What is a scar?

A scar is the body's natural way of healing and replacing lost or damaged skin. A scar is usually composed of fibrous tissue. Scars may be formed for many different reasons, including as a result of infections, surgery, injuries, or inflammation of tissue. Scars may appear anywhere on the body, and the composition of a scar may vary - appearing flat, lumpy, sunken, or colored. It may be painful or itchy. The final look of a scar depends of many factors, including the skin type and location on the body, the direction of the wound, the type of injury, age of the person with the scar, and his/her nutritional status.

How can a scar be minimized?

Specific dermatological procedures to minimize scars will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history

  • severity of the scar

  • type of scar

  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • expectations for the course of the condition

  • your opinion or preference

Scars usually fade over time. Make-up can help cover the scar while it is healing. Some scars can be minimized by certain dermatological techniques. However, treatment can only improve the appearance of a scar, but cannot completely erase it.

The following are some of the more common scar-minimizing procedures:

  • dermabrasion
    Dermabrasion may be used to minimize small scars, minor skin surface irregularities, surgical scars, and acne scars. As the name implies, dermabrasion involves removing the top layers of skin with an electrical machine that "abrades" the skin. As the skin heals from the procedure, the surface appears smoother and fresher.

  • chemical peels
    Chemical peel are often used to minimize sun-damaged skin, irregular pigment, and superficial scars. The top layer of skin is removed with a chemical application to the skin. By removing the top layer, the skin regenerates, often improving the skin's appearance.

  • collagen injections
    One type of collagen, which is derived from purified bovine (cow) collagen, is injected beneath the skin to replace the body's natural collagen that has been lost. Injectable collagen is generally used to treat wrinkles, scars, and facial lines.

  • cortisone-like injections
    These types of injections can help soften and then shrink hard scars.

  • cryosurgery
    Cryosurgery can help reduce the size of scars by freezing the top skin layers. The freezing causes the skin to blister.

  • laser resurfacing
    Laser resurfacing uses high-energy light to burn away damaged skin. Laser resurfacing may be used to minimize wrinkles and fine scars.

  • punch grafts
    Punch grafts are small skin grafts to replace scarred skin. A hole is punched in the skin to remove the scar, which is then replaced with unscarred skin (often from the back of the earlobe). Punch grafts can help treat deep acne scars.

  • surgical scar revision
    Surgical scar revision involves removing the entire scar surgically and rejoining the skin. Although a new scar will form, the goal of the surgical technique is to create a less obvious scar. Surgical scar revision is usually reserved for wide or long scars, scars that healed in an unusual way, or scars in very visible places.

  • autologous fat transfer
    An autologous fat transfer uses fat taken from another site on your own body and it is injected into your skin. The fat is placed beneath the surface of the skin to elevate depressed scars. This method is used to correct deep contour defects caused by scarring from nodulocystic acne. Because the fat may be reabsorbed into the skin over a period of months, there may be a need for the procedure to be repeated.

What are the different types of scars and treatment?

Abnormal scars sometimes form after the wound has healed. There are many different types of scars, including the following:

  • keloid scars
    These are thick, rounded, irregular clusters of scar tissue that grow at the site of a wound on the skin, but beyond the edges of the borders of the wound. They often appear red or darker in color, as compared to the surrounding normal skin. Keloids are formed from collagen that the body produces after a wound has healed. These scars may appear anywhere on the body. They occur more often in darker-skinned people. Keloid scars may occur up to one year after the original trauma to the skin.

    Treatment for keloid scars varies. There is no one simple cure for keloid scars. Recurrence after treatment is common. Treatment may include the following:

    • steroid injections
      Steroids are injected directly into the scar tissue to help decrease the itching, redness, and burning sensations that these scars may produce. Sometimes, the injections help to actually decrease the size of the scar.

    • cryotherapy
      Cryotherapy involves the scar being "frozen" off by a medication.

    • pressure therapy
      Pressure therapy involves a type of pressure appliance worn over the area of the scar. These may be worn day and night for up to four to six months.

    • surgery
      If the keloid scar is not responsive to nonsurgical management options, surgery may be performed. One type of surgery directly removes the scar formation with an incision, and stitches are placed to help close the wound. Sometimes, skin grafts are used to help close the wound. This involves replacing or attaching skin to an area that is missing skin. Skin grafts are performed by taking a piece of healthy skin from another area of the body (called the donor site) and attaching it to the needed area.

      Another option is laser surgery. Scars may be treated with a variety of different lasers, depending on the underlying cause of the scar. Lasers may be used to smooth a scar, remove the abnormal color of a scar, or flatten a scar. Most laser therapy for scars is done in conjunction with other treatments, including injections of steroids, use of special dressings, and the use of bandages. Multiple treatments may be required, regardless of the initial type of therapy.

  • hypertrophic scars
    Hypertrophic scars are similar to keloid scars; however, their growth is confined within the boundaries of the original skin defect. These scars may also appear red, and are usually thick and elevated. Hypertrophic scars usually start to develop within weeks after the injury to the skin. Hypertrophic scars may improve naturally, although this process may take up to a year or more.

    In treating hypertrophic scars, steroids may be the first line of therapy with this type of scar, although there is not one simple cure. Steroids may be given as an injection or by direct application. These scars may also be removed surgically. Often, steroid injections are used along with the surgery and may continue up to two years after the surgery to help maximize healing and decrease the chance of the scar returning.

  • contractures
    Contractures are an abnormal occurrence that happens when a large area of skin is damaged and lost, resulting in a scar. The scar formation pulls the edges of the skin together, causing a tight area of skin. The decrease in the size of the skin can then affect the muscles, joints, and tendons, causing a decrease in movement.

    There are many different surgical treatment options for contractures, including the following:

    • skin graft or skin flap
      Skin grafts or skin flaps are done after the scar tissue is removed. Skin grafts involve replacing or attaching skin to a part of the body that is missing skin. Skin grafts are performed by taking a piece of healthy skin from another area of the body (called the donor site) and attaching it to the needed area. Skin flaps are similar to skin grafts, where a part of the skin is taken from another area, but with the skin flaps, the skin that is retrieved has its own blood supply. The section of skin used includes the underlying blood vessels, fat, and muscles. Flaps may be used when that area that is missing the skin does not have a good supply of blood because of the location or because of damage to the vessels.

    • Z-plasty
      A Z-plasty is a type of procedure that is used to revise a scar by using a Z-shaped incision to help decrease the amount of contractures of the surrounding skin. It also may attempt to relocate the scar so that the edges of the scar look more like the normal lines and creases of the skin. Small stitches may be used to help hold the skin in place.

    • tissue expansion
      Tissue expansion is a newer technique being used, and involves a process that increases the amount of existing tissue available for reconstructive purposes. This procedure is often used in addition to the flap surgery.

  • adhesions
    Another type of scarring, called adhesions, may form between unconnected internal organs. Adhesions may cause complications during certain surgeries.

Recovery from scar revision surgery:

As with all surgeries, it is important to follow all instructions to help maximize recovery and healing. Your physician will advise you on all activity restrictions, depending on the type of surgery that was performed. Scars cannot be removed completely. Many factors will be involved in the degree of healing of your particular scar, with some scars taking more than a year to show improvement in appearance following surgery.

Medical Reviewer: [Foster, Sara RN MPH, Jenkins, Lee] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-06-03T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright © 2007 Staywell Content Services, Inc. except where otherwise noted.


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