When the skin is injured, a healthy body immediately begins repairing itself. Most people take scabs and the healing process for granted without ever considering how the body can do this with little or no outside intervention. Understanding scab formation and skin healing is important; any disruption will prolong the healing process.
After an Injury
After an injury that breaks the skin, such as a scratch, cut or burst pimple, wash the area with a gentle soap and water. If bleeding, cover with a sterile bandage and apply pressure. If bleeding continues after pressure is applied, elevate the area. When the bleeding stops apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the site with a sterile bandage until a scab forms.
How and Why a Scab Forms
While you stop the bleeding, apply pressure and prevent bacterial infection, the body is also at work to heal the injury. Immediately the body closes off broken blood vessels to slow the bleeding. It then fills the injury site with fluid that contains platelets, fibrin and other blood cells so that no more blood and lymph substances can be lost. The hole-filling fluid forms a plug that dries and creates a protective layer over the injury site. This protective layer is usually referred to as a scab. The scab keeps bacteria and other substances out, preventing irritation and infection.
Under the Scab
While the scab is shielding the injury from the intrusion of bacteria and other substances, work is going on underneath to restore the surface of the skin. The body repairs the damage by filling in the hole left by the injury with new cells. When this process is complete, the scab will fall off to reveal normal, healthy skin underneath.
Peeling off the scab too soon can cause further irritation or infection. This is why it is important not to pull at a scab or remove it; rather, let it fall off on its own. Removing a scab before it is ready will certainly prolong the healing time, and could lead to unnecessary scarring.