How to Tame Summer’s Bites, Scrapes and Cuts

With the right at-home care, minor skin injuries -- from hungry mosquitoes to a collision with a surfboard -- don’t have to leave noticeable scars. Here, dermatologists and plastic surgeons share their treatment advice to speed healing and reduce scarring from common summer mishaps.

Clean up
Carefully washing with soap and water is the first step in treating minor cuts and scratches, says Dr. Jay Calvert, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and associate professor of plastic surgery at the University of California’s Keck School of Medicine. For sensitive skin, try a diluted solution of one part hydrogen peroxide and one part water. Some doctors also recommend applying a topical antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, but only for the first few days after injury. Among over-the-counter antibiotic blends, pure bacitracin is least likely to trigger an allergic reaction, says Calvert.

Allow Healing Time

Although life in our high-def world makes it more tempting than ever to obsess about the appearance of scrapes and scars, relax and give your skin the opportunity to heal, says Calvert. Frequently rinsing or medicating new cuts, scrapes or incisions can sometimes impede healing.

Avoid Scratching

Pesky mosquito, flea and chigger bites can cause maddening itching that drives some sensitive people to scratch obsessively, potentially causing scars or uneven pigmentation. Dr. Hayes Gladstone, director of the division of dermatologic surgery at Stanford University and associate professor, suggests applying an over-the-counter cream of 1 percent hydrocortisone to tame the itch and keep skin moist. Dry skin is a leading cause of itchiness, he says, “and no one really moisturizes enough.” Still can’t resist the impulse to scratch? Cover the bite with a bandage.

Keep It Simple

Even with their access to prescription cures, doctors sometimes prefer ordinary remedies, such as applying a cool compress to stifle itching from bug bites. Home medics can stir up effective skin soothers with common kitchen ingredients too. For example, soaking in a warm bath mixed with ultrafine oatmeal can provide relief from itching. Simply grind 1 cup unflavored oatmeal into a fine powder. Pour the powdered cupful into running warm water and soak for 15 or 20 minutes.

Stop the Scabs

Many of us remember letting our childhood cuts and scrapes form dry, hard scabs as they healed, a method that often left lasting scars. Now, doctors embrace a moist-healing technique, which can speed healing and minimize scarring. After cleansing the area of a cut or scrape, moisten it moderately with common ointments such as cocoa butter or petroleum jelly; cover with a nonstick bandage to contain the ointment and protect the injury. The wounds will heal in about two weeks. To further minimize scarring, try a nonprescription cream containing a copper-peptide complex; a recent Stanford University study showed the copper complex mobilizes the skin’s own healing response, leading to smoother scars.

Embrace the Shade

Keeping a wound or new scar away from sunlight is critically important, doctors say. “Sun exposure can cause more superficial blood vessel formation and make scars appear redder,” says Gladstone. Diligently guard your injuries from sunlight for several months, using a sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. New formulas with extra-fine particles of the sun-busting minerals don’t leave thick, white streaks.

Think Long-term

Scars don’t completely vanish, but managed properly, they’ll become less conspicuous during the healing process, says Calvert. For aftercare, Gladstone recommends gels with silicone as the active ingredient, available at online drugstores. “Silicone helps with wound healing and minimizes scarring,” says Gladstone. “I have my patients use it on surgical scars, but it’s useful even with everyday scrapes.” Gentle daily massage with the silicone gel should help soften and break down rigid tissue.