What are the options for old self-harm scars?

18th May 2018

Mental health awareness has improved significantly over the last few years. You only need to look out the charity Heads Together, founded by Princes Harry and William, as well as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. In recent years, many celebrities such as Cara Delevingne, Ryan Reynolds and Gwyneth Paltrow have opened-up about their experiences, which has all helped to reduce the stigma surrounding issues such as depression and anxiety.  

Mental Health Awareness Week is currently underway and this year the focus is on stress and how people deal with it.

For some people, stress, anxiety and depression can result in feeling the need to self-harm. Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body as a way to find temporary relief.  

For those who overcome issues that led to self-harm, they are left with a physical reminder of their experience and many would rather have their self-harm scars erased. Fortunately, there are ways of covering up old scars if you are not comfortable living with them anymore.


One option people have is to tattoo over their old self-harm scars.

“I would say that I have tattooed around 20 customers wishing to cover up self-harm scars,” says Joey Salvage, a tattoo artist from Brighton.

“The results of scar cover-ups do vary, usually depending on the age and severity of the scar, however, the results can be great and you would not even know that somebody had scars beneath their tattoo in a lot of cases.”

Not all scars can be tattooed over as every person’s skin and scars are different. For example, if a scar is particularly raised or deep, the pigment of a tattoo may not hold.

“It is definitely best to wait until the scars are fully healed and I would strongly suggest at least six months or ideally a year before you get a tattoo,” says Salvage.

Most tattoo artists recommend using Bio Oil or a similar product to reduce scar tissue for at least a couple of months before you plan on getting inked.

“I would also advise speaking to the artist you are planning on seeing to see if they are comfortable working on scars or not, and they will also be able to tell you what other cover-up options are out there.”

Some tattoo artists such as Salvage also offer discounts for anyone looking for a cover-up.

“I have had friends who have self-harmed at times in their lives and I thought it would be great to offer this as an option.

“We organised a month at Inka Tattoos Brighton where we did all scar cover-ups for half the price of the usual rate. So many people were pleased with our service that I decided to permanently tattoo over scars for half price.”


For those people who do not want a permanent tattoo cover-up, there is always henna.

Henna is a type of dye and has been used to dye the skin since the Ancient Egyptian times. It can be applied by yourself or by a professional and designs can last on your skin for a few weeks.

As with any product, if you decide to apply henna yourself, you should make sure that you buy products from a respectable seller, and it is always best to test a small patch of dye on your skin to test for any allergic reaction.

skin camouflage

In the UK, there is an organisation called Changing Faces which runs a Skin Camouflage service. Anyone with any type of scar can be referred to speak with a trained practitioner about the options available.

“Our practitioners will find the best colour match for your skin and then they will teach you how to apply cosmetic camouflage products to cover blemishes,” says Rory Cooper, a Skin Camouflage service coordinator.  

The products used are very different from normal high street make-up as they are highly pigmented and are more effective at hiding unwanted marks. The skin camouflage practitioners carry over 140 shades of cream and 10 tinted powders from five different brands (Dermacolor, Veil, Covermark, Keromask and Vichy Dermablend). The service highly advises that you only buy products from these respectable suppliers as there are often fakes on the market.  

“Like any client coming to any of our clinics, those with self-harm scars would be treated non-judgmentally.

“The service sees dozens of clients with self-harm scars every year and our practitioners have had training around the practical aspects of covering scars as well as about the act of self-harming itself,” says Cooper.

Usually, you must go to your GP first and they can refer you to the service, or in some cases you can refer yourself. Afterwards, you are given a prescription for your cosmetic products and you can start using them yourself at home.  

skin products

Although no product will miraculously make your scars disappear overnight, there are many high-rated and affordable products available which can help reduce their appearance.

Bio-Oil, £14.99 (125ml): this specialist skincare oil claims to reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks and contains many natural ingredients.

Boots scar reduction serum, £7.99 (50ml): this serum has been tested on stretch marks, injuries and surgical scars and claims to reduce the appearance of scars within 12 weeks of use.

Palmer’s skin therapy oil, £10.49 (150ml): the oil again helps to reduce the appearance of scars. The formula has been designed to penetrate through to the epidermal skin layer to provide noticeable results.

Remescar silicone scar stick, £19.99 (5.4g): this stick helps to heal scars and can be used on old scars too. The stick is easy to use and the formula can help reduce the appearance of scars, burn marks and surgical scars.

think differently about your scars

For many people, having a constant physical reminder just brings back uncomfortable memories and others are embarrassed by people seeing their scars, but another option is trying to rethink how you feel about your scars. Author Alice Walker, who wrote a number of bestselling novels such as The Color Purple, refers to her scars as “warrior marks”.

Some people prefer to think of scars as a sign they overcame a difficult part of their life and a reminder of how strong they are to have faced their problems and moved on positively.

18th May 2018