How to look after your self-harm scars 

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TW: This content is about self-harm and self-harm scars. If you are struggling with this, contact our Crisis Messenger 24 hours a day or speak to our helpline team, who are there to support you with whatever you’re going through.

Sian Bradley is a freelance journalist and works with The Mix to support young people with their mental health. Here, Sian talks about her own experience of self-harm and shares her tips on looking after self-harm scars.

Scars are a reality of self-harm. Not every type of self-harm will leave a scar, and some wounds will heal without a mark. Some won’t. It can be difficult to see a physical reminder of a painful time, this mark of a dark moment, and I’ve often felt quite sad looking at my own scars.

Earlier on, when the scars were fresher, I used to worry about how people would react if they saw them. I felt like they exposed this part of me I wanted to be hidden. People can feel ashamed, disgusted or self conscious when looking at their self-harm scars. That’s normal!

There’s no right way to feel, though, and, over time, I began to accept the remaining scars, seeing them as a reminder of how they have survived. I don’t feel ashamed anymore.

Still, that took time. I also got a tattoo to help encouraged me to stop self-harming, so I could preserve this beautiful bit of ink. You can talk to a tattoo artist about how to cover self-harm scars with a tattoo that you love.

Whatever the feelings that come up, and regardless of your relationship to self-harm scars, they need to be cared for, to keep yourself safe.

Caring for self-harm wounds

It’s strange to care for parts of your skin that you previously harmed. Most of the time, I’ve found it to be quite cathartic to use soothing creams and to look after myself.

Other times I’ve struggled to care for the cuts, believing that was “giving in” somehow and that I needed to punish myself further by not helping them heal.

That’s not true. The fact is, everyone deserves to care for themselves. And even if you don’t believe that, open wounds can become infected if they aren’t kept clean.

Tips for caring for self-harm scars

An open wound, a new scar and an older one need different care.

With fresh wounds, you want to keep them clean. You may need to apply a clean dressing or wound closure strips (sticky tape that holds a wound closed). Clean it with an alcohol swab if you can. If the wound is severe, looks infected or continues to bleed, it’s important to call 999 or go straight to A&E to make sure you keep yourself safe.

For the first few days, the wound will change a lot. It may get itchy as it heals. Creams can help.

Different creams for self-harm scars

Antiseptic creams like Sudocrem or E45 can help to soothe the itch while also stopping the scar from being angry and inflamed.

There’s some evidence that plants and herbs can help to heal scars. Aloe Vera, either as a gel or cream, is an amazing soother. But Calendula, (AKA Marigold, the common garden plant with orange or yellow flowers), is the star of the show.

Calendula contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has amazing wound-healing abilities, according to science. You can use Calendula as a cream, ointment or make it into a tea to apply on the skin.

Creams that contain other herbs like Marshmallow, Tea tree oil (DO NOT use tea tree oil to treat burns), Gotu kola, Chamomile or Echinacea can also be helpful.

If you get your hands on some Slippery Elm bark powder, mix one teaspoon in one cup of boiling water, cool and apply to a clean, soft cloth and then rub it onto the scar.

Shop around for scar healing creams, there are plenty of round-ups and reviews online. In general, you want to look for a scar cream with silicone or allantoin (or both) for maximum scar healing.

Being gentle and caring with your skin can be mentally healing, especially as you see the physical healing taking place. Try to tap into that, but also don’t be hard on yourself you feel a strange sense of grief or loss as the scars heal.

Self-harm is complicated, and if you don’t feel ready to stop or let go of scars, that’s OK – just try to talk to someone about it.

Other treatments for scars that won’t fade

There are different types of scars, and everyone’s skin reacts differently to injury. With self-harm, they fall into the category of flat, raised or sunken scars. They can be white, red or fade to the colour of your skin.

Raised scars can either be keloid or hypertrophic scars. Keloid scars don’t fade with time. They are thick and raised and slowly grow larger than the original wound, due to scar tissue.

While silicone gel can help flatten Keloid scars, it may need other treatments to fully heal. There are all sorts of options, from steroid creams, injections, laser treatment, radiation therapy and surgical removal. It’s best to talk to a dermatologist about what would work for you.

Waiting for all of these creams or treatments to work can take time. While you wait, skin camouflage can help if you’re feeling self-conscious.

I used to rub foundation over my scars while they faded, and it helped me to feel more confident in the summer months – but I had a few issues with the makeup transferring onto my clothes, so choose a foundation that is waterproof, and won’t rub off.

Bonus points if the skin camouflage contains SPF, as scars are sensitive and need sun protection.

Different resources for self-harm support

You can find a bunch of support on The Mix’s website, including this dedicated support page on self-harm. You can also get in touch with The Mix’s team here for free and confidential support or text THEMIX to 85258 for 24/7 crisis support. Here are some other websites and numbers if you need help or advice with self-harm and self-harm scars:

Next Steps

By Sian Bradley

Updated on 24-Feb-2023

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