How can skin camouflage help with my self-harm scars?

A young person is applying make up to their arm. You can see that there is a vine twisted around their arm which represents self-harm scars

(T/W) This article contains references to self-harm.

Coping with self-harm scars

If self-harm has been a part of your life, then one of the things you may need to cope with is scarring. Scars are nothing to be ashamed of, but the attention scars get from others, and the way they act as a reminder of distress can be really difficult.

Sometimes, recovering from self-harm can allow you to accept your scars, or even embrace them as part of your past and an important part of who you are. If you can do this, that’s amazing. But not everyone is ready for that yet, and that’s ok too.

If you aren’t in a place where you want to show your scars from self-harm (or scars you might have for other reasons) then you might like to try skin camouflage. Skin camouflage may not be something you know much about, but it can be a really helpful tool if you have scars that you don’t feel comfortable showing. Want to find out more? We’ve teamed up with The British Association of Skin Camouflage, who have written this handy guide.

What is skin camouflage?

I hear you ask, “skin what?” Most people don’t know – it’s not a secret – quite simply skin camouflage is a variation of the cosmetic concealers you can buy in the shops. The difference for para-medical skin camouflage is that they are designed for a medical reason (and may be obtained on an NHS Prescription*) and differ from other cosmetics because they are uniquely formulated to do the following:

  • Give the necessary covering power (but needs only a thin application)
  • Be waterproof
  • Lasts between 8 and 16 hours before you need to reapply it
  • Contain sun protection
  • Be removed and immediately reapplied with no ill effects
  • Have medication applied under it
  • Allow decorative cosmetics to be used over it

Why skin camouflage?

  • Using the term “skin camouflage” is non-exclusive – whereas “cosmetics” and “makeup” can create anxiety if you do not normally wear those products.
  • Skin camouflage products are designed to replicate the colour of the unaffected skin. The range of skin matching colours means than no ethnic group is excluded.
  • Using quick and simple application techniques, the camouflage should not attract attention.
  • Skin camouflage cannot alter how your skin functions, or how it feels to the touch.
  • The shape of your scar will not alter, but the immediate visual effect does help you to regain self-confidence

What are the different scars?

  • Scars may be red when compared to the adjacent skin, the doctors call this erythema; and when the scar becomes bigger than the original, the doctors call this keloid
  • Scars may be raised higher than the adjacent skin (the doctors call this hypertrophic) and when darker than the adjacent skin, the doctors call this hyperpigmented
  • When scaring may be lower than the adjacent skin, the doctors call this atrophy; and when the scar has less colour to the adjacent skin, the doctors call this hypopigmented

What can be used under skin camouflage?

Scars can be sensitive to the sun, so it is wise to apply sun protection, allow it to soak into the skin for a few minutes, and then you can apply your skin camouflage.

Silicone gel, which designed to help reduce redness and flatten hypertrophic and keloid scarring, can be used under the camouflage.

What can be used over skin camouflage?

Your usual makeup can be applied over your camouflage, or you can use the camouflage as your foundation over your whole face.

Which colour, and how do I apply my skin camouflage?

We all see colour slightly differently, and we all see ourselves slightly differently to how others see us. This is quite natural, so the main thing to decide, with your camouflage consultant, is which colour you feel is an acceptable skin match to your unaffected skin.

Once you have chosen that, the consultant will discuss with you different ways to apply it. Usually people choose to use their clean fingertips. Should there be multiple scarring, rather than work on each individually, it is easier and quicker to just cover the whole area.

Skin camouflage’s main ingredients are oils and waxes (it makes them waterproof and long-lasting) but they need to be stabilised on your skin with a setting powder, and sometimes for additional stability, a fixing spray. How to apply these will be discussed and agreed during your consultation.

Camouflage always looks better after a few minutes, when it has had time to settle into the top layers of your skin.

When and what will remove my skin camouflage?

You should remove your camouflage each day before going to bed. This allows you to apply a moisturiser and to inspect for any change to your scars. Your usual skin cleansing products, such as soap and water, cosmetic wipes or a soap substitute (such as a cleansing cream or lotion) will effectively and quickly remove your camouflage.

Obviously, care must be taken to any camouflage applied to the backs of hands as this will wash off with your daily hygienic practices. Sun protection, bath oil and aromatherapy massage products, when used over the camouflaged areas, will also remove it.

What are the disadvantages?

Unfortunately, no product should be considered fully rub-proof. There can be a slight transfer of skin camouflage onto your clothing where the two meet, for example the back of your thigh and inside trousers when shuffling about on your seat, or when clothing rubs against your camouflaged skin, such as rolling your sleeves up or down several times a day. However, the products are detergent soluble – your usual washing detergent will remove traces from clothing and bedding.

Although the camouflage is considered waterproof, which allows you to go swimming, or to have a shower after sports, remember that when wetted the camouflage area will need to be carefully patted dry – otherwise the rubbing motion of the towel will remove it.

What are the advantages?

Its application can fit in easily with your getting up and dressed routine. Whether you choose to wear skin camouflage, or not, it empowers you to decide how you want to look each day. Lots of people stop using skin camouflage when they feel confident to answer any stares or questions strangers might ask about your scars. You are in control of when and why you apply your camouflage.

Extract from Feedback Report following BASC training medical professionals at a specialist hospital:
“A desire to conceal their scars, which can still be a daily painful reminder of the traumas that they have suffered and still continue to suffer. With a few simple brush strokes a person’s appearance (and often their life) can literally be transformed.”

Where can I buy skin camouflage?

There are four brands of skin camouflage currently available on NHS Prescription – but this relies on funding being made available where you live, which can vary throughout the UK. You can order your agreed items at the prescription counter or by direct sale with the UK distributor. Other products agreed by you and your camouflage consultant can be purchased in most chemists and off the internet.

For further information please contact The Mix or log on to www.skin-camouflage.net.

If you need support for self-harm

If you’re struggling with self-harm, know that you’re not alone and we’re here for you. Get in touch with our team today for free and confidential support.

Head to our self-harm hub for advice and information about self-harm.

Next Steps

  • selfharmUK provides information and advice about self harm. You can ask a question to their expert panel or share your story.
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 03-Mar-2021

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