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Prevention’s Quick Fix: 11 Ways to prevent a scar

If you're made of flesh and blood, you've got a scar. Some are bigger than others; some may be reminders of major life events (think C-section); others, more mundane mishaps (the time you fell off your bike in 4th grade). But you can keep the addition of news ones to a minimum with these expert tips:

1) Thoroughly clean the wound. A wound that heals quickly and neatly is less likely to develop a scar than one that festers. Make sure all of your cuts and scrapes are properly cleaned, says Jeffrey H. Binstock, MD.

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It's critical to remove dirt and debris that may impede healing or become visible through the skin as a "road tattoo." If particles remain in the wound after washing, use tweezers cleaned with alcohol to remove them.

2) But skip the hydrogen peroxide. It destroys white blood cells that help repair wounds and actually slows healing. Plus, it extends the time that the wound is open and vulnerable. Also not helpful: soap and rubbing alcohol, which can be irritating. Instead, rinse the cut with clear, warm water and a gentle soap, if necessary, even though it might sting.

3) Keep it moist and covered. Moisture prevents a hard scab from forming, which slows development of new tissue. Plus, cells regenerate faster in a moist environment, so leaving a cut open to the air may promote scarring. Cover your wound with plain petroleum jelly to keep it moist, then slap on an adhesive bandage. Research shows that keeping wounds bandaged speeds healing by as much as 50%.

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4) But consider skipping the ointment. "Neosporin and other ointments are virtually useless," says Dr. Imber. "They don't penetrate or allow the daily washing needed to keep the wound clean."

5) Don't pick. Mom was right. Picking a scab off a healing wound could increase the chances of leaving a scar, says John F. Romano, MD.

6) Close gaps with a butterfly bandage. You should see a doctor for stitches if you get a large cut, particularly on the face, where a scar would be most visible. But if you're concerned about scarring from even a small cut, consider using a butterfly bandage, says Dr. Romano. These bandages, available at most drugstores, help keep wounds closed for better healing and minimal scarring. Use one only after the wound has been thoroughly cleaned.

7) Eat a well-balanced diet. Wounds won't heal right unless your body gets what it needs for proper healing. What does it take? Protein and vitamins—obtained from a healthy, well-balanced diet—are essential. Of particular importance for wound healing is the mineral zinc, which is found in good amounts in roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, Swiss and Cheddar cheese, peanuts, dark-meat turkey, and lean beef.

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8) Get moving. Exercise can speed the healing process by as much as 25%. Ohio State University researchers gave 28 sedentary men and women each a small puncture wound. (How'd they get people to volunteer for that?) The researchers then asked half of the people to exercise on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike, or strength-train for an hour 3 times a week for 3 months, while the other half stayed sedentary. After 3 months, the wounds of the active people healed an average of 10 days faster (in 29 days versus 39) than those of the couch potatoes.

The researchers suggest that exercise increases circulation and helps regulate the immune system and hormones that influence the healing process. They believe that exercise may even help wound healing in people who are traditionally slow to heal, such as those with diabetes. Is there nothing exercise can't do?

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9) Manage your anger. Inability to control strong emotions can slow recovery from an injury, so try to keep your cool. OSU scientists gave 100 volunteers identical blisters on their forearms. The hot-tempered subjects took 4 times longer to heal than their calmer peers. The researchers think that increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress the immune system.

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10) Cover scars with sunblock. Scars have less pigment than the rest of your skin. This means they lack the ability to develop a protective tan and are especially vulnerable to sunburn. Cover all scars with a strong sunscreen whenever you head outside.

Also, UV rays slow healing by interfering with new collagen production. Always protect healed wounds with a broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher sunscreen. It's a myth that scars blend better into surrounding skin after sun exposure. The contrast of a tan may actually make the scar more visible.

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11) Level out. After your scar has healed, OTC treatment, such as ScarGuard Scar Care or Curad Scar Therapy Clear Pads, may help level raised areas. You can buy these products at drugstores.

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