Some burns heal without any noticeable scarring, while others cause varying degrees of scarring. Doctors may recommend treatment to prevent, minimize, or treat burn scars, including:
- Skin grafts
- Pressure garments
- Silicone gel sheets
- Prevention of sun exposure
- Contracture scar prevention
- Wound dressings
- Steroid injections
A skin graft is a surgical procedure where surgeons remove healthy skin from one part of the body and transplant it onto a burn wound. Skin grafts are usually used for third– or fourth-degree burns, in which all layers of the skin are damaged. These burns may not heal on their own without the use of skin grafts, which may also help reduce the appearance of scarring.
Pressure garments are made from elasticized fabrics and are widely used to improve scarring following a burn injury. A meta-analysis published in 2009 in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery found that while pressure garment therapy (PGT) did not seem to affect global scar scores, it did improve scar height. A Cochrane Review of PGT for hypertrophic and keloid scaring following burn injuries may be in the works.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits of PGT and whether it may prevent or reduce the appearance of scarring.
Silicone Gel Sheets
Silicone gel sheets are applied topically, directly onto the damaged tissue. The medical professional will apply silicone gel in a very thin sheet. It dries within minutes, and stays in place on its own. Silicone gel sheets form a protective barrier against bacteria, loss of tissue hydration, and further injury.
Proponents claim silicone gel sheets reduce itching and discomfort, and result in softer and flatter scars. A Cochrane Review of studies on the effectiveness of silicone gel sheets in the prevention of new scars and treatment of existing scars found that the sheets may produce positive results. However, the researchers found the studies were of poor quality and susceptible to bias. They were ultimately unable to determine if silicone gel sheets are an effective means of preventing or treating burn scars.
Prevention of Sun Exposure
Burned skin may lose pigmentation. It can take up to a year for the skin to become re-pigmented and in some cases the pigment never returns.
Sun exposure following a burn injury may make the site of the wound appear darker. This can result in the burn site appearing permanently darker than the surrounding tissue.
Avoid sun exposure following a burn injury. See our blog on tips for sun protection after a burn injury to learn more.
Preventing Burn Scar Contractures
Burn scar contractures develop when scar tissue contracts, pulling the skin together. This can restrict movement and mobility, causing disability. Contractures are common in the joints.
Thus, preventing contractors is a priority following a burn injury, especially one affecting the joints. Below are some common means of preventing or minimizing contractures:
Doctors may use splints on patients’ joints to keep the joint straight, allowing the skin to heal in a manner that avoids tightening and preserving range of motion in the joint. A doctor may recommend wearing a splint over pressure garments to further reduce scarring.
Massage and Stretching
Proper massage and stretching may help loosen contractures, making the scar softer and more comfortable. Massage and stretching should only be done under the guidance of a medical professional.
Exercise and Physical Therapy
Doctors may also recommend range of motion exercises and other physical therapy to prevent the skin from tightening and to maintain the patient’s range of motion. A physical therapist may coordinate therapy with multiple treatments, including pressure garments and massage. Physical therapists and occupational therapists frequently work together in the management of a burn patient’s recovery.
Learn more about dealing with burn scar contractures.
Wound dressings for burns can be made of biological or synthetic material, or a blend of biosynthetic material. The purposes of burn wound dressings are to:
- Protect the tissue from further injury
- Block bacteria and other micro-organisms from getting into the wound
- Keep the wound moist, which aids in healing
- Allow the wound to “breathe”
- Prevent infection
Patients may obtain wound dressings over the counter or by prescription. For severe burns, a doctor should perform the initial cleaning and dressing of the wound. Upon discharge from the hospital or other medical facility, the patient will be instructed on how to continue proper wound dressing at home. Patients should consult their doctor about appropriate wound dressings and their uses.
Steroid injections comprise injecting a steroid-containing solution into the scar tissue. The patient may continue to wear splints or pressure garments or receive other scar reduction treatment while receiving steroid injections. Patients may receive injections several weeks apart.
Over time, the injections may help flatten the scar, though steroid injections may be more effective on newer scars compared to older scars. Patients might experience itching associated with the injections, while some also experience hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin).
As it heals, burned skin may become dry and itchy. Scratching a burn or other wound may increase the risk of infection, which could make scarring worse. Emollients may help keep the skin hydrated to reduce itching associated with burn scars.
Emollients are used topically and applied directly to the skin. Like any other product, consult your doctor before applying an over-the-counter or prescription cream or moisturizer to the burn site.
Other Scar Reduction and Treatment Techniques Available
Doctors may recommend other treatments as well, including those involving laser therapy or cryotherapy. Before you agree to undergo any treatment, first consult your doctor. Only receive treatment from licensed medical professionals.
Paying for Burn Scar Treatment
Talk to your health insurance provider regarding coverage for scar reduction treatments like those listed above. Some doctors offer payment plans for those who cannot afford the treatment up front.
If another party caused or contributed to your burn injuries, and thus your scars, you may be able to take legal action to recover compensation for your burn treatment, including treatment for scar reduction. A lawsuit may also recover damages for the emotional effects related to your burn scars.
See our Legal FAQ page for more information, and call 844-549-8774 to speak with our lawyer referral specialists for help finding a lawyer who can answer your questions and provide legal counsel.