Recently parents have been asking me some cutting-edge questions about the scabs that result when their child experiences a scrape or other skin injury, and why their children pick at them. Well, let me see if I can provide some first-aid advice (so to speak) on this topic.
Scabs form whenever the skin is scraped or broken thanks to special blood cells called platelets that stick together and form a clot to stop the bleeding.
As the clot gets hard and dries out, it turns into a dry brown or dark red lump called a scab. Think of it as the body’s natural band-aid. Why is a scab good? Well, the hard surface protects the inside of the cut from germs, and allows the cells underneath to heal and form new skin. Scabs also aid in the repair of broken blood vessels.
When new skin has been made to again protect the surface so no germs get through, the scab will naturally fall off revealing the new skin. Unfortunately as a scab heals, it itches. Picking at a scab before it’s ready to come off only reopens the cut and sets the wound up for being re-infected by germs that can now get back into it. Picking at a scab also means it will take even longer to heal and may result in an unsightly scar from all the picking.
So the name of the game is leave the scab alone. Here are some tips that might help:
- Applying a moisturizer or product that contains vitamin E to the scab will help reduce the need to itch and pick, and may speed up healing.
- Rewarding your child so they do not pick at their scab may also work.
- Telling them an ugly scar might form may be all it takes to stop a child from picking.
- Covering the scab lightly with a band aid so that air can continue to get into the area to speed up healing may also do the trick.
- Of course, you can also tell them one of my favorite lines: “you can pick your friends, but don’t pick your scabs and certainly don’t pick your friend’s scabs either.”
Before the scab forms, it’s a great idea to clean and irrigate the cut well with a good stream of water and cover it with a bandage right away so that no germs get trapped under the skin surface as the clot starts to harden and form the scab.
Hopefully, tips like this will not leave you or your child scarred when it comes to knowing more about what to do when a scab forms after the skin is scraped or cut.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.