Scars are very common - nearly all of us have at least one scar on our bodies. Scars are marks left after a wound, sore, burn or other injury to the surface of the skin has healed. Scars can also occur on the internal organs - for example where a cut has been made during surgery.
Normal scar - Starts red & sore and fades to a pale line
Keloid scar - An overgrowth of tissue so the scar is raised & itchy
Hypertrophic scar - Red, raised scar that forms along a wound
Pitted scars - Sunken or pitted scars caused by skin conditions
Scar contractures - Burn scars where skin ‘shrinks’ leading to tightness
What causes scars?
Scars can be caused by all kinds of conditions - for example stretch marks are a type of scar associated with sudden growth such as pregnancy. Injuries and wounds can cause scars, as can illnesses such as chicken pox, or skin conditions such as acne.
Whenever there is a break in the body’s tissues (such as a cut to the skin) the body increases its production of a protein called collagen so that this can build up where the tissue has been damaged to heal and strengthen the wound. The wounded area is also supplied with more blood to help speed up healing. This new collage production and increased blood supply continues for about three months or more causing the scar to become red, raised and lumpy. After a while the collagen begins to break down the site of the wound and the blood supply reduces so the scar starts to become smoother and paler. Scars are permanent but can fade over a period of up to two years to make them less noticeable.
How are scars treated?
How scars are treated will depend on their severity. Corticosteroid (steroid) injections are used to treat some scars. The injections help flatten the scar and are usually given three times every 4-6 weeks.
Silicone gels or sheets available from the pharmacy are sometimes used to flatten and soften scars thereby reducing their visibility. These are only suitable for healing skin (not open wounds). Your pharmacist, GP or dermatologist can advise on their suitability.
Sometimes scar tissue can be broken down using prescribed medication such as potassium aminobenzoate. A dermatologist (skin specialist) may prescribe this to treat extensive scarring and hardening of the skin.
Severe acne scars are sometimes removed using laser resurfacing, when the top layer of the skin is gently removed using lasers.
Sometimes surgery is used to improve the appearance of scars. This is known as scar revision, and can include a skin graft if the scar is not healing properly or if skin has been lost.
After serious burn injuries, pressure garment therapy is often used to prevent and treat scarring. This involves wearing stretchy stockings over the burn area, which apply pressure to the wound and help it to close neatly. For serious burns, they have to be worn up to 23 hours each day for up to 12 months. The treatment is only done under specialist supervision.
Other treatments include: light therapy (pulses of light) used to reduce redness by targeting blood vessels in the scar tissues; fillers (dermal fillers containing man-made acid) to plump up pitted scars administered via an injection and skin needling - which involves rolling a small device covered in tiny needles across the skin.
For scars on the face, many men and women use make-up. Camouflage make-up designed specifically for scars is available to buy over-the-counter.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
- Creams containing vitamin E - including stretch mark creams, supplements containing vitamin E and other specialist scar & blemish lotions and oils, can help speed up healing, leaving less visible scars afterwards. Eggs and leafy green vegetables are also good sources of vitamin E.
- To prevent scars always clean dirt and dead tissue from a wound to prevent infection and never pick at scabs or spots.