Healing Your Scabs After Surgery

You may be concerned about the appearance of your incision after surgery. Trying to determine what is normal, what is abnormal, and what should be done for the best possible incision care can be challenging. Scabbing, in particular, is often an area of concern during the recovery phase of healing and leads to many questions.

A scab is a normal occurrence when your skin has been damaged, and it should be left alone. Whether you have skinned your knee or had major surgery, the formation of a scab is part of the healing process. The scab typically covers the damaged skin underneath and forms a protective covering while the underlying skin continues to heal.

Asian senior or elderly old lady woman patient show her scars surgical total knee joint replacement Suture wound surgery arthroplasty on bed in nursing hospital ward : healthy strong medical concept.
sasirin pamai / Getty Images

Why Scabs Form

Your skin has a remarkable ability to heal itself, using blood that moves to the site of injury to first stop any bleeding that may be present, then to seal the area so that healing may begin. A scab also works to protect the area, creating a harder “shell” at the site.

Damaging the scab will slow healing, so it should be left alone to fall off on its own, if possible.

A scab forms when parts of your blood work to stop the bleeding that happens at the site of an injury. Bleeding triggers the arrival of platelets—blood particles that form clots at the site of an injury—and fibrin, a fiber-like protein, to the damaged area. There, the platelets and fibrin work together to seal the injury, stopping bleeding and forming a scab.

This process is essential to life. Without platelets and fibrin, you would bleed profusely from the smallest injuries, and eventually, die from blood loss from something as small as a skinned knee.

Skin Care for Incision Scabs

It is completely normal for your incision to have a scab. This is a good indication that your incision is healing, as a scab is an early part of the process that fills in the incision with new skin and tissue, closing the wound.

If pus or fluid is oozing from your incision, it's important to alert your surgeon. But you don't need to be alarmed about a scab.

You should not “pick” at your scab or scrub at your scab during your shower.

Removing the dry scab intentionally can increase scarring and slow healing. This is true even if the scab is forming around your stitches and making them appear discolored or dirty.

Wash the area gently during your shower with the same amount of soap you would use on an area of your body that does not have a scab. Rinsing well is essential, as soap may irritate the wound.

When Will Your Scab Fall Off?

A scab may remain present for a few weeks, and it will gradually fall off with normal activity. Do not be alarmed if small pieces of the scab remain while other pieces fall off. Your incision may heal more quickly in some areas than others, especially if it is in an area where movement may place greater stress on small portions of the incision.

A shower or bath may soften a scab and could make it fall off. This is not a problem as long as you don't scrub the scab off your incision. It is also normal for the skin underneath the scab to be pale or pink and more sensitive than the rest of your skin.

Incision Healing

An incision is "closed" when there are no gaps between the two areas of skin that were sewn together. But that does not mean it has fully healed.

The scabs will have fallen off at this stage, and the skin may be pale or pink, but at this point will no longer be an infection risk. While the skin has closed completely, the incision isn't truly fully healed because there is a difference between the skin closing completely and the tissues beneath completely healing.

An incision usually takes a year to reach maximum strength and healing, depending on the type of surgical incision.

These deeper layers take longer to heal, and an incision in a major muscle group that is very active, such as the abdominal muscles, could take more than six months to reach nearly full strength. In fact, once skin and muscle are cut, they never reach 100% strength.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Son D, Harijan A. Overview of surgical scar prevention and managementJ Korean Med Sci. 2014;29(6):751–757. doi:10.3346/jkms.2014.29.6.751

  2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After your thoracic surgery.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.