How Are Scars Different from Normal Skin?

Cormac McCarthy wrote that "scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real," but one power they do not have is the strength of the skin they've replaced.

The scars that this soldier would develop would have only 80% of the strength of his original skin.
The scars that this soldier would develop would have only 80% of the strength of his original skin.

Once a scar forms, it has about 80 percent of the tensile strength of original skin, in large part because the collagen fibers in a scar line up parallel to one another, while the same fibers in normal skin are built in a basket-weave formation.

According to Dr. Zlatko Kopecki, a biologist at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, this happens because the skin must act quickly to heal after an initial injury; it doesn't have time to develop like normal skin.

The healing of skin is actually a four-stage process: haemostasis is the formation of a plug to block the loss of blood; inflammation is the work of white blood cells that come to rid you of infection; proliferation, the reformation of the skin via the aforementioned collagen fibers; and remodeling, the longest process, during which all of the fibers are united and the wound is completely closed. To prevent unsightly scarring, Kopecki suggests using gels that contain silicone and massaging the scar on a regular basis.

More on scars:

  • Because scars are weaker than normal skin, they need to be protected from the sun even more thoroughly than the rest of your skin, including using UV protection year-round.

  • A scar's formation can be influenced by one's age -- skin takes longer to heal as we grow older -- as well as ethnicity, nutrition, and heredity.

  • Stretch marks are a type of scar tissue caused not only by weight changes, but also by any sudden change in skin growth, like some adolescent growth spurts.

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