When you put a lot of time and energy into maintaining your complexion, the result is often beautiful, glowing skin. So it can be very frustrating when you end up with a cut or scrape or worse. However, with the right approach, you can help a wound heal quickly and take steps to minimize scarring.
Here’s what you need to know to help get your skin looking as good as new after an injury.
Babies are famous for their soft, beautiful skin. And young children’s “boo-boos” can often be “healed” with a kiss or a decorative bandage. But as we age, it gets harder and harder for our skin to bounce back. Understanding why will help us know what tools it needs to get better.
Researchers at The Rockefeller University have been conducting experiments with mouse skin to explore how skin healing changes as we age. As you might expect, skin cells are key players in the healing process. But they need the help of immune cells to work effectively.
This process requires skin cells and immune cells to communicate. But it seems that as we age, our signaling systems slow down. And this slows down the entire healing process.
The researchers found a big difference in the healing rates of two-month-old and two-year-old mice. These mice are roughly equivalent to 20-year-old and 70-year-old humans. In the older mice, it took longer for skin cells called keratinocytes to fill in wounds under scabs.
The researchers found that keratinocytes talk to immune cells by producing proteins called Skints. Skints tell immune cells to stick around and help fill in the gaps. But as the mice aged, they stopped producing Skints. So the immune cells took off, leaving the skin cells to do the work on their own. This translated to several more days before the wounds closed.
The researchers tried applying this protein to old mouse skin in a petri dish. Sure enough, the cells started to act more like those found in younger skin. The researchers are hopeful that targeting this protein pathway could lead to better treatment options for older human skin in the future.
Speed Up Wound Healing Naturally
In the meantime, a number of natural options exist that can help wounds heal quickly and minimize scarring. One of my favorites is something I’ve talked about quite a bit before: aloe vera.
You know that aloe vera can help your skin recover if it’s “wounded” by the sun. That’s why it’s always good to have aloe vera gel on hand. But there’s another reason to keep it around. It’s great at helping cuts and bruises heal. In fact, if you spot aloe in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant, don’t worry. It’s not a surprising “secret ingredient.” Chefs like to have it handy in case they burn themselves.
You can find pure aloe vera gel at most pharmacies and grocery stores. Or, if you’re not accident-prone, you can keep the whole plant at home. It’s a great decorative houseplant. And if you do end up injuring yourself every once in a while, you can just snap off a leaf and cut it open to extract the gel. It will soothe the skin and provide moisture to help you heal more quickly.
Faster Healing and Less Scarring
Another healing plant option is comfrey leaves. The leaves of this purple flower have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they supply a phytochemical called allantoin. This will help cells grow more quickly, which leads to faster healing and less scarring. You can form a paste of fresh or dried comfrey leaves by mixing them with warm water. Apply the paste directly to the wound and cover it with a bandage.
Chamomile is another flower that can help. You can try just sipping a cup of chamomile tea to relax while you heal. But your wounds will heal faster if you take your damp tea bag and apply it to the wound. Its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties can reduce pain and redness while keeping germs away.
The final natural option for promoting wound healing has a great history of wound healing. Honey is a powerful way to protect the wound and speed up healing. In fact, honey works so well that many hospitals are saving quite a bit of money by using it in their dressings. Manuka honey is considered to be at the forefront of healing honeys. The active ingredient, methylglyoxal, is likely responsible for its antibacterial effects. Manuka honey also has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In fact, it has traditionally been used for wound healing, soothing sore throats, improving digestive issues, and even preventing tooth decay.
Honey Even Works on Stubborn Foot Ulcers
Foot ulcers can be a painful complication of diabetes and vascular disease. They can take a long time to heal and use up a lot of resources in the process. Researchers in Qatar conducted a study to show that using honey can be a win-win for hospitals and patients. They recruited 12 patients suffering from chronic and acute foot ulcer wounds due to diabetes, burns, vascular disease, and other conditions.
The hospital staff cleaned and prepared the wounds as usual. Then they covered them with a layer of natural honey and a bandage. They changed the dressings regularly as the wounds healed.
On average, the wounds healed in three weeks. This might sound like a long time to wait. But on average, the patients had been receiving treatment for their wounds for 120.2 days before the hospital tried honey. And these results even include a patient who smoked 40 cigarettes a day and one whose wound was heavily infected!
The researchers also evaluated the patients’ pain using the Visual Analog Scale (VAS). The VAS asks patients to rank their pain on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable). Some of the patients couldn’t feel pain in their wounds due to diabetic neuropathy. But those who could did experience significant relief after receiving the honey treatment. One patient went from a 7 on the VAS to a 2 after just a week. Another went from an 8 to a 2 in a week.
There are a couple reasons honey works so well at relieving pain. Inflammation produced in the healing process can sensitize nerves. And edema can create pressure on the tissues. Honey helps keep edema from building up and reduces inflammation. Honey even helps deodorize wounds that have a strong smell. In this study, the honey worked just as well as charcoal-based products to deodorize. Plus, honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that help ward off infections.
For this study, the hospital used 1 kg of honey that cost $100 to treat all 12 patients. Compare that to the average annual cost of treating a diabetic foot ulcer in the US: an unimaginable $48,000. Clearly, this ancient remedy could be quite the boon to modern medicine.
Many hospitals currently use silver-based dressings for wounds. While silver is a powerful healer, there’s little evidence showing that the dressings speed up the healing process. Plus, they’re expensive. Honey, on the other hand, is cheaper and can help wounds heal more quickly, so you need less of it. If you’ve suffered a wound or are at risk of diabetic ulcers, talk to your doctor about using honey to treat it. It could save you a lot of time, pain, and money.
Don’t Forget the Basics
Finally, whenever you’re caring for a wound, taking some basic health precautions will help you ensure you don’t end up with a nasty infection that can slow your healing process. Always wash your hands thoroughly before addressing a wound. Make sure you use sterile bandages. And clean the wound before you cover it to make sure you’re not trapping germs under the dressing. A clean cloth and warm salt water can help you remove dirt and debris.
Also, keep in mind that whenever you have a wound, your immune system is working overtime. Like I mentioned above, skin cells partner with immune cells to create a scab and new layers of skin. Plus, an open wound means that your skin’s barrier function is compromised. So your immune system has to work harder to make sure no invaders make their way in.
To support your immune system, you need to make sure you’re taking good care of your overall health. Diet can play a big role in this. Make sure you’re eating nutrient dense, clean, and simple foods and stay hydrated. Protein is key to the healing process, so aim to include a high-quality protein source at each meal.
You also need to stay hydrated. Choose unsweetened options like water, tea, and coffee. Milk is also a good source of protein. You’ll want to stay away from excess sugar, particularly if you’re diabetic. The last thing your body needs when you’re trying to heal is another source of inflammation.
As we age, we have wrinkles and spots to keep at bay. You don’t want to have to worry about scars as well. Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Use caution when handling sharp objects or walking on rough terrain. And keep your insides healthy so you don’t end up with sores and ulcers on the outside. Accidents happen. But if you follow these tips to heal quickly, no one else needs to know about your mishaps.