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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Skin injury? Why keeping UV rays off injured skin is important

Continuing from yesterday’s post, A motorcycle burn & the healing power of essential oils, my calf is burned! 

What happens when tissue is damaged either through a cut or bruise or in my case, a burn? That tissue doesn’t pigment normally. In other words, the injured area is prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is true for run of the mill skin injuries such as my burn from yesterday as well as for anyone with problem skin. “Injured” skin can include the red, infected blemishes of a breakout. Although you might not consider your blemished skin to be “damaged” per se, it is in terms of how the affected tissue will heal once the bacterial infection has gone. I’ve seen many clients get post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation when they’ve had blemishes on their faces and then had excessive (or sometimes even minimal) sun exposure.

The term post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation means after-infection dark spots. With my calf’s burned skin, this injured area is now prone to this condition. To avoid getting a dark mark all around the perimeter of the burned tissue, I will keep a Band-Aid® on the injury any time I’m outside for long (or even short) periods of time, whether I am hiking or simply walking my dog. Any amount of sun exposure on injured skin can cause hyperpigmentation; the band-aid creates an occlusive cover that will keep UV rays off that skin. I will need be diligent until the actual burn heals completely or run the risk of having a “tattoo” (a permanent dark area) at the site of the injury.

When going outside, I will put essential oil of lavender on the absorbent pad of the band-aid (the middle part) so the burned skin can be in contact with the lavender oil but receives no sun exposure. At night or when I won’t be in the sun, I’ll liberally apply lavender oil to my injury and probably keep the band-aid off while I’m inside.

Something to note: Exposing skin (injured or not) that you have applied essentials oils to and left uncovered can also cause pigmentation irregularities. If you haven’t yet read yesterday’s post about applying lavender to my injury, I recommend you do! It has important information about the immediate healing effects of this essential oil.

After the burned tissue on my calf heals, which will be several weeks at least, it’ll probably be OK if I just put sunscreen on the area when I’m out and about. But when I’m hiking or outside for extended periods of time, I will continue with the band-aid routine in hopes of keeping hyperpigmentation away.

My point here is two-fold: Treat skin injuries with lavender oil, and don’t leave injured tissue exposed to the sun. You run the risk of getting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which can take a long time to go away. As I mentioned before, injured tissue could be a blemish, burn, scrape (especially road rash), cut or any other injury that alters the tissue in any way. Be careful, pay attention around hot metal objects, wear sunscreen, and put a bandage soaked in lavender on any injured skin before getting out in the sun.

For more information, see:
Beware of motorcycle mufflers!
UPDATE: 4/2015
Now years after this calf-burn-injury has healed, I am still able to see the area that was injured. Try as I might, I wasn’t always as diligent as I recommend being, and hyperpigmentation did take hold of the area. It fades almost to skin tone in the winter months, but once I’m outside in the summertime, the hyperpigmentation becomes more apparent. Be careful about sun exposure when you’re injured. It can truly have a lasting affect on your skin long after the injury has healed.

As an added note: scar tissue doesn’t have the ability to produce pigment; it is essentially “dead” tissue. So, even if I had been hypervigilant about keeping sun off my calf, at any time in the future when UV light is on that area, there will always be a pigmentless area where the scar from the burn exists.