Whether it was that fall on the playground as a child, the burn you got while cooking, or just the pimple that didn't fully heal, skin injuries are bound to happen. Once healed, these small injuries often leave behind scars; their severity depends on how deeply your skin is damaged and how it's treated afterward.
Although scars tend to fade over time, exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can inhibit your scar tissue from healing properly and lead to pronounced dark-colored marks. That's why it's important to defend your skin and practice proper scar protection from the sun's harsh rays.
Read on to learn more about the link between scars and sun exposure and what you can do to prevent permanent damage to your skin.
Understanding Scars and Sun Exposure
While there are many kinds of scars—including pitted scars from acne or chickenpox, scar contractures or hypertrophic scars from burns, keloid scars from piercings, and fine-line scars as a result of surgery or a wound—caring for them is virtually the same process.
When an injury is healing, new skin grows over the area to protect and repair it. This new skin, however, is much more fragile and doesn't usually match your skin tone. It may appear as a raised, bright red or even purple mark. New scars are especially sensitive to UV radiation, and they may feel itchy or uncomfortable.
You may have noticed that scars can appear more pronounced in the summer months. This is because UV rays cause an overproduction of melanin in your skin, further darkening areas of scar tissue in the process. This is referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a condition caused when the skin is injured and doesn't have adequate protection from the sun's rays.
Proper Scar Protection from the Sun
Scar tissue is especially fragile in the first year after it appears, so it requires a little extra TLC as it heals. The most effective way of protecting scar tissue from the harsh effects of UV rays is with a broad-spectrum sunscreen formulated for sensitive skin, like the EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41. The tinted formula will also help your scar blend in with your skin. Don't forget to re-apply sunscreen regularly, especially after sweating and swimming.
It's a common misconception that tanning your skin will help your scar fade; this is just not true. Sun exposure on a still-healing scar will only cause further damage and make the affected area appear darker. So, protect your scar by applying sunscreen—all over, but especially on the scarred skin. Keep your scar out of direct sunlight as much as possible by finding a shady spot and wearing sun-protective clothing.
Caring for Healing Scars
It's not always possible to completely get rid of a scar, but with the proper care, you can keep them from getting worse. Don't rub or pick at your scar, and keep your skin clean and moisturized with gentle ingredients. Depending on the cause of your scar, you may benefit from an in-office procedure like skin peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments, or even fillers. Speak with a board-certified Dermatologist who can help figure out what works for you.
Scars and sun exposure just don't mix, but don't let that keep you from enjoying the sunshine. Cover up, lather your scar in sunscreen, and go have fun in the sun.