How Does the Sun Affect Scars?

How Does the Sun Affect Scars?

Whether you have a prominent new or old scar, your first instinct may be to sit in the sun to “even out” its color, or try to “camouflage it” with a tan. Ironically, sun exposure is the last thing your scar needs. Here’s why…

Scar tissue is different to normal skin. It is inferior in appearance, function and feel. Scars are less resistant to ultraviolet rays and much more prone to sunburn, especially if they are fresh. Prolonged sun exposure can also permanently darken a scar, especially in people with darker skin complexions.

Scars should be protected from prolonged, direct sun exposure year round, not just during the warmer summer months. Use sun block over any exposed scar religiously. The higher the SPF the better. Remember that sweating essentially washes sun block off so try to use a water resistant sun block even if you’re not going swimming. Also try to choose a non-comedogenic product, especially if you have ever suffered from acne.

If you can’t avoid the sun completely, cover the scar with sun protective clothing, preferably with a high UPV (50 would be great).

Have you noticed your scar change once out in the sun?

Questions? Leave us a comment!

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photo credit: Paulo Brandão via photopin cc

The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please speak to your doctor to treat any medical condition. Information on this site is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

Comments

  1. I had an unimpressive scar that i figured would fade, but then six months later i got a wicked tan and the scar is darker than ever. Be wary out there.

  2. Mike briers says:

    The scar on my leg from a skin flap changes colour in the sun I feel asleep in the sun last year now I have a hard lump the size of a pea under the scar

  3. My left arm is extensively scarred due to a thermal burn ~ 6 years ago and a bout with cellulitis last year that was effectively treated with heavy-duty antibiotics. This year, I’ve noticed a really strange type of sun sensitivity on the skin of that arm, even on areas of skin that are lightly scarred or unscarred.
    At the moment, I don’t have air conditioning in my car, and since I’m on a medication that makes me very heat intolerant, I’m having to drive with the windows open. This, of course, lets the sun in without the UV filtering of the window glass.
    I’ve noticed this strange effect three times now, after low to moderate sun exposure (max of about half an hour’s exposure on days that are partly-cloudy, always in the early to mid-mornings). After the sun exposure, the scarred arm gets itchy, then small fluid-filled bumps erupt on the skin surface. These itch, and it is hard to refrain from scratching. They range in size from about the size of the head of a pin to about half a centimeter across. The fluid inside is clear or light amber-coloured. There is no visible reddening of the skin to suggest a sunburn. The skintone is the same as it is usually and has no other sunburn symptoms. A few days after this, the entire skin surface peels like a sunburn and remains lightly peeling for a couple of weeks, despite use of moisturizing cream overnight. The peeling is always worse after bathing. Does anyone know what this is and why it is happening? It’s annoying!

    • Miranda Groth-Rubini says:

      Sara, it sounds like a sun allergy. Weird, right? Google it for more info and to see if it fits what you’re talking about, but that’s what I’m thinking.

  4. Just a general comment, it would be wise to put sunscreen over your Band-Aids, I have a healing wound on my leg that got 11 stitches and the area got burnt through the bandage today while at the beach.

  5. Savannah says:

    I would like to say that as someone who has a lot of scars on her body from various things, when I get sunburnt, only a few of my scars will burn. Most will stay pale even when the area is burnt, whether they are old or new. It is strange but it goes to say that scars will not always turn darker from sun exposure.

  6. Hey,
    I got an operation on my left arm last august.i got it right on my elbow joint.
    Unfortuanty i got m.r.s.a. Eventully my wound heeled up,well but left a big scar i noticed today that arount the scar it is very very red and sometimes in the past it has gotten itchy.
    It was exposed to the sun today has this contibuted tomthe redness or should i be worried any help would be great

  7. I have scars from a kitchen fire in 2011. Particularly my left hand was more severely burnt with second and third degree tissue damage. I have noticed the scars turning red when exposed to the sun. Yesterday there appeared a dark red blister on the left hand scar. This eruption was about 6 mm wide and irregular in shape and was very painful. There was exudate under the skin of the blister/eruption which burst. It is still very painful today. My first thought was cancer. I should have it checked out. Am I correct? Please reply!

