What Happens When You Pick Off a Scab?

Your skin has the ability to heal itself from minor cuts and scrapes -- as long as you leave it alone. When you cut your skin, a scab may form, which will help protect the cut from germs and jump-start the healing process 1. Picking a scab may make your wound take even longer to heal, cause infection and create permanent scars. Talk to your doctor if your wound is infected or painful.

Why Your Skin Scabs

When the skin on your body breaks, the blood vessels around the area constrict to prevent blood loss. Platelets rise to the surface of the bloodstream, which will help the area clot. As the platelets stick together, proteins in the blood form a web-like net over the wound, plugging the area so it connects to the skin again. As the area heals, the scab acts as a barrier to keep out germs and help the wound heal more quickly.

Picking it Off

When the scab dries out, it may feel itchy and uncomfortable 1. Scratching and picking at the scab may feel satisfying, but it may delay the healing process 1. When you continuously pick a scab, you are injuring the wound again. The platelets will have to clot the area again, then the fibrous proteins will have to rebuild a new scab 1. Picking a scab will expose the cut and allow germs to get in. This could cause an infection.

If It Falls Off

If your scab falls off on its own, it's nothing to worry about. Scabs typically only last for one or two weeks, until the extra tissue is either absorbed back into the body or dries out and falls off. If you have not picked or scratched the scab, it has fallen off because your body no longer needs it to heal the skin. Underneath the scab is a new layer of skin to protect the wounded area.

Keeping it Clean

If a scab is itchy, it's possible to pick it off accidentally in your sleep. If this happens, the wound is still at risk of developing an infection. Wash the wound out carefully with soap and water, then dry it with a clean paper towel. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic cream to the area, then cover it in a bandage to prevent germs from entering the cut.

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