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All vertebrates possess mechanisms to restore damaged tissues with outcomes ranging from regeneration to scarring. Unfortunately, the mammalian response to tissue injury most often culminates in scar formation. Accounting for nearly 45% of deaths in the developed world, fibrosis is a process that stands diametrically opposed to functional tissue regeneration. Strategies to improve wound healing outcomes therefore require methods to limit fibrosis. Wound healing is guided by precise spatiotemporal deposition and remodelling of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM, comprising the non-cellular component of tissues, is a signalling depot that is differentially regulated in scarring and regenerative healing. This Review focuses on the importance of the native matrix components during mammalian wound healing alongside a comparison to scar-free healing and then presents an overview of matrix-based strategies that attempt to exploit the role of the ECM to improve wound healing outcomes.