Scars form as part of the body’s healing process. Your body builds tissue to repair damaged skin and close gaps due to an injury. Scars come in all shapes and sizes. They can result from accidents, burns, surgery, acne and illness. Over time, most scars fade away. Several treatments can make scars less noticeable.
Scars form as part of the healing process after your skin has been cut or damaged. The skin repairs itself by growing new tissue to pull together the wound and fill in any gaps caused by the injury. Scar tissue is made primarily of a protein called collagen.
Scars develop in all shapes and sizes. Some scars are large and painful, while some are barely visible. People with dark skin (especially people with African, Asian or Hispanic heritage), as well as red-haired individuals, are more likely to develop keloid scars. Keloids are raised scars that grow and extend beyond the injured area. Depending on their size, type and location, your scars may look unsightly and may even make it difficult to move.
Not all scars require treatment, and many fade away over time. If a scar is bothering you or causing pain, treatments can help.
Nearly everyone develops some type of scar, whether from an accident, a surgical procedure, acne or an illness like chickenpox (varicella). Scars affect people of all ages and genders.
When a scar first develops on lighter skin, it’s usually pink or red. Over time, the pinkish color fades, and the scar becomes slightly darker or lighter than the color of the skin. In people with dark skin, scars often appear as dark spots. Sometimes scars itch, and they may be painful or tender.
A scar’s appearance depends on several factors, including:
Scars can develop anywhere on the skin. There are several types of scars, including:
Scar tissue can also build up inside the body. Internal scar tissue can result from surgery (like abdominal adhesions) and some health conditions, such as Asherman’s syndrome and Peyronie’s disease. An autoimmune disease such as scleroderma creates skin changes resembling scarring from the inflammation in the skin.
Scars are part of the body’s healing process. As part of your immune system, your skin is the barrier to protect you from germs and other harmful substances. When skin is injured, the body creates new tissue made of collagen to help reseal itself.
Collagen plays many important roles throughout your body, including plumping up your skin and helping your cartilage protect your joints. When a scar develops, collagen fibers repair damaged skin and close any open areas. The new tissue protects you from infection.
You can easily diagnose most scars yourself by keeping an eye on an area of skin that has healed from an injury. Scars often look darker, lighter or pinker than the surrounding skin.
Your healthcare provider will do a physical examination to evaluate a scar that’s causing problems. Your provider will look at the scar’s size, texture and color to determine its type. Treatments vary depending on the type of scar, its location, what caused it and how long you’ve had it.
Several treatments can make scars smaller or less noticeable. Your healthcare provider may recommend one treatment or a combination. Scar treatment depends on several factors, including:
Treatments can reduce a scar’s size or appearance, but the scar will never completely go away. Some treatments prevent a scar from forming as a wound heals. Scar treatments include:
Although you can’t always prevent injuries that cause scars, you can reduce the risk of a scar forming after an injury. If a scar does develop, careful care can make the scar less noticeable.
To reduce the risk of scarring, you should:
Most scars fade over time and don’t cause long-term health problems. How a scar changes depends on its location, size and type. A scar may fade so much that you can barely see it, but it never completely goes away.
Some scars cause problems months or years later. As nerve endings grow back, the scar may become painful or itchy. Skin cancer can develop in scars, especially in burn scars. To avoid skin cancer, wear sunscreen or keep your scar covered.
If a scar’s appearance bothers you, talk to your provider about procedures that can make it less noticeable. Also see your provider if the scar changes or is painful, tender, itchy or infected. And if you notice a mole, freckle or growth on or near the scar, call your provider right away. This may be a sign of skin cancer, which can grow in a scar.
If you’ve had a keloid scar, you’re more likely to develop another one. Talk to your provider before getting piercings, tattoos or elective surgery (such as cosmetic surgery). Your provider will recommend precautions (like wearing a pressure garment) if skin starts to thicken and turn into a keloid.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
See your healthcare provider if you’re unhappy with how a scar looks. You may not have to live with a scar that bothers you. Several effective treatments can make scars flatter or less noticeable. After treatment, you may not even notice the scar at all. If a scar is causing discomfort or making it difficult for you to move, call your healthcare provider. Treatments can improve movement and relieve pain. Always protect scars from the sun to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/15/2021.
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