Whether you're treating a minor cut or recovering from major surgery, you're probably worried about the wound leaving behind a scar. Scars can form if a wound doesn't heal properly, but you don't need to leave this up to chance. Treating a fresh wound the right way speeds up healing and helps reduce the risk of scar formation.
Risk Factors for Scarring
Your risk of scarring is partly based on genetics -- if one of your parents scars easily, you might have the same problem. Age is another factor. As you get older, skin gets thinner and less elastic, so it can't heal wounds as efficiently. People who smoke and drink alcohol may have increased risk for scars: smoking slows down healing and alcohol dries out skin. Being overweight or not getting enough rest can also slow healing, especially after a surgery.
Treat a Fresh Wound
To treat a new wound, wash the skin gently with warm water and mild soap, then pat it dry with a clean towel. Dab the wound with a small amount of an antibacterial medicated ointment, then apply a bandage. Silicone-sheeting bandages work well for preventing scars because they apply constant pressure to the area. Anthony LaBruna, M.D., a clinical associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, advises to avoid treating the wound with alcohol-based products or hydrogen peroxide. Both of these will kill infection-causing bacteria, but they also destroy healthy cells that your body needs to heal the area.
Keep a fresh wound covered by a bandage for about a week, but change the bandage and apply more antibacterial ointment daily. This keeps the wound clean and prevents infection from developing, which can cause scarring. After about a week, a scab will form. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the scab every day, and keep the wound bandaged until the scab falls off on its own. Never pick at a scab or peel it off yourself. It's fine to treat skin with vitamin E once a scab forms. To use it, break open one vitamin E capsule at night and gently massage the oil into your skin.
Sun exposure can damage skin or prompt scarring, so it's best to keep your wound covered up when you go outside. The sun's ultraviolet rays also stimulate a skin pigment called melanocytes, which can cause dark discoloration to develop. After a wound has healed, keep it protected daily with an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen. Gently massaging the skin after a wound has healed may prevent scarring. Apply a bit of lotion, then massage the skin with small, circular motions for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat this several times a day. An ointment that contains onion extract is beneficial as well -- it helps prevent collagen formation, which gives scars their raised appearance.