    • Hi Ward, this absolutely needs to get checked out. It would be very unusual for this to be cancer, but burns do increase the risk of certain types of skin cancer. This may also represent a sunburn since damaged skin is more prone to sunburn. Better to be safe than sorry, so definitely have it looked at.

  8. Hey there,
    I recently fall on my bike and got nine stiches between upper lip and nose. The scar is well covered due to my mustache. Every day i also apply sunscreen spf 50+. However i wonder if the sunscreen is sufficient, as it says it doesn’t protect 100%? And is it other things i should consider do to lessen the apperence of the scar?

    Thanks for this page. Take care everyone 🙂

    • Hi Tron, is the sunscreen you are using broad spectrum? Broad spectrum sunscreen will protect a scar from both UVA and UVB rays. Thrilled to hear you’re using sunscreen, as most would assume the hair from the mustache would “hide” the scar from the sun. We also recommend our scar cream, which applies clear. It should be applied prior to sunscreen.

  9. I have a few scars on my arm from various things, I sat out in the sun today without any sun protection on (silly I know) and I’ve ended up with a tanned arm, wand white scars wwithsmall red lump/spots around the scars area. Does anyone know is this normal? Thank you in advance

    • Hi Zoe, unfortunately when you don’t apply sunscreen to your scar it can either darken it (hyperpigmentation) or make it white (hypopigmentation.) Scar tissue is different than the surrounding skin. If your scar remains white, there is nothing further that can be done (this means your body didn’t produce enough melanin when healing.) The red lumps/spots may be due to sunburn. Apply aloe to decrease the inflammation.

  10. adrianna says:

    I have bad back acne and i wont wear tank tops because of it, but this year for certain sports we have to wear tank tops. And im really scared. Due to not wear tank top i have bad farmers tan. And yall say not to expose scars to sun. Any advice i really need help.

    • Hi Adrianna, applying broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+ every time you have a wear a tank top, and re-applying every 2 hours, will help. If you have able to buy clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing, will also help.

  11. I have a laporatomy scar, it’s 20cm long. It’s about 4 months old and purple ish in colour. I started to massage it daily about a month after the surgery, but there’s still some hard areas of the scar tissue – why is that?
    Also, I’m going on holiday today and planning to cover up most of the time, as I have a slight keloid on the scar. Although I don’t have dark skin, im of mixed heritage – Asian and British. I have SPF 50, just incase it gets exposed. Is there a recommended expose time even with SPF50?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Rita, it can take a lot longer than that for the scar to break down and soften. It’s only 4 months old, so it’s still maturing (complete scar healing takes 1-2 years.) Just continue massaging and you’ll reap the benefits.

  12. My daughter was bit by a dog just below her lips. The on call plastic surgeon did the stiches. There are still two scars — a small line about the length of your thumb nail and a small one. I have been putting the scar serum on everyday that the surgeon gave us. It has silicone simethicone and sunscreen in it. I had also had her put two bandaids on just below it every day when she was outside. On Friday, I decided to try just the scar serum since the doctor thought that should be fine. They had water play/games outside that morning. I asked that they continuously reapply the sunscreen. However they did not. I am worried that it is darker now. It has only been about 6 weeks since the injury (on July 4th). Should I be worried? Supposedly, the scar serum created a barrier but they were spraying each other in the face with water guns, etc. What can I do? She just turned 5?

    • Hi Janet, it takes about 1-2 years for a scar to completely heal, so if any UV rays were to slightly darken it, you still have the ability to fade it. We’re not sure which scar treatment you are using, but silicone is not enough to minimize and fade a scar. Silicone is much needed, but you also need an anti-inflammatory (aloe) and hyperpigmentation faders like Vitamin C and licorice root.

