Even if you have sensitive skin or a dark complexion (both of which may make you prone to scarring), proper care can keep a wound from becoming an unsightly spot, says Valerie Callender, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The basic facts

When a cut slices deep enough into the skin's dermis (its second layer) to cause bleeding, platelets (the smallest blood cells) rush to the site to form a clot. Once the bleeding has stopped, fibroblast cells, which produce the firming tissue collagen, head to the area to repair and rebuild the skin. Most wounds heal within 10 days without leaving a scar. But sometimes infection and inflammation set in, disrupting the repair process and causing the fibroblasts to overproduce collagen. The result: a raised, discolored scar.

What to look for

Which cuts form scars? These are signs your skin may be at risk.

> Redness or swelling Discoloration and tenderness can indicate infection, the No. 1 reason wounds don't heal properly.

> Itchiness The urge to scratch your cut may suggest that fibroblasts are working overtime, which can often lead to the uneven development of new skin.

> A surgical incision A deep wound is more apt to scar because it's difficult for the new skin to close up seamlessly.

> Location Cuts on arms or knees often reopen as you move and stretch that skin, making it hard for those wounds to heal.

Simple solutions

> Clean with soap and water Wash the cut as soon as you can, then cover with an antibiotic cream like Neosporin ($7; at drugstores) and a bandage. Leave it alone for at least two days.

> Keep the wound moist To maximize the repair process, apply moisturizer twice a day for a week once the bandage is off. Mederma ($24; contains aloe and a patented onion extract to hydrate and fight inflammation.

> Smooth with silicone If the area is still puffy after a month, try a treatment with silicone. Dermatix Ultra ($50; at doctors' offices) will help break down scar tissue and flatten skin.