Burn scars

How to care for sunburn and burn scars

Reviewed on: 01.11.2022
5 min read

The skin is the largest organ of your body as well as the one most exposed to the environment. These are two reasons why it is more than likely that, at some point in your life, you will expose it to either intense heat, UV rays or chemicals – the result of which can cause burns, sunburn and scarring. Burn scars can be different from other scars.

  • Burns are classified by degrees of severity
  • Second-degree and third-degree burns can leave burn scars
  • Burn scarring can even affect the mobility of joints
  • Take good care of your skin to prevent sunburn


  • How do I get burn scars?
  • How are burn scars different from other scars?
  • Sunburn scars
  • Sunburn care – tips and facts

How do I get burn scars?

As your skin is the most exposed organ of your body, burns are fairly common. Burn injuries are classified into three groups by degrees:

  • first-degree burns
  • second-degree burns
  • third-degree burns

The higher the degree, the more serious the burn. Depending on how serious the burn is you may need to visit a doctor or A&E.

First-degree burns are not likely to leave any scar on your skin since they only affect the epidermis. On the other hand, second-degree and third-degree burns affect the dermis, thereby increasing the chances of scarring [1–3].

Therefore, it is important that your burned skin is properly taken care of as quickly as possible and you seek medical attention where needed. Your doctor or nurse may elect to apply special burn creams or ointments and appropriate dressings.[4]

With severe burns, it is not possible to fully prevent burn scar formation, as burn wounds tend to form hypertrophic or keloid scars [2]. If the burn has occurred in an area subjected to tension, such as joints, it can cause what are called contracture scars that could result in movement limitation [5,6].

How are burn scars different from other scars?

Depending on their location and severity, burn scars are at higher risk than other types of scars of turning into hypertrophic, keloid scars. That’s because burn injuries tend to result in prolonged inflammation, a risk factor for scar formation [7-9]. The longer your burn takes to heal, the higher the risk of hypertrophic scarring [10].

Other factors may also increase the likelihood of burn scar formation. For instance, if you have a darker skin type, you are more at risk of developing a keloid scar [9,11]. Finally, since they usually affect larger areas, burn scars are more likely to cause contracture scars, which are particularly painful and disabling, especially when located on joints [12, 13].

Overall, the larger and more severe the burn, the higher the risk of scarring. In case of a severe burn, you may be referred for specialist care. They may be able to minimise scar formation as much as possible.

Sunburn scars

Sunburn scars are possible, especially from second-degree sunburn (blistering sunburn) which may affect large areas of the body.

If you do get a blistering sunburn, you should refrain from trying to pop the blister. The skin underneath is delicate and therefore more prone to injury and infection, so don’t rub it. Leave the blister alone, apply a soothing product, such as aloe vera, and allow your skin to heal at its own pace.

The best way to avoid getting sunburn scars is sunburn prevention, so first, take good care of your skin and use sunscreen. If you get sunburn, follow the recommendations from the NHS, drink plenty of water and apply a soothing product such as aloe vera [14].

Sunburn care – tips and facts

  • There are many sunburn aftercare products containing ingredients such as aloe vera to help care for your damaged skin and soothe the discomfort.
  • Burned skin is particularly sensitive due to dryness and lack of oil glands which can contribute to itchiness therefore its important to moisturise the skin [6]. Moreover, given that burn scars, such as sunburn scars, may affect a large surface area of your skin, it is all the more important to make up for this lack of moisture during the healing process.
  • Scars don’t tan, they burn. This is true for any type of scar and even more so for burn scars, especially if your scars are due to a nasty sunburn. It is, therefore, crucial to keep them protected from further sun damage[16].
  • The skin rejuvenation process is more active at night [15].

As mentioned above, burn scars may form hypertrophic scars and even contracture scars that are stiff and usually painful [6]. Massaging the scar when applying any topical product to it will help mobilise the scar, thus reducing the likelihood of contracture formation [17]. Be gentle while doing so, since newly formed skin is particularly delicate and sensitive.

Of course, this applies not only to new scar tissue but also to older scars, and massaging an old scar with scar care products will also help its appearance to fade away to some extent and regain flexibility. As always, once the skin has healed, the sooner you can start caring for it.

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Burned skin is delicate and sensitive and, if not cared for properly, can turn into very visible scars, so it is important to treat it as soon as you can. Burn scars will fade over time if properly treated, so remember to take extra care.


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