  13. I have just read a study about “High-dose ultraviolet light exposure reduces scar hypertrophy in a rabbit ear model” (source : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18349633). Sun light may darken the scar, but in other hand it benefits to reduce hypertrophic scar.

    • Hi Nadine, great comment! Our post discusses hyperpigmentation and the pubmed article you linked to backs what we say about hyperpigmentation before focusing on the effects of UV light in hypertrophic scars.

  14. I had a scar revision surgery done by a plastic surgeon. After 2 years of avoiding sun and it healing well I went to the beach but the sunscreen came off from the water. It is now more prominent and more red. Will this redness from the sun fade over time? What can be done to lighten it besides hydroquinone that didn’t work for me it made it red when I tried it. What procedures can be done? It is a hyperpigmented laceration.

  15. Hello,

    I’m not sure this question hasn’t already been answered. I have some relatively new scars that had gone white, but now on vacation and exposed to sun, they didn’t just get red but they have now changed the way they look. What I mean is that each scar is now a ‘hill’ and slightly ‘bubble’ covered. Is this really bad? Will it harm me or only possibly worsen the scars ? Unfortunately I’m stuck in the sun for another week and a half. I would really appreciate an answer!

    • Hi Bella, Scars are more sensitive to sun exposure than normal skin. They burn easier than normal skin. It could be your scar has a mild sunburn. Always wear sunblock, especially over scars to prevent sun burn and also prevent permanent scar darkening (hyperpigmentation).

  16. My daughter has small scars on her ear lobes from a bad ear piercing experience two years ago. Although initially I did nothing, after two months I religiously applied sunscreen and used a silicone scar treatment. I have just noticed that the appearance of the scars change at different times – they are mostly barely noticeable but at other times stand out as a small red dot (in the heat, cold). Is the scar completely healed? Will the redness that appears at different times likely to always be present or will it continue to fade?

    • Hi Bec, At this point the scars should be healed but not completely “matured”. Color changes are very common and part of normal scar maturation. The redness is made worse by sun exposure so keep using the sun block religiously (for a year is best) to prevent permanent redness.

      • Hello I have scars around my eyebrow skin from removing semi permanent makeup with the saline removal method. My scars are almost two months old. I am currently using silicone sheets and gel. Is it too early to begin vitamin c? Also — when picking hats for the summer can they be any hats that cover my forehead or should I buy UV reflecting hats? And lastly .. Your page has been scaring me. I thought that after hiding from the sun for a year, I would be able to live a normal hatless life in the sun beginning next summer. I always wore broad spectrum spa 50+++ on my face but will my scars still be susceptible to changing color from the sun even after 18 months of wearing hats? Is this the case even if you get laser scar removal surgery?

        • Hi Lauren, No, it’s not too soon for Vitamin C. UV reflecting hats would be optimal, but if you can’t find one, any hat that that protects your face would be good. Unfortunately, you will always have to sunblock scars. They are more susceptible to burning from the sun than normal skin. Hyperpigmentation of your scars can happen beyond 2 yrs.

  17. I had a new scar and spend lots of time in the sun and the next day my scar turned black will it ever go back to the way it was ??

  18. Hi,
    I got bit in the face by a dog in December and I have three scars on my face. 1 under each eye (dog cut my tear duct when he bit) and 1 at the begining of my left eyebrow, they seem to be healing very nice. Summer time is coming and I’m someone who loves tanning outside in the nice weather will I have to cover my face the whole summer or is there anything I can do so I can still tan and protect my scars so they don’t get any worse??

    • Hi Jackie, you’ll have to wear sunscreen SPF 30 whenever you are out in the sun, making sure to re-apply every 2 hours. A hat is also a good idea. Otherwise, your scar will darken – not with a tan, but it could turn red or darker than your skin tone.

  19. pls am very dark with Red & pink scar from a third degree burn…do I need sunlight 2 help darken it?

