How to minimise scarring after a burn, simple steps for wound healing from an expert



Published Jun 3, 2024


Burn victims often face a long, painful road to recovery, with one of the most frustrating aspects being the slow and complex process of wound healing. For many, the journey is fraught with discomfort, risk of infection and the looming threat of severe scarring.

One of the biggest challenges is the regeneration of skin tissue. Unlike small cuts or scrapes, burns can destroy multiple layers of skin, complicating the healing process.

Burn wounds need to be rebuilt from deeper layers, which takes time and leaves patients vulnerable to complications.

The risk of infection is another major concern. Burn wounds create an open portal for bacteria, making hygiene and continual care essential. Infection can significantly delay healing and increase the likelihood of scarring.

There are three levels of injury:

First-degree burns

Affects only the top skin layer (epidermis).

Symptoms: Red, tender, possibly swollen skin, similar to sunburn.

Treatment: At-home care with soothing moisturisers.

Second-degree burns

Go deeper into the skin (dermis).

Symptoms: Pain, redness, blisters, fluid leakage, possible bleeding.

Healing time, typically three weeks, with potential for discolouration and scarring.

Treatment: Varies; severe cases may require surgery.

Third-degree burns

Damage to both skin layers and deeper tissues like fat, muscles and bones.

Symptoms: White, black, or grey dry and leathery skin, often painless due to nerve damage. High risk of infection.

Treatment: Requires removing dead tissue and skin grafting, involving general anaesthesia.

Understanding these types of burns can help in proper treatment and care.

After administering first aid, several steps can be followed to help a wound heal and prevent infection.

First, clean the wound every day using mild soap and water. After cleaning, apply an antiseptic solution or ointment. Then, cover the wound with a sterile bandage or dressing to protect it from further injury and infection.

After administering first aid, several steps can be followed to help a wound heal and prevent infection. Picture: Roger Brown/Pexels

It’s important to change the dressing regularly, usually once a day, to keep the wound clean and support healing. Using specialised gels or ointments can keep the wound moist, which can speed up the healing process.

Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem Clinic Executive, speaking to Independent Media Lifestyle, advised against bumping, scraping or scratching the wound.

Good hygiene is crucial. Always wash your hands before and after taking care of the wound to prevent infection.

If you're unsure about how to properly care for the wound or if the wound is severe, it’s a good idea to consult a health-care provider. They might prescribe antibiotics, if necessary.

By following these steps, you can help the wound heal effectively and reduce the risk of infection after initial first aid, said Kruger.

Keeping a burn injury clean is vital for several reasons. First, cleanliness prevents infection. Burns, in particular, are at high risk because they compromise the skin’s protective barrier.

Infections can make the injury worse, delay healing and, in severe cases, be life-threatening.

Secondly, a clean wound heals better. It reduces the risk of complications like hypertrophic scarring or contractures, both of which can affect movement and function.

Proper wound care also eases pain and discomfort, aiding in a smoother recovery, explained Kruger.

Dealing with scars can be challenging, but several easy practices may help reduce their appearance:

Clean the scar area gently with lukewarm water.

Apply aloe vera or over-the-counter moisturisers to keep the area hydrated. This can help improve the texture and elasticity of the scar.

Apply silicone sheets or gels directly to the scar to see improvements over time. These are widely recognised for their ability to flatten and soften scars.

Gently massaging the scar with your fingers in circular motions can break down the dense build-up of collagen, helping the scar to become more flexible and less noticeable.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on the scar. Protecting the scar from UV rays prevents it from darkening and becoming more prominent.

Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and aid in the healing process.

A diet rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and E, along with zinc and protein, supports skin repair.

Picking or scratching scars can worsen their appearance and increase the risk of infection.

Products containing ingredients like dimethicone, allantoin or hyaluronic acid can promote healing and improve scar appearance.

Many scars will fade naturally over time, so patience is key. Some scars may continue to improve for months or even years after the injury.

While these methods can be effective, it’s important to remember that not all scars will respond the same way to treatment. For severe or persistent scars, consulting a dermatologist or health-care professional for advanced options may be necessary.