Facial burns: the psychological impact

A burn injury is often a devastating event that affects you both physically and psychologically. A scar from any injury can cause emotional distress and self-esteem issues however the pronounced and severe scarring that is seen quite often as a result of burn injuries can be very difficult to conceal and therefore can cause lifelong psychological problems.

In a study conducted by Hoogewerf CJ, patients with severe facial burns were monitored for a period of six months to investigate the relationship between facial burns and self-esteem issues and depression. The study revealed that although facial scarring did not always lead to self-esteem issues and depression, there was, “a significant relationship between early depressive symptoms and both patient-rated facial scar severity and subsequent self-esteem.”

Worldwide, almost 11 million people a year will need medical attention for burn related injuries. Facial burns are quite common and can be some of the most difficult to conceal. Although there have been developments in camouflage makeup, severe burns can change the way you look to such an extent that surface concealers are not effective. As stated in a study which looked at the psychosocial impact of burns, “Burn scars after deep dermal injury are cosmetically disfiguring and force the scarred person to deal with an alteration in body appearance.” This complete change in appearance is out of the patient’s control and can leave many feeling helpless and depressed.

In addition to the difficulties that patients may experience in personally accepting their change of appearance, the reactions of others around them can also present further challenges on a regular basis. Facial scarring in particular can receive unwanted attention, with many feeling like they are being stared at. It isn’t uncommon for those with scars to isolate themselves in order to avoid meeting people and being asked questions. This can be particularly traumatic for those who are uncomfortable speaking about their scars and are experiencing symptoms of depression and feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. Isolation however, only serves to worsen the situation.

Although social situations can seem a daunting prospect if you are suffering with severe facial scarring, there are coping skills that you can learn that will help you to feel more confident:

  • Looking and feeling confident while you are talking to someone may be quite difficult if you are feeling self-conscious about your scars. As in any situation where you are feeling nervous, simple techniques such as making eye contact, and using a confident body posture and a friendly tone of voice can help you to feel calmer and more in control.
  • If you have quite noticeable scars you may occasionally be asked the question, “What happened?” This can be upsetting and difficult to respond to, especially if you are not completely comfortable talking about your scars. You should not feel pressured to tell anyone what you experienced and it is perfectly acceptable to say that you would prefer not to talk about what happened. However, some people have found that being able to talk about their injury helps with emotional healing. That said making the decision to talk is an extremely personal one and you should take time to feel at ease with this.
  • Lastly, surround yourself with people who make you feel confident and comfortable with who you are. Friends and family can offer immeasurable support, and there are many charities and support groups out there who are at hand to help.

If you feel that you are becoming withdrawn as a result of your scarring make an appointment to speak with your GP or scar specialist for support. Sometimes keeping a diary of how you are feeling can help you to not become overwhelmed during your appointment.

If you would like to speak with others who are going through the same experiences as you, please also join in the conversation via our talkscars forum.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 18 November 2016

Next review: 18 November 2019