Written for Wounds1 by Michelle Alford
Self-harm can be motivated by many things, including depression, anger, numbness, stress, and a need for control. Often times, even after the causes of self-injury have healed and dispersed, the marks left by self-injury do not. These scars can be a cause of embarrassment, insecurity, and shame for those who would prefer to leave an unhappy past behind. Though some scars may never heal, there are steps that can be taken to hide or erase the marks left by self-injury.
The most common type of self-injury is cutting, either on the wrists or upper legs. Other common self-injury types are burning, intentionally preventing wounds from healing, and pricking the skin. These can leave a variety of scar types, including atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars, and burn scars.
Hiding Self-Injury Scars
The simplest way to hide scars is to wear concealing clothing, but while this is easy in the winter, it can be noticeable and uncomfortable in the summer heat. Scars on the wrists can also be hidden by bulky bracelets, armbands, or stylish gloves. Scars on the upper legs can be hidden at the beach by wearing a sarong over your swimsuit.
When clothing or accessories aren't an option, many scars can be successfully concealed with make-up. Foundation or concealer sticks can be used to cover discoloration and blend skin tones. Keep in mind that even when something is still obvious to you, it often won't be to others who aren't looking for it.
Healing Self-Injury Scars
The cheapest option for treating self-injury scars is topical treatments. These are more successful on newer scars than older scars, but are cheap enough to be worth trying before moving on to more expensive options. Silicone gel and sheets, alpha hydroxyl acid, and onion extract are available over the counter and have been shown to be effective 25 to 50 percent of the time on recent scars.
Steroid, or corticosteroid, injections can be successful at reducing inflammation and decreasing visibility of raised scars. However, these may have side effects including shrinkage of soft tissue and loss of skin pigmentation.
Laser treatments have been proven successful at reducing most types of scarring, including burn scars. This is also the most expensive and time-consuming treatment. It typically takes several sessions to decrease scarring, and can cost hundreds of dollars per session. However, for those who have the available funds it is often worth the cost.
People with a history of self-harm most often choose to try to hide or erase their scars because of fear of judgment from those who see the scars. There are many myths and stereotypes about the type of person most likely to self-harm, but self-injury can be done by anyone. Many celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, and Princess Diana, have admitted to self-harming. A history of self-injury is not an indication of a flawed character or lower capabilities. Rather, overcoming adversity, particularly internal adversity, can often be an indication of strength. Whether you choose to hide, treat, or display your scars, you should feel proud of prevailing.
If you are currently self-harming, please consider seeking support. The following resources can help:
National Self-Injury Helpline: 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288)
24-hour Crisis Hotline:1-800-273-TALK
S.A.F.E Alternatives: A nationally recognized treatment approach, professional network, and educational resource base committed to helping achieve an end to self-injurious behavior.
Self Injury Foundation: Research, education, advocacy, and support for those who self-injure and their families.
Discuss in the Wounds1 forums
Photo: Stephen Depolo