  20. Elisabeth says:

    Hi there,
    I have a scar around the size of a £2 coin on my shin which is less than a year old, and today I’ve noticed a red spot within that scar.
    I tan regularly and had no idea that I should be protecting it! 🙁 could this red spot be bad news?
    Thanks

  21. Hi there,

    I have bright red/purple scar on my hand from burning off a mole I thought was skin cancer. It got worse right after i was out in the sun for a while. Is it possible to have the red/purple color of it fade and be a light color again? I hate it!

    • It has been about 2 years now by the way, one doctor suggested i have it cut out!

    • Hi Joann, yikes that sounds a bit extreme from your doctor. Yes, a red/purple scar can be faded. InviCible Scars should be able to help with that. Use it twice daily in addition to sunscreen (UV rays will darken a scar.) On days when you are at the pool or beach, make sure to re-apply sunscreen to your hands every two hours and/or after you get out of the water.

  22. hoping to get a opinion my son who is 5 was bit by a dog about 2 months ago and has a scar and it is heartbreaking I have been using vitamin e ointment for a couple of weeks befor that bacitracin never got infected ect was not stitched as I was told they don’t stich them ? however I feel like it is still red and has a wide opening is there anything I can do to help with the scaring I have done my best to keep it out of the sun but he is a active boy that does not wear hats ? any thing that helps ? I read its not safe to use mederma scar with sunblock on dog bites is that true ???? thank you

  23. golfer7807 says:

    Hi, I had open heart surgery late November of 2015. I am in my teens and am already self conscious about the 7in scar on my chest. I know that I am not suppose to get my scar burned but I forgot to put sunscreen on and the top part of it is burned. I’m afraid of how dark it will become. My question is is there anything else that can happen to a new scar that just got burned?

    • Hello, it may become redder or dark brown. A scar treatment may help to fade it, but you’ll also have to be diligent about wearing sunscreen, and re-applying it regularly, in order to maintain the fading.

  24. I have a lot of scars on my arms, and when I’m out in the sun for too long, even with long sleeves, I get a bunch of tiny red dots around some of the some of the scars, like burst capillaries, and they get extremely itchy. The same thing sometimes happens with strenuous exercise. Anyone know what causes this?

  25. I found that as soon as I got sunburnt my scars, even though they’re already white,swell up and get very painful

  26. I have a scar on the bridge of my nose that is 35 years or so old. I got sunburned 2 months in a row and now it has gone from barely noticeable to a black spot. Is that common and will it lighten up any?

    • Hi Candy, yes, a sunburn, especially two in a row, can cause scars t darken. Since you mention it has become a black spot, it’s best to err on the side of caution and have a dermatologist take a look at it to make sure it is nothing more.

  27. Hey I had an FUE transplant done about 3 years ago and when I go out in the sun or get overheated the area on top of my scalp gets noticeably darker in there anyway to fix this problem or am I stuck with it forever?

  28. Dyanna Moore says:

    I have had two c sections then a bi lateral salpingo ooperectomy and appendectomy all by the age of 23.. Tanning never bothered me as I am a avid sun tanner. I grew up along the oceans on the east coast and have always sun tanned. I am now 58. when I was 44 i had a sigmoid resection done in which the dr forgot to sew the rectus sheath back together before closing and three months later I was having a 12 x 8 mesh implant put in. I have always worn a one piece for the last fifteen yrs now but decided to go back to a two piece since it is just now my husband and myself living here. At first..everything was great but now two months later about twenty minutes in the sun and the skin around the scar area feels like my insides are burning and being cooked from the inside out. I literally have to put something over that area bc my insides burn so badly. Why was it okay for a while now all of a sudden this..These scars are 14 yrs old. Thanks for any info and help you can give. Dyanna

  29. I live in the south of France, and this morning have has a mole removed on my face by my doctor. She has covered it with a dressing, and I have to have the stitches removed in a weeks time. It was more of bobbly lump than a mole, and skin coloured, not brown, about 3mm in diameter. Could you tell me the best way to look after the scar, after I have the stitches out please, as it is about 30 degrees here at the moment.

    • Hi Lorri, Make sure to wear sunscreen over this area all of the time, as UV rays will darken it. Scar massage will also help to prevent it from being a hard spot on your face. Use a stable form of Vitamin C to fade any darkening of the skin.

