Remnants of an acne problem, accident, surgery or childbirth; scars attest to our medical history, and thus, recount a part of our past. Scars can sometimes be the source of a preoccupation, making their presence difficult to ignore, which is why we try to prevent them or make them disappear.
One of the skin’s main functions is to protect. In fact, without it, the body would be more vulnerable to a multitude of aggressors—infectious agents, pollution, sun rays, chemicals, etc. Fortunately, the skin does a good job of acting as a protective barrier. The body possesses remarkable restorative tissue mechanisms, including wound healing, that are triggered as soon as skin is damaged or broken.
A scar forms when a wound damages one or more of the skin’s three layers—the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis contains several layers of keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin). The dermis mostly consists of collagen and elastin fibers, hair follicles, and sebaceous and sweat glands. Sensory receptors are also found in the dermis. The hypodermis mainly consists of fat cells. Numerous blood vessels run throughout the three layers of the skin.
If the skin is unable to protect against wounds, it has the ability to renew its cells and even to heal. In the case of a minor wound, only a part of the epidermis is damaged. The cells that have been destroyed are replaced by new ones which are created from the innermost layer of the epidermis. However, if the wound is deep, the damage is more significant; making the healing process more complex. The epidermis repairs itself, but the skin does not completely recover its natural appearance, leaving a scar. This scar will improve, and change. This is why it is important not to judge its appearance at the time of the injury, but rather to wait several months after it has formed.
Optimal healing conditions must be put in place to maximize healing. Following a minor wound, such as a scrape, cut or burn, the care provided to the wound is very important to promote healing. To find out more about how to manage minor wounds, read the following text: First aid 101: treating minor wounds. Your pharmacist can also provide information and advice concerning minor wounds.
If the wound is a result of surgery or another medical procedure, ask the healthcare professional who performed it to tell you how to best care for it. The same applies if the wound results from an accident. Do not leave the clinic or hospital without knowing what you need to do in the next few hours, days, and weeks. Properly following the healthcare professional’s instructions and the wound’s progression will promote wound healing.
The common misconception that a wound needs air to heal is wrong and outdated. On the contrary, it is now recognized that the healing process and cicatrization of a wound is aided by a moist environment (but not a wet one). Protecting the skin with a covering agent can also be beneficial.
Be patient. In some cases, the healing process can take up to six months to a year, and sometimes even longer.
Obstacles to healing
The process leading to proper healing can be hampered by various factors, such as:
- the presence of foreign objects in the wound
- the presence of a hematoma
- a disease that affects the ability to heal, such as diabetes or circulation problems
- taking certain medications
In some people, the healing process does not occur normally. In fact, in some ways, it is too efficient—connective tissue cells produce so much collagen that they cause skin outgrowths. These outgrowths form scars called “keloids”, which are unattractive and sometimes painful. Furthermore, these scars can cause itching. They are thick, hard to the touch, and pink or reddish in colour on fair skin, or dark brown on dark skin. In the most acute cases, the outgrowth must be surgically removed.
Some advice for more effective healing
- Allow the injured limb to rest. The longer the injured limb remains immobilized, the least likely the edges of the wound are to separate. Avoid strenuous physical effort or activities that are likely to reopen the wound or compromise proper healing.
- If you have stitches, make sure to have them removed after the appointed time. If they remain too long, the stitches can leave traces that are more significant than expected.
- Protect the wound from the sun. Sun exposure compromises healing and increases the risk of permanent and unsightly scars.
- Ask your healthcare professional if he/she recommends massaging the wound. This can sometimes help healing.
- To promote the healing of a non-oozing wound, you can purchase one of the products designed for this purpose at the pharmacy. For instance, Cicalfate restorative skin cream by Avène, rich in restorative active ingredients, enables the skin to regenerate more quickly to recover a normal appearance. It softens skin, giving it back its natural elasticity. Dermalibour+ cream by A-derma is a skincare product that helps to cleanse, calm, and repair irritated skin.
- Ask your pharmacist to help you choose the right product and advise you on how to get the most out of it.
- Speak to your doctor if you notice the presence of a persistent or unsightly scar. Certain procedures can be considered to rectify the situation.
- Quit smoking. It is generally known that smoking impedes the healing process, as it narrows blood vessels.
Although scars are simply the consequence of the ebb and flow of life, their presence is often embarrassing. In this case, the proverb saying that an ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure takes on its full meaning. Yet, when it comes to wounds, you can provide care and take appropriate action that will reduce the chances that certain life events—big or small—leave behind traces!