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What Is an Incision Scar?

An incision scar.
Scars from surgical incisions typically fade over time.
Steri-strips may be used to close incisions.
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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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An incision scar, also referred to as a surgical scar, is a scar that forms where a surgical incision was made. A surgical incision is a cut made through the skin to perform a operation or surgical procedure. Scarring occurs as new skin grows over the old skin and the surgical wound heals. The severity of an incision scar depends largely on where the incision is made, what type of incision is necessary, and how well the incision heals. Unfortunately, scarring is an unavoidable result of any operation.

Some of the more pronounced surgical scars are a result of abdominal or thoracic surgery that cannot be accomplished laparoscopically. Heart surgery and Cesarean sections are examples of surgeries that leave a pronounced incision scar. Some surgical procedures that require smaller incisions can sometimes be accomplished with the goal of reducing the amount of visible scarring. For instance, cosmetic surgical incisions are often made along the hairline where scarring is less visible and hand surgeons often use the lines along the palms as incision points when performing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.

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While scarring from a surgical incision cannot be avoided, there are ways to reduce the severity of the scar after healing. Surgical wound care is vital to minimizing the appearance of an incision scar. Infection and further trauma will only delay the healing process and may increase the amount or appearance of scar tissue. Wound closures sometimes affect the way an incision heals as well. The decision to use stitches, Steri-strips® or staples is usually left to the surgeon, but patients can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each during pre-surgical consult.

More recent research has indicated that the type of dressing used on a surgical wound may reduce the appearance of the incision scar. Traditional surgical dressings involve sterile gauze, which helps cover the wound and prevent infection, but does not support the healing skin. A dressing made of plastic that compresses the surgical incision area and supports the healing skin was developed by a team of researchers at Stanford University.

There are other options for minimizing the appearance of an incision scar, but many cosmetic treatments, including lasers, excision and ointments are only minimally effective, if at all. The best way to minimize surgical scarring is to properly care for the incision as it is healing by it keeping it cleaned and dressed and following all post-operative care instructions. Once the wound has closed properly, regularly apply moisturizing ointment or lotion to the new skin and surrounding area to help minimize the final appearance of the fully healed scar.

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