July 30th, 2020 BY Jennifer Davis
Your scars tell the story of you — your first fall off a bike, the time you broke your wrist jumping from a chair, medical mishaps, illnesses and more.
And while plenty of people proudly display their bumps and bruises, not everyone wants a constant visual reminder of painful memories. Perhaps you’re looking for a way to minimize scarring or avoid it altogether?
The good news is that you can prevent the appearance of some scarring.
But if you’d rather avoid explaining that curious, lightning-shaped mark every time you meet someone new, then you’ll need to be proactive.
The best way to minimize scarring is to go on the offensive. Because when it comes to scars, preventing them is a whole lot easier than getting rid of them later.
Want to keep that summertime wipeout from becoming your only defining feature? Here’s how to prevent a scar from taking over your story.
First, know that scarring is natural.
Scars happen naturally because your body is doing its job — or attempting to, anyway. When you get cut, scraped, burned or otherwise injured, your body goes to work trying to fix the damage. According to Johns Hopkins, the healing process includes four stages:
- Hemostasis: To prevent blood loss, the body sends platelets to the injury site, which eventually form a scab.
- Inflammation: White blood cells fight off any bacteria that might have been introduced during injury. You might see redness and swelling and feel pain while the blood cells do their job. More inflammation can mean more noticeable scarring.
- Proliferation: New cells get created, which is when your scab starts to shrink.
- Maturation: The wound heals. You may see a scar where the scab was depending on the extent of the injury (and how well you took care of it).
For minor wounds, you don’t need professional intervention. Proper at-home care will help you heal and mitigate scarring.
But for deeper cuts, surgical wounds and other gnarly gashes, you’ll probably need more than time and a Bandaid to minimize scarring. That’s because some wounds, like cuts made during surgery, go deeper than your average skinned knee.
Clean & maintain.
It might sound basic, but the best way to prevent bad scarring in the first place is to properly clean your wounds. If you scraped your elbow on that wonky bannister you keep meaning to fix, then you can probably take care of it entirely at home:
- Wash your hands first so you don’t introduce bacteria into a fresh wound.
- Clean out your wound thoroughly with water, taking care to remove any debris that might have snuck in. Avoid abrasive chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, which can damage tissue and make things worse. Plain water is enough. But you can use regular soap if there’s dirt to scrub, too.
- Apply petroleum jelly or a similar product to the wound. This helps keep your skin moist and aids in the healing process. And before you reach for that tube of antibacterial ointment, know that regular petroleum jelly is just fine for most scrapes and cuts.
- Stick a Bandaid on it. If you don’t like adhesives or your bandages aren’t big enough, use gauze or soft cotton pads and some medical tape.
- Once the wound heals, use sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to protect the skin.
Repeat the process every day, applying a fresh round of petroleum jelly and a bandage until the wound heals itself.
Of course, these tips apply to home-based care. For bigger, deeper cuts or burns, you’ll need to start with a doctor. This applies to surgical wounds, too. Follow the care instructions you get from your surgeon. That list of dos and don’ts isn’t just general, run-of-the-mill fluff. It’s important info on how to minimize your particular scarring.
One other tip: keep the wound covered until it heals.
You don’t need to “air it out” to promote healing. In fact, leaving an unhealed wound exposed to the open air can make scarring worse. Cuts, scrapes, burns and other injuries need moisture to heal.
Note that you can’t avoid all scarring. Some wounds are just too deep to avoid a visual altogether. Regardless, proper cleaning and maintenance will go a long way in reducing the appearance of scars, even for deep or surgical wounds.
Skip the fancy creams.
Your cousin’s best friend’s daughter healed her scar using a paste made of turmeric and cucumber essential oil, right? Wrong. (Probably.)
Even medical professionals can sometimes fall prey to superstitious beliefs when it comes to scars. But doctors seem fairly united on the idea that wound care starts and ends with the basics: proper cleaning, moisture and time.
It might be tempting to throw a bottle of lotion with vitamin E into your cart while you’re buying post-op supplies, but don’t fall for the marketing hype. Research doesn’t support the use of any topical lotion or cream (so far) in helping to prevent or mitigate scarring.
One study from over 20 years ago actually concluded that the use of topical vitamin E for surgical wounds should be discouraged. In that study, about a third of the 15 people who participated ended up with contact dermatitis, i.e. skin irritation. That’s the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to prevent scars.
More recent research also shows no benefit to using topical creams or other homeopathic remedies in scar prevention. That includes topical honey, onion extract, aloe vera, gotu kola, vitamin C and zinc.
If lotion makes your skin feel better, then use it for that purpose. But vitamin E and other ointments that claim to promote better healing are probably just a waste of money.
Give the pros a call.
If you don’t feel confident in your wound care abilities or that scrape you thought was no-big-deal has become a bigger deal, give your doctor a call. She can either help you directly or refer you to a dermatologist, someone who specializes in skincare.
You might assume that dermatologists treat only superficial problems. But these are real doctors with medical degrees who know a lot about your body’s largest organ (the skin).
Plus, checking in with your doctor will help her track any troubling signs that your wounds require more professional care. If you notice any of these symptoms of infection, call your doctor right away:
- Redness around the wound that doesn’t go away or gets worse
- Skin that’s warm to the touch
- Excessive pain
- Discharge from the wound site
Not sure if your symptoms are a big deal? Don’t risk it. An infected injury can lead to a condition called sepsis. It’s a serious reaction that can be fatal.
That said, minor wounds don’t usually require ER-level care as long as you treat them well.
To minimize scarring, be proactive. Wash and clean out wounds, apply petroleum jelly and a proper bandage, and check in with your doctor for specific questions, especially if the wound is deep or surgical.