When you cut or scrape your skin, or even when your dermatologist cuts off a growth, special cells in your blood called platelets become activated and stick together like glue at the site of the skin injury, forming a clot. Clotting proteins in your blood respond in a complex cascade to form fibrin strands, which strengthen the clot. It becomes a natural protective bandage over your broken skin that keeps more blood and other fluids from flowing out. The clot is also full of other blood cells and fibrin proteins that help hold the clot together. And note, this clot is not yet a scab.
After the clot forms and you're not bleeding anymore, a scab forms as the clot starts to get hard and all those clotting factors and serum dry out. It’s usually a crusty hard mound, brown, rust or reddish in color. And a scab’s job is to protect the underlying damaged skin by keeping germs and other stuff out and giving the skin cells underneath a chance to heal.
If you look at a scab, it’s most unimpressive in appearance. But under its surface, a complex process is occurring. New skin cells are being made to help repair torn skin. Damaged blood vessels are being fixed to bring in additional nutrients to aid in repair of the injury. And white blood cells go to work by attacking any germs that may have gotten into the cut. Those same white blood cells also get rid of any blood and debris that may still be hanging around the cut.
By the time it's all done, usually after a week or two, the scab falls off by itself and reveals new pink skin underneath.
Even though it may be very tough not to pick at a scab, try to leave it alone. If you pick or pull at the scab, you can undo the repair and rip your skin again, which means it'll probably take longer to heal. You may even get an infection or even worse, an unnecessary scar.
And yes, there are some special circumstances that I’ll tell you about in another episode where scabs need to be removed, but that’s unusual.
Now this all sounds great, however, don’t forget that as I discussed in the DermTV episode on, “The Best Way to Heal Cuts and Abrasions,” we’ve learned that while scabs enable healing, they also slow it down. So, if you want even better and faster healing, keep injured skin moist with the ointments and methods I mentioned in that episode on healing.