What’s a scab?

A scab is a protective tissue covering that forms after your skin has been damaged.

When you scrape your knee or skin, a blood clot forms and eventually hardens into a protective crust. Your tissue will then regenerate, pushing out the scab to make room for new skin to grow in its place.

Though unsightly at times, a scab is often a positive indicator of healthy healing. However, healing can take days to weeks to complete, depending on the severity of your wound.

What causes scabs?

Scabs form as a defense against infection, blood loss, and debris.

When you get a scrape or cut, platelets — or blood clot cells — will begin to clot to stop bleeding and prevent any excess fluid from flowing out. As the blood or wound dries, it forms the hard layer of a scab.

Other than common scrapes or cuts, scabs can also form as a result of:

Treating scabs

Scabs often heal on their own, but the healing process can sometimes take a significant amount of time if your wound is more severe. Here are some ways to speed scab healing.

1. Keep your scab clean

It’s important to keep your scab and any other injury clean at all times. Debris and germs can increase your risk of infection and slow your healing process.

Gently wash your scab with mild soap and water. Avoid scrubbing as you may risk scratching or irritating your scab. This can cause it to bleed, reform, and potentially scar your skin.

2. Keep your wound area moist

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, keeping your wounds moist helps your skin heal and speeds your recovery. A dry wound quickly forms a scab and slows your ability to heal. Moistening your scabs or wounds can also stop your wound from getting bigger and prevent itchiness and scarring.

Dermatologists recommend applying petroleum jelly daily to keep your wound or scab moist.

3. Don’t pick your scab

Picking and scratching your scabs can be tempting, especially if they begin to itch. But, these actions can cause new trauma and slow your recovery process. Picking your scabs can also increase your risk of developing an infection, causing swelling and pain.

4. Hot and cold therapy

A warm compress encourages blood flow to your wound and triggers skin regeneration. Treating your scabs with a warm compress can also prevent your wound from drying out.

Similar to a warm compress, applying a cold compress can reduce swelling and also provide itch relief. Cold therapy can also reduce inflammation in the affected area. For an added boost, talk with your doctor about over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication in your wound treatment.

5. Take preventive measures

If you are physically active or if your scab is still fresh, cover it with a bandage to prevent further irritation and to reduce your risk of scraping it. Any excess trauma to your scab can slow your healing and trigger bleeding or swelling.

Outlook

Scabs are a normal part of healing but can be unsightly if your wound area is big. While they can disappear on their own, home treatments can help speed your recovery.

If your scabs do not reduce in size or if your wound site shows signs of infection, schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss treatment options.