  30. Hi,
    I have a scar on my cheekbone that is now one year old, it is still pink/reddish, sometimes it turns very red, sometimes it is almost my skin color (I have very light skin). I don’t spend much time under the sun, but those times I do, I’ve always put on foundation with 15spf and stayed under the direct light just for some minutes (max 15min) . However, I fear that spf 15 is not enough and maybe the sun could have reached my scar sometimes.
    I’m not the type of person that develops dark scars because of melanin, it’s just the blood vessels under the skin that make it more/less red.
    Can the sun, even taken for short times under the make up , make my scar gradually redder? Is it going to stay this red forever or I still have hope to see it fading after one year? If I get a sunburn in the rest of the body, I turn red but then I heal, and after a few days skin comes back to normal. So how can the sun make my scar red forever? I mean, I don’t have melanin problems (brown scars), so it must be because it affects internal inflammation? I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. Thank you very much for your attention and any hel you can give. Bianca

    • Hi Bianca, the SPF that is in makeup is generally not enough and isn’t broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protection.) You should wear minimum SPF 30. Over time with exposure to the sun, it can and will permanently darken it, just as over time you may develop age spots (generally around 40+), but you don’t see that damage in your younger years until it is too late. Also time spent in the sun and any damage caused has to do with the strength of the UV rays you are exposed to. Ie. UV rays are stronger in the summer and between 10am-2pm. Of course, it can still do damage in the fall/winter and outside of those hours.

  31. So if someone has scar like on their face or sport that’s normally exposed, do they have to wear sunscreen ever day for the rest of their life?

  32. Hi… I am kind of concern. I was on a surfing trip to Hawaii when I was a teenager. That was almost 40 years ago. I fell and the coral made a deep cut on the top left back near the shoulder. It turned into a big white scar the size of a quarter. It has been white for the most part. Right now, it has turned into pinkish. I had figured that if I go out in the sun, it can turn pinkish. It not white anymore. For the first time, I had to peel the layer off as if it was like a sunburn. Should I be concerned if this becomes a problem?

  33. Hi
    I’m 13 and I wanna be a pianist when I grow up. I have burns in my left hand from august. We went to the beach and we went biking, the sun was bright and I don’t know what to do now. I’ve left the scar out in the sun and now the darkness is permanent isn’t it? By the way, I have a very dark complexion. I’m African. What do I do? These had a large impact on my self confidence. In September they were getting a lot light with a cream MY mom had, but now they seem as black as ever. PLEASE help me.

    • Hi Jo, once in the sun won’t make it permanent, but longtime, repeated exposure without protection will. Is the cream you were using hydroquinone or kojic acid? We don’t advise those due to side effects to the surrounding skin. You need a scar treatment with Vitamin C. If you are in the US or UK, have you tried InviCible Scars? Our scar treatment has Vitamin C and it won’t affect your surrounding skin or make the scar lighter than your natural skin tone. Let us know and we can provide you with the link.

  34. I went to a tanning bed for the first time since having surgery 6 months ago and noticed a small lump right under one of the incision marks… should I be worried??

  35. I recently got a cast removed and have a cam boot on I went to the ocean baths to do hydrotherapy and got really burnt is it normal that my scar and and leg that has the cam boot is alot more burnt then my other leg

  36. Benjamin says:

    I got a scar back in November, and it is a very red scar. I don’t think I have really gotten it in the sun much but just in case for another year, what SPF sunscreen should I use?

  37. Concerned says:

    My brother and i were caught in a car fire 4 years ago, i have 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my cheek, scalp, neck, chest and left arm, and i am afraid to expose my burns. The thing is, i am on my school cross country team and i just found out, nationals are in Arizona. Clearly i cant wear my under armour, and i am worried that my burns will sunburn, since the one on my cheek tends to, even with spf 70. Any advice?

