Why do we pick our scabs?

Climber Hands by Dru!, on FlickrSome people love picking scabs. Fact. You trip over and graze your knees, or bang your elbow and instead of crying and making a fuss – like you might have done as a kid – you are secretly glad because you will get a scab you can pick! It’s a strange mentality, but trust me, people do it. (We’ll take your word for it! – Ed.)

Normally, the process of forming a scab is to heal you – it’s part of the body’s defense mechanism to protect you. As soon as you scrape or break the skin,blood starts to gush from the newly formed wound. This is the very first stage in forming a scab. In the blood, there are special fragments of old blood cells called platelets whose job it is to stick together like glue at the cut, forming a clot and stemming the flow. You can think of this clot as a natural plaster that prevents blood and fluids flowing out, while stopping anything (like bacteria) from coming in. Moreover, the clot is also full of fibrin, a thread-like protein that stretches across the wound and slowly pulls the edges closer together, reducing the size of the gap and ultimately aiding the skin’s recovery.

For a variety of complex and not fully understood reasons, scabs tend to itch. A variety of chemicals are released at the site of the injury, triggering pain nerve fibres, resulting in the unwanted sensation of an itch (or ‘pruritis’). In many circumstances an itch is a helpful sensation (like for telling you when to flick away a crawling spider), but not with a healing graze – it just makes you want to scratch it off!

So, what’s the big deal if you pick them? Well, as already mentioned, scabs are like temporary bandages that allow the skin time to grow back underneath and will naturally fall off on their own accord when the repair and healing process is complete. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you pick your scab before it has healed then you risk opening the wound again! This may mean the second scab may be even bigger than the first, increasing the time it takes to heal and possibly leaving you with a permanent scar on your skin when it finally comes off.

Not only is there a risk of scars, but also picking your scab re-opens the wound, inviting harmful bacteria in, putting you at risk of an infection. The severity of any infection depends on the type of bacteria that gets in there – but skin infections (cellulitis) can be severe. For example, if clostridium bacteria were to get in the wound then gas gangrene could result. This is an extreme example (I’ll let you look up the gory details) but why take the risk of exposing yourself as you never know what bacteria might get in?

It’s easy for me to say all that. But we all know that simply not picking your scabs is easier said than done. My best advice? To prevent that itch, try some different moisturizers or emollient creams…or, better than that, try and not fall over in the first place.

 

Answer By Chloe Westley

Image Source: Climber Hands by Dru!, on Flickr

Article by Chloe Westley

November 3, 2014

Based in Manchester, UK, Chloe spends most of her time getting up close and personal with a zippy bit of kit called a Raman spectrometer. In between doing some high-brow research as part of a PhD, she follows tennis, cricket and Man United (unfortunately) and loves watching Suits, The Big Bang theory and Breaking Bad (obviously!).


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