5 easy steps to help your skin heal faster.
The appearance of a scar is dependant on how well the wound heals. Properly treating your wound will affect how noticeable it becomes later on. Below, you’ll find our summary on proper wound care for most general injuries:
Starting with the basics, it’s important to remove dirt and debris from a fresh wound. Keeping the wound clean is essential to avoid potential complications such as infection and skin necrosis. Depending on the wound, staples or stitches might be needed to keep it closed. Most superficial wounds can be gently cleaned with lukewarm water and a gentle soap. Avoid alcohol or iodide as they are cytotoxic to the cells trying to do the work of healing within the wound. These products from a bygone era should not be used to clean a wound that is healing well without any signs of infection.
Next is dressing the wound. Dressing types and materials depend on the particular wound. Some specialty dressings are waterproof, or contain antibiotic agents within, depending on your particular needs. Chronic wounds and ulcer wounds can usually benefit from a moist dressing. Other wounds, such as superficial wounds like minor cuts and scrapes might only require a simple band-aid or nothing at all. The goal of the dressing is to protect the wound from abrasion, dirt and bacteria, and to help absorb blood and excess exudate from the wound. Think of it as a protective barrier. It’s important to change the dressing regularly to prevent infection and speed the healing process.
Scars are highly sensitive to sunlight: it will sunburn much more quickly than healthy skin. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can also darken and thicken the scar tissue, and this damage can be permanent – the discolored skin may never fade back to match the hue of the healthy tissue.
Our advice is to avoid sun exposure on the affected scar area for the first year. Stay out of the sun, especially during the day when the sun shines at its brightest, between 10am and 4pm. If you do go outside, cover the area (if possible) with light-coloured clothing that will reflect and protect against harmful UV rays.
Otherwise, invest in a good sunscreen. Our recommendation is the Avene Eau Thermale Broad Spectrum Mineral Sunscreen with SPF 50 - it’s a broad spectrum 100% mineral sunscreen which means you’ll be protected from both UVB rays (the ones that are known to cause skin cancer) AND UVA rays (the ones that contribute to sunburn). It’s also suitable for sensitive, intolerant of allergic skin since it’s free of chemical filters and fragrances. Bonus: it’s also water resistant!
Sufficient micronutrient and mineral intake, including vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc is important to consider when looking to prevent scar tissue formation and aid scar reduction. Vitamin A has anti-inflammatory properties, promotes tissue repair and stimulates cell regeneration. It is vital to proper skin health and studies suggest that it can also aid in wound healing.
So where can you get it? Your best sources of vitamin A are kale, carrots, sweet potato and spinach. Most breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin A in Canada. Dairy products, eggs, and meat (especially liver) also contain vitamin A.
Vitamin C repairs and restores tissues. In fact, vitamin C is used to form collagen, an important protein that is essential to the structure of skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Collagen also aids both wound healing and scar tissue formation.
Fruits (especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit) and vegetables are your best source of vitamin C. Juices also contain loads of vitamin C, but watch out for added sugars and sodium on the packaging label.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that has shown have important benefits when it comes to your skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
You’ll find vitamin E in green vegetables (spinach and avocados are a good source), whole grains, fortified cereals, nuts, (sunflower seeds) and vegetable oils (olive oil).
Zinc is essential to maintain the structural integrity of dermal tissue and mucosal membranes. It’s also a key component of cell division, a function responsible for creating new tissue.
Zinc is mostly found in animal products: red meat and shellfish such as oysters, crabs, lobsters. It’s also present in nuts, such as cashews or kidney beans. However, the zinc available in vegetarian sources is significantly less well absorbed by the body. As such, vegetarians and vegans need to almost double their intake in zinc to get their recommended dietary allowance.
A healthy and balanced diet should meet the average person’s needs in vitamins and minerals. However, fortified foods and dietary supplements can be useful for those who cannot meet their nutritional recommendations otherwise. Supplements can be particularly helpful for those following strict diets, for those with severe food allergies and for younger children or the elderly due to a lack of appetite or limited food variety.
Please consult with your pharmacist beforehand, as he or she can advise you on the proper intake. For example, pregnant women are often advised against taking excess vitamin A supplements, while smokers (and second-hand smokers) can benefit from additional vitamin C supplements. Vitamin E has the potential to interact with several types of medication, so it’s important to discuss with a qualified professional beforehand.
There are a multitude of options that consumers can choose from in terms of topical creams, oils and ointments when it comes to caring for wounds and scars.
Note that we do not recommend topical vitamin E or topical antibiotics (such as Neosporin or Polysporin).
Studies show that there is no benefit to the cosmetic outcome of scars by applying vitamin E (in oil, cream or ointment) and that the application of topical vitamin E may actually worsen the appearance of a scar. Vitamin E can also cause contact dermatitis in the scar area in about ⅓ of the population. As for wounds that are healing well with no sign of infection do not, topical antibiotics provide no benefits and can even cause allergic reactions around the delicate wound area. Here are our suggestions when it comes to topical scar treatments.
Good old petroleum jelly is a home pharmacy staple and a cost-effective solution. Applying a layer of petroleum jelly to your wound helps it from drying out and forming scabs. It also works as a moisturizing barrier to protect your wound and prevents your wound from feeling tight or itchy!
Silicone materials are proven to reduce the amount of scar tissue. In particular, silicone sheets can prevent hypertrophic scar and keloid formation (thick, raised scars), and are thus often recommended after certain types of surgery. Silicone gels are slightly less effective because they don’t have the occlusive effect of the sheets but are more practical to apply.
Last but not least, be patient. Most scars fade over time. If you’re worried about a particular scar, we invite you to speak to a qualified healthcare professional. As there are multiple type of wounds, whether accidental, or surgical, wound care can also be highly personalized. Don’t hesitate to send us your comments or questions!
Julie Han, B. Pharm
Airix Co-Founder and Pharmacist Owner at Pharmacy Bourkas and Han