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Skin Care and Diseases

Scabs and healing

07/07/2005

Question:

If there is a superficial scab on the face, would it heal faster to keep the scab moist or would it heal and fall off faster if it were allowed to dry out? It seems that keeping it moist takes longer for it to heal but I`m not sure.

Answer:

Your question about the rate of healing and manipulation of crusts is one that is asked over and over.  In careful tests of non-infected wounds, they heal faster when kept moist.  As wounds usually have the crusts removed, they are clean, are not bleeding, and have no exudate, if they are kept moist under such products as Duoderm they heal more rapidly than if they are allowed to dry.  The drying does result in some tissue damage and often results in a significant scar.  Understand, that the wounds we are talking about are those with no crusts, scales, or scabs. 

By definition there are bacteria in scabs, so that keeping them moist without any antibacterial action might well lead to low-grade infection. 

With a superficial crust on your face I would simply keep it covered with an antibiotic ointment but would not put it under an occlusive bandage.  In the scenario that you are posing, without more information, I would anticipate some prolonged healing; but DO NOT rip the "scabs" off.  At this point you just might rip off the new healing tissues that are under the crust. 

Hope this helps!

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Response by:

Charles L Heaton, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati