The human body really is amazing. Every second that we’re alive, the cells in our bodies are tirelessly working to keep us at a state of equilibrium. Damaged or dead cells are replaced in high quantity daily from our skin, organs, and blood. Our body even possess the capacity to heal itself! If it from an injury, the healing process may seem long and confusing, but is really a step-by-step process that the body knows just how to handle.
Treating a wound or an injury is only half of the healing process; making sure that it scars correctly and heals properly is the last step. The proper care and conditions are required throughout the process to ensure complete healing. So that begs the question: how do scars heal?
The Healing Process
The healing process has 4 phases: hemostasis, the inflammatory phase, the proliferative phase, and the maturation phase.
Hemostasis occurs within the very first moments of receiving an injury. Its purpose is to stop the bleeding of the wound and to seal it off from the external world. Platelets release cytokines and hormones which cause vasoconstriction, or reduced blood flow to the affected area. Platelets then cause blood clots, which stops the bleeding completely.
The inflammatory phase focuses on cleaning and healing the wound. You may notice increased blood flow and aggravation to the affected area, or inflammation. Cells called neutrophils monitor and regulate blood flow and cellular activity. Macrophages are essential to wound healing, destroying bacteria and other foreign objects and breaking down debris.
The proliferative phase focuses on rebuilding the damaged and/or lost tissue. It starts with epithelialization, which seals both sides of the wound. Fibroblast forms as the inflammatory phase ends, which strengthens the forming tissue and releases collagen. Angiogenesis, or increased blood flow, brings nutrients and energy to the building tissue and the wound itself contracts at this time.
The maturation phase is all about strengthening and finishing the newly-made connections between the old and new tissues, as well as the maturation of the scar. This brings us to collagen. Collagen is a protein that is crucial for tissue fortification and scar formation; it forms strong cross-links between the wounded areas and thickens the newly-formed tissue. In the maturation phase, the collagen and skin cells are “remodeled.” Healing materials and water are absorbed from the wound, which causes the collagen fibers to lie closer to each other, strengthening the skin and causing the scar to recede and settle. This process usually takes about a year for the scar to “mature” completely. Scar healing can be accelerated by using an assortment of scar management products.
So why do we care? Scar healing occurs during the last step of the healing process; to maximize its’ effects, the previous steps need to be completed without complication. Knowing the steps helps us to recognize what is happening with our skin and when. An infected or mistreated wound is going to take longer to heal and have a bigger scar than a healthy wound. Do your part to help your scars by keeping your wound clean and allowing it to heal uninterrupted.