Whenever your skin repairs a wound--a cut, burn, sore or scrape--a scar can form. Surgical cuts, chicken pox and other skin conditions can also result in scars, says the National Institute of Health (NIH). There are numerous factors that make your skin more at risk for scarring. Minor household cuts and burns and even that more pervasive skin condition, acne, can be effectively addressed to prevent scarring and the need for further treatment.
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The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) states that scar formation and how it looks depends on one or several factors, including the depth and extent of the wound, how long it takes to heal and its location on the body. Scars on parts of the body where the skin is tighter, such as the jaw, or one that crosses your expression lines may appear more prominent, says the AAD. Age is also a factor–in younger people, the skin tends to "over heal," resulting in more obvious scars. Some people inherit the propensity to scar more easily. For example, keloids and other raised (hypertrophic) scars often run in families, says the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
Cuts and Scrapes
Many wounds heal without significant problems, says a March 2000 "American Family Physician" article. However, wounds that are poorly managed may result in infection, a protracted healing period and noticeable scarring. Scar prevention depends largely on your knowledge of how to treat skin minor cuts and scrapes at home. First, stop bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or bandage for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse the cut or scrape with water, using sterilized tweezers to remove dirt or debris trapped in the skin. Clean the skin around the wound with soap. Applying a topical antibiotic won't help the wound heal faster, says the Mayo Clinic, but it will reduce risk of infection. Put clean bandages on the wound to protect it, changing the dressing every day or whenever it becomes soiled. Woulds that are more than 1/2-inch deep or those that gape open, exposing muscle tissue, require stitches, cautions the clinic. Closing these wounds promptly reduces the risk of infection--and prevents unsightly scarring.
Prevent Burn Scars
First-degree and second-degree burns that are less than 3 inches in diameter can be treated at home, says the Mayo Clinic. To prevent scarring, avoid putting ice on the burn or submerging the skin in ice water. Also, don't rub butter, oil or another greasy emollient on the burn–this can lead to infection and scarring. To prevent burn scars, run the afflicted area under cool water for 10 to 15 minutes then apply a clean bandage to the skin loosely to protect the injured area. The Mayo Clinic notes that this is all that's generally needed to treat a minor burn. Increased inflammation and oozing may signal an infection that needs a doctor's treatment.
Acne: More Troublesome Scars
Severe acne, characterized by deep cysts and nodules that are likely to rupture on their own, is more likely to cause extensive scarring, cautions the AAD. However, because it's impossible to predict who's more at risk for scarring, the AAD recommends treating acne sooner than later so that lesions are reduced in number and severity. A typical skin care regimen may include washing twice daily with a mild cleanser and use of nonprescription acne-fighting topicals. Acne that doesn't resolve with home treatment may be treated with prescription topicals, oral antibiotics and for female patients, use of certain oral contraceptives. A potent oral medication called isotretinoin is extremely effective against severe acne. Acne scars can also be prevented by keeping the fingers off of the blemishes. Picking at or squeezing pimples can make the infection worse and lead to scarring.
Scar Treatment Basics
Nonprescription scar creams don't treat scars as well as you think, says Mayo Clinic dermatologist Lawrence Gibson, M.D. They may reduce the appearance of some types of scars, but there's no way to restore the skin to its former state. More effective treatment options for scars are available using medical procedures, says the AAD. Surgical scar revision may be more appropriate for extremely large, long or obvious scars. Other treatments for scars may include laser scar revision, dermabrasion, injectible soft tissue fillers and chemical peels.