  38. I went to the beach yesterday and got pretty sunburnt on just my face. Ive suffered from acne on my forehead and it’s left scars but none of them were visible anymore since it’s been over a year. However, when I woke up this morning all of my scars were visible, red, and raised above my skin. I’m not sure why this happened (I’ve gotten sunburnt before) I applied 30 sunscreen once for 3 hours. Will this go away? Should I be worried?

    • Hi Izzy, scar tissue is different from normal skin, so it’s not surprising that your sunburn made them visibly red and raised. Dermatologists are now recommending SPF 50 to be applied every two hours. SPF 30 once for 3 hours is not enough to protect your skin. Other determining factors are how much sunscreen you applied and the time of day you were exposed to UV rays (between 10am-2pm the sun is the strongest.) We’d recommend appying aloe to your sunburn keeping it hydrated. Your skin will peel – do not peel it yourself. Taking a shower and using a soft cloth over your skin will help to gently exfoliate the dead skin coming off. Once the skin has stopped peeling and your skin no longer has a burning sensation, we’d recommend applying our scar treatment, InviCible Scars consistently. Going forward, you will need to always be careful in the sun, as the more sunburns you have, the more your chances increase for skin cancer.

  39. If I am a really tanned person and has a scar on the face which is light in color, should I try to expose it to the sun to slightly darken just the scar to even it out?

    • Hello, scar tissue is very different from normal skin, so we don’t advise it. Scars won’t darken to your skin coloring, but will darken even more so, making it more noticeable. They also have the chance of turning redder instead of brown, which would also be noticeable.

  40. Alaina Rutuza says:

    I had a garlic burn in september last yr. I am using mebo scar since then. The scar got much better but I recently joined a job and have to travel to that place in this sunny weather. Ive noticed that my scar got much more darker than it really was due to the sun. I cant apply sunscream cuz i already apply the scar medicine which is a oily kind of ointment.

  41. Hi I’ve had this on going clogged pore or spots in the middle of my eyebrows for months two weeks ago while plucking in between of my eyebrows I ended up damaging the skin it was red pinkish and had a scab. I am now on holiday and where I thought I could tan to help conceal it it has actually gone dark purply and a little red. It’s bothering me dramtically. Is they anything I can do ?

    • Hi Cem, tanning to conceal a scar or dark spot is actually a myth. It does just the opposite, as you unfortunately have learned. If you still have the scab, please allow it to fall off on its own to prevent further damaging your skin. If it has fallen off already, first apply broad spectrum sunscreen (daily) and then on top of that, apply a scar treatment. The sunscreen will protect it from further darkening while the scar treatment will help to fade it. If you sweat/go swimming, you will have to reapply.

  42. John Millious says:

    Two weeks ago, I had a basil cell removed from my cheek which required 4 stitches. I am out in the sun almost daily for about an hour daily. Today, I put on Banana Boat 50 plus sunscreen on my face with a bandage covering the scar. I was in the sun for a half hour.
    Every January, I go to Acapulco for 5 weeks. I have a condo there. Each year, I enjoy the beach and love swimming in the Ocean. I spend a couple of hours at the beach daily. I have been using sunscreen 50 plus daily when I’m in the sun there.
    Will I still be able to enjoy my time in Acapulco at the beach? Or, are my walks on the beach and morning swims over for good?

    • Hi John, as long as the sunscreen you mentioned is broad spectrum for UVA and UVB, and you re-apply every two hours, you should be OK. We’d also recommend wearing a hat that has some sort of rim to shade your face a bit, like a baseball cap or beach hat.

  43. Hi there,

    I have really small thin scars that are flat on my left and right arm. I am an active person who spend a lot of time in the sun at the pool and beach. I was wondering if by exposing these scars they will become more obvious as the normal skin around the scars will tan and the scars them selves will say white? making them more prominent?

    • Hi Anon, scar tissue is different from normal skin, so scar tissue can potentially darken brown or red, but will not fade in the same way a tan would. White scars remain white as they lack pigment, so the darker the surrounding skin due to tanning, the more a white scar will stand out.

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