What is a Scar?

Scars form when there has been a wound and the body naturally heals.  It is a normal biological process and, except for very minor ones, most wounds and cuts result in at least some scarring.

When the dermis is damaged, the body creates new collagen fibers.  Scars can come from surgeries, diseases, accidents, or skin conditions. They can have different qualities and textures.

Scar tissues is fibrous and replaces the normal tissues in the body (not only skin) after any kind of injury that damaged them.

What are the Symptoms of a Scar?

Scars can appear differently on individuals.  Some are pale and flat while others are raised.  Raised scars are called keloid scars or hypertrophic scars. Some scars have a sunken look to them and this is the result of lost fat or muscle under the skin.  They can also look like stretched skin (such as those that occur after a pregnancy, also called stretch marks). Scars can also cause itching and discomfort as a consequence of incisions in the nerve endings or inflammation.

Scar Causes

Scars occur during your body’s wound repair process. Most wounds, unless very minor, will leave some kind of scar behind. Some causes of scarring include disease, accidents, surgical procedures and skin conditions such as acne.

Scars form when your skin’s deep, thick layer (dermis) is damaged. In order to mend the breach, your body makes new collagen fibers to mend the damage. The excess collagen results in a scar. The fresh scar tissue has a different texture than the surrounding area. Typically, the scar forms after the wound has finished healing.

Most scars remain pale and flat. Be wary of cases when your body forms too much collagen, leaving behind a raised scar. Raised scars, also known as hypertrophic or keloid scars, occur more often in younger people or dark-skinned people.

How is a Scar Treated?

Scars cannot be completely eradicated but they can be minimized to a degree.  Scars may be treated with topical creams like cocoa butter or vitamin E or over-the-counter creams that contain these ingredients. Steroid injections can help to flatten a scar and soften the appearance.  This is often used on keloid scars. Surgery can make scars less noticeable but it is not recommended for raised scars as it is likely to create more severe scarring. In extreme cases of hypertrophic scars, radiotherapy may be recommended but it has potential long-term side effects so it is rarely used.

Dermabrasion is more common for raised scars but is not very effective on sunken scars.  Microdermabrasion is a less invasive from of this.   Laser resurfacing has the same effect as dermabrasion but does not remove the upper layers of skin.  Finally, for sunken scars, filler injections may help, but they are temporary and treatment needs to be ongoing.

Scar Prevention

Beyond avoiding accidents, you can’t really prevent scars. However, you can take steps to reducing the severity of the final scar. First, get stitches if your cut is deep or spread apart. Cuts usually heal better when stitched up by a medical professional. Keep in mind that stitches must be applied soon after the injury to avoid infection.

Keeping the wound moist with petroleum jelly speeds healing and minimizes scarring. Cover with a non-stick bandage. Scar creams often do little to minimize scars. Massaging the area with vitamin E can sometimes reduce scarring, but the correlation is not scientifically proven.

Avoid the sun to minimize discoloration. Meanwhile, let the wound heal naturally, since using too much hydrogen peroxide irritates the skin and slows healing. Another thing to avoid is picking at scabs, which can cause additional scarring.

Scars heal in phases. At one year after your injury, the scar has formed and isn’t going to fade or shrink any further. However, the scar tissue can still change for another year after that. So, it’s prudent to keep the area well-hydrated and clean for a prolonged period to avoid worsening the scar.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
November 02, 2017