Our skin is our body’s largest organ and it has many functions. It helps us to maintain our body temperature, keeps out germs, and allows us to be comfortable in different environments such as water or air. Scars develop where the skin heals itself, and it is important to be aware that these areas can more easily be damaged by sun exposure. Here’s what you need to know about minimizing scarring, caring for scars in the sun, and treatment options that are currently available to help reduce scars.
This article is part of a series on skin care by Dr. Laurie Shinn, a pediatric dermatologist.
What is a scar?
Scarring occurs when collagen, the thick fibrous-like tissue that gives our skin stretch and strength, gets torn or damaged. When this happens, the body creates new collagen tissue to heal the injury. This new tissue differs slightly from normal skin which can leave a visible mark, or scar, on the skin where a cut, scrape or wound has healed.
Scars have a greater possibility of developing sun damage and are at increased risk for skin cancer development. A scar will typically form if a cut is deep or over an area where the skin tends to stretch a lot, such as an elbow or knee.
How to minimize scars
Sometimes how a person’s injuries tend to heal is hereditary (passed down from family). In general, to help minimize infection and scarring:
- When a child gets a cut, make sure you take a look at it and clean it with a mild skin cleanser and water. Most products that state they are “gentle cleansers” are best. Hydrogen peroxide can actually delay healing and should be used only in certain instances under physician direction.
- Remind children to not pick at scabs since this can lead to infection and scarring. If a wound gets repetitively damaged, which can occur by just picking at the scab, it may heal with a scar.
- Try to keep wounds clean and covered with petroleum jelly and a bandage. This will prevent itching and promote healing.
- If the wound is open and not crusted it is best to stay out of the pool, ocean or brackish water. Once the wound is closed it is very important to protect it from direct sun so it does not cause hyperpigmentation (darkened skin that takes months to years to fade) as well as the fact that scarred skin is more sensitive to damaging UV rays.
- If you are not sure about how deep the cut is, or if it is in a very visible area such as the face, or over a joint (elbow, knee, etc.), then a visit to your child’s primary care doctor may be needed. Your child’s doctor can recommend if your child should also be seen by a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating skin problems) or a plastic surgeon (a surgeon who specializes in repairing or restoring skin or body parts).
- Acne is another way the skin can scar. Early appropriate treatment of acne can minimize this risk, but if scarring develops a dermatologist can recommend treatments to help reduce the visibility of acne scarring.
Treatments to reduce scars
A scar will never completely go away but can be reduced and there are several treatment options that a dermatologist can recommend for this.
Silicone sheets worn over a scar can reduce thickness and redness of the scar. There are many over the counter “scar sheets” that work well.
Laser treatments, microdermabrasion (process that gently removes outer layer of skin), peels and fillers can all help to reduce scars in some instances and sometimes an injection with a steroid can also help reduce the puffiness of a scar.
Again, all of these treatments help reduce visibility of scars but nothing can completely remove them.