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What Is the Best Way to Heal a Scab?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The best way to heal a scab often depends on the scab and the wound it’s covering, but there are some general tips most people can follow. Keeping the wound and scab clean and covered helps promote scab healing. Regularly applying antibiotic ointment can also help heal a scab as well as prevent infection. It’s important to learn to identify and treat infected scabs to avoid further infection. Avoiding scratching or picking a scab can prevent infection and scarring.

The process to heal a scab begins as soon as the wound is acquired. The wounded person should immediately clean the area with soap and warm water until no traces of dirt remain, and then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. A wound should be patted dry, with the person taking care not to cause further injury. Once the wound is clean and dry, it should be bandaged. The bandage should be changed each time it becomes wet or dirty, and each time the person applies fresh antibiotic ointment.

Some people believe the best way to heal a scab is to give it time to “breathe,” meaning to give it time unbandaged and exposed to air. Oftentimes, this depends on the wound and type of scab. Small wounds with minimal scabbing might not need to be constantly covered. Larger wounds with significant scabbing might benefit from continuous coverage, as they take longer to heal and are at a higher risk of becoming damaged. Regardless of how often a person keeps his scab bandaged, most experts agree that keeping it moist can help heal a scab.

As a person is trying to heal a scab, he might notice the scab changes color. Generally, a yellow scab or a brown scab is normal and not indicative of an infection, but scab color isn’t always a clear indicator of an infection. Regardless of the scab’s color, the wound might be infected if it becomes unusually painful, starts discharging pus, is warm to the touch, or develops red streaks in and around the scab. Sometimes, the infection can be treated by applying over-the-counter antibiotic ointment three times a day, or as often as the instructions specify. Other times, medical attention might be necessary.

It’s important to understand that by following the steps to properly heal a scab, a person also can prevent scarring. For example, treating a scab as soon as possible after acquiring the wound can help prevent or minimize scarring. Scabs tend to itch, but it’s best never to scratch or pick a scab. Doing so can slow the process of scab healing, cause further damage to the skin, and bring about scarring. Too, reopening the scab can put the wound at risk for becoming infected.

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Discussion Comments

By anon999227 — On Nov 17, 2017

What is a good medicine for scab healing?

By anon944059 — On Apr 05, 2014

Man I got a lot of scabs as a kid, and they still hurt. Right now I have a major scab on my knee and need to go to a party! Shorts? I don't think so.

By anon943956 — On Apr 04, 2014

I had a scab on my lip, worst place for a scab, it was so unsightly. I let it dry completely a couple of days to let my lip underneath heal. I put Neosporin cream on it and within hours, it softened the scab and as I was brushing my teeth that evening, the scab fell off all on its own. Use Neosporin!

By bluedolphin — On Oct 08, 2013

I'm using a cream that prevents scars on my healing tattoo scabs. My tattoo artist recommended it to me. I normally don't do anything for scabs and they just heal on their own. But tattoo scars are different because they can cause scars which will ruin the tattoo. So I have to take extra care of scabs that form on fresh tattoos.

Vitamin E oil is also great for scabs. It speeds up healing.

By ddljohn — On Oct 08, 2013

@Mor-- Yea, that's bad. The scab is there to allow the skin underneath to heal and form fresh skin cells. If you notice, a scab falls off only when new skin has finished developing underneath.

By burcidi — On Oct 07, 2013

I think over-cleaning a scab and applying ointment too frequently does more harm than good.

A scab should be cleaned but it doesn't need to be washed constantly and smothered in antibiotic cream. I made this mistake with a scab on my face and it took forever for the scab to heal. It kept watering and never dried out and fell off like a scab should. I called my doctor about it and he told me to stop cleaning it and apply ointment only once a day. When I left the scab alone, it started to dry up and heal.

By clintflint — On Oct 01, 2013

I constantly had scabby knees as a kid, to the point where my knees are slightly numb now, even though I don't think there is any scarring.

I managed to get a serious infection once, when I got a splinter caught in my skin and didn't remove it for a while, but a trip to the doctor cleared it up. It's definitely a good idea to be able to recognize the difference between a normal scab and an infection, though, particularly if you've got kids who will probably end up with both over the years.

By croydon — On Oct 01, 2013

@Mor - It's definitely a bad habit. I still have to stop myself from picking at scabs today. I find the best thing to do is to put a lot of antiseptic cream on them. Not only does this soften them and make them less tempting to pick at, it also heals scabs fast, at least in my experience.

This is particularly true if they were made by something like a cat scratching you or a scrape that might have gotten some dirt into it. The quicker you can get a bit of antiseptic into the wound, the better and it will help the scab to heal better once it forms.

By Mor — On Sep 30, 2013

It's really important to keep kids from picking at scabs as much as possible. I speak from experience, because I used to pick at my own scabs to the point where they took a long time to heal. I would get bored in school, or whatever, and I would just compulsively pick at my knees or where ever else I happened to have scabs. It's gross to admit it now, of course, but the worse thing is that in a few places I've got scars that I might have otherwise avoided.

The fastest way to heal a scab is to leave it alone and let it fall off by itself. It will come off when it is ready.

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