Your skin is in a constant state of rejuvenation, shedding cells and creating new ones. If you damage your skin, your body will naturally attempt to repair itself, sometimes resulting in a scar. Scars form after a wound or incision has completely healed. The body forms new collagen fibers and skin cells to heal the damage. Occasionally, scars may cause slight pain, itch or restrict movement.
How Scars Form
If your skin is damaged by a cut, scrape, burn, or surgery your body will try to rebuild the damaged area as best it can. The severity of the damage and the way it occurred can affect the appearance and characteristics of the resulting scar. Scar tissue cannot replace damaged hair follicles or sweat glands and commonly reacts differently when exposed to sunlight or UV light. When a scar is present on a visible part of your body it can sometimes lead you to feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Most scars are flat and pale, but some can be raised, sunken or have an uneven appearance. Depending on the type of skin and damage, a scar can be pink, red, brown or silvery in color.
Types of Scars
There are a variety of scar types and a broad range of methods to minimize their visibility. Some scar types are more easily treated than others. Acne scarring can range from deep pits in the skin to scars that are angular or wavelike in appearance. Other scarring can occur when the skin is stretched rapidly as in pre-adult growth spurts or from pregnancy. Contracture scarring is typically associated with burn damage and can cause increased tightening of the skin. This type can often impair mobility and sometimes cause damage to muscles and nerves. Hypertrophic scars are those that have a raised surface and a reddened appearance. More severe hypertrophic scars are called keloid and result from an overactive healing process and extend beyond the original damaged skin area. Keloid scars are more common in youth and dark pigmented skin types. Scar tissue will always appear and feel different than normal skin.
Scar treatments vary in complexity and individual results. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or dermatologist. Consult your health care professional for the method best suited to your needs.
Chemical Peels – This procedure involves the use of a chemical to remove the top layer of the skin in order to smooth depressed scars and give the skin a more even color. Light peels require no healing time while deeper peels can require up to two weeks to heal. Many treatments are outpatient procedures and require no anesthesia.
Collagen and Fat Injections – These treatments can be used to raise sunken scars to the level of surrounding skin. The effects of these injections are usually temporary and the procedures may need to be regularly repeated.
Dermabrasion – This treatment involves the removal of the surface of the skin with special equipment. Dermabrasion is useful when the scar is raised above the surrounding skin, but it is less useful for the treatment of sunken scars. Microdermabrasion is a much less invasive form of dermabrasion and may be useful for very superficial scars.
Laser Resurfacing – This procedure, similar to dermabrasion, removes the surface layers of the skin using different types of lasers. Newer types of lasers may achieve more subtle results by working on the collagen in the dermis without removing the upper layers of skin.
Radiotherapy – Low-dose, superficial radiotherapy is used to prevent recurrence of severe keloid and hypertrophic scarring. This treatment is used only in extreme cases because of potential long-term side effects.
Steroid Injections – A long-term course of steroid injections into a scar may help flatten the scar. Injections may help to soften the appearance of keloid or hypertrophic scars.
Surgery – Although it will not remove a scar, surgery can be used to alter a scar’s shape or make it less noticeable. Surgery is not recommended in cases of hypertrophic or keloid scarring because there is a risk of recurring scars, as well as more severe scarring, that results from the treatment.
Topical Treatments – Topical treatments such as vitamin E, cocoa butter, silicone gel, and commercial skin care products are available over-the-counter and online. Topical applications offer the lowest potential for additional discomfort.