essential oils that can help prevent the formation of improve the look of existing scars include Douglas fir essential oil (rich in sabinene, which encourages the production of collagen), rosemary, sandalwood, neroli (a vitamin C-dense member of the citrus family), and star anise (which offers limonene, an antioxidant that fights free radicals, protecting the new collagen cells formed as skin heals).
Photo credits: MadeleineSteinbach/shutterstock.com, GOLFX/shutterstock.com, AnnaOk/shutterstock.com, BLACKDAY/shutterstock.com