michael russellGetting in to a car accident, having an operation, or just cutting yourself is bad enough, but the scars you end up with can add insult to injury. Scars are nature’s way of healing assaults to the skin, but most of us see them as imperfections. We accept them, but we don’t often like them. Fortunately, if you know how to handle wounds as they heal and care for scars as they mature, you can make the best of a less than perfect situation. First, it helps to understand the nature of a scar. “A scar is just a connection of collagen fibers that the body makes to repair a wound,” says Stephen W Perkins, M.D., a facial plastic surgeon in Indianapolis and a board member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “The body basically glues the skin back together with a matrix of new collagen fibers.”

Once the injury heals, the scar goes through several different stages. A typical scar usually looks red and irritated for the first few weeks, then it should gradually begin to improve. At the three to six week period, it may actually start appearing more red again, says Perkins. Don’t worry, though it’s just a phase. The scar will “begin to soften and fade and get less red and pink,” says Perkins. “Then, finally, it becomes pale or, hopefully, just blends in to the normal skin color after six months to a year.” Sometimes, it may take a year or two for a scar to develop a finished look. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to give your scar the best chance of blending in.

Decide if You Need to See a Doctor Should You Cut Yourself : Two major signs should send you to a doctor, according to Regan Thomas, M.D., director of the Facial Plastic Surgery Center and assistant clinical professor at Washington University School of Medicine, both in St. Louis. Get medical attention if a cut continues to bleed even after you’ve applied pressure to it to stop the flow. In addition, even if the bleeding has stopped, if the cut is gaping and the edges don’t come together on their own, you’ll probably end up with a better looking scar if you get a doctor’s help.


Carefully Clean The Wound : Once you’ve determined that your cut isn’t serious, you’ll need to cleanse it. It may sting a bit, but it’s worth the effort. “Don’t be afraid to wash with soap and water,” says George Lefkovits, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at New York Medical College in Valhalla. You want to get any dirt and debris out and keep infection-causing bacteria away.

Use an Antibiotic Ointment : Applying a thin layer of antibiotic ointment (sold without a prescription) does two things. It helps counter potential infection, and “the moist barrier allows those cells that are trying to heal across the wound to do so more effectively and more efficiently,” says Thomas. Cuts or scrapes that are kept moist heal faster, about 50 percent faster, says Perkins. For the first week or so, reapply the ointment every day after gently cleaning the wound with a cotton swab or a damp wash cloth. You may want to cover the area with a bandage if it’s under clothing or is liable to get dirty, but this isn’t essential.

Keep New Scars Out of The Sun : Once the injury has healed and a scar has begun to form, you should watch out for the sun’s rays. You could end up with a scar that is darker or doesn’t fade as well if you expose it to the sun. Lefkovits suggests that for the first three to six months, you keep the area covered, use a sunscreen on the scar, or simply keep the area out of the sun.

Try Cosmetic Coverups : After a wound has healed but while the scar is still young, you may want to camouflage the redness, especially if the scar is very visible. Special makeups designed to cover scars can do the trick. “Using these products can help the patient accept their scar while it’s in the process of maturing better,” says Perkins.

Massage Your Scar : Gently massaging a scar after the area is well healed but with in the first six months of the injury can help. “What you do is help to break down the tough collagen fibers that are forming as part of the scar maturation,” says Thomas. “In a practical sense, you’re helping to stretch out and soften the scar.”

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