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Healing Visible Scars From Self-Injury

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Self-Injury Scars, Healing Self-Inflicted Scars

Healing Visible Scars From Self-Injury

March 04, 2009

By: Body1 Staff

Sometimes people experiencing emotional pain or stress injure themselves as a way of dealing with uncontrollable bad feelings. Aside from the psychological toll, this self-destructive behavior can also leave behind physical reminders in the form of scars.
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Tips for Living With Scars:

  • Keep it under cover: Depending on where your scar is, keeping it hidden in certain situations might be an option. This isn’t a long-term solution if your scars are in hard-to-hide places but can work in the short term.
  • Beat them to the punch: Take the initiative to tell people about your scars and what they mean to you. People respect honesty and this approach brings everything out into the open.
  • Make something up: If you’re not comfortable talking about your scars, especially with people you aren’t close to, make up an offbeat story if someone asks about them. In this scenario, the more outrageous the story, the better. Telling someone you had an altercation with a snow leopard should make them realize you don’t want to talk about the subject.
  • Change the subject: Rather than crafting a true or made up explanation for your scars feel free to change the subject if someone asks. This avoids awkward feelings all around and puts the conversation back on neutral ground.
  • A number of treatments are available depending on the location and severity of the scarring. In most cases it’s not possible to remove a scar entirely but treatments generally can make scars less noticeable. Some common scar treatments include:

    Topical treatments: available in cream or gel form, topical treatments tend to be more successful at minimizing the appearance of newer scars. Onion extract (key ingredient in Mederma gel), silicone gel or sheets and products with alpha hydroxyl acids are common over-the-counter topical treatments. Studies have shown that topical treatments are effective between 25 to 50 percent of the time. Many creams or gels require the application of product for weeks or even months. Even if you follow the product directions to the letter, keep in mind that these treatments aren’t effective for everyone who tries them.
    Steroid injections: if you have scars that are raised and firm, corticosteroid injections may be an appropriate treatment. Injection of a steroid into a scar helps suppress inflammation, thereby making it less noticeable. This treatment does have potential side effects to consider including pain, shrinkage of soft tissue and loss of skin pigmentation (color).
    Scar revision: in some cases, a surgical procedure can alter the appearance of an existing scar. In general terms, scar revision is the surgical removal of scar tissue paired with a re-closure of the wound. Since surgical intervention itself carries the risk of scarring, doctors oftentimes prescribe steroid injections, radiotherapy or the use of pressure garments to minimize that risk.
    Laser resurfacing: for scars that don’t respond to other treatments, laser resurfacing can be a good treatment option. There are a number of different types of laser treatments available including ablative and non-ablative treatment as well as fractional laser resurfacing. The differences between the treatments are the depth of the skin treated and how the laser light is transferred to the skin. Generally laser treatment involves multiple treatment sessions ranging in duration from 10 minutes to two hours. This is largely dependent on the size of the scar and its location. Skin reacts differently to the procedure but common side effects include: swelling, itching and redness.

    A conversation with your primary care doctor or a dermatologist is a good way to decide which treatment is best for your specific situation. During this conversation you should talk about the nature and severity of your injury, the thickness and pigmentation of your skin and if you have undergone any previous treatment for your scar. Keep in mind that a number of people proudly display their scars rather than undergoing treatment to minimize their appearance. Ultimately it’s your decision and you should do what makes you the most comfortable.

    In addition, you may not want to consult a professional specifying in emotional support.  This could include a psychologist, a social worker, or a therapeutic counselor.  Your primary care physician should be able to provide a good referral to someone in this specialty. 

    Reviewed: Dr. Michael Fuller, M.D., 4/09

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