You’ve had surgery. You fell on the sidewalk and cut up your knee. The knife slipped while dicing vegetables and now you’re bleeding. You know what’s coming. You’re going to have a scar.
Most people have at least one scar on their bodies, but many people have several. Often, even small children have scars because it’s so easy to experience injuries that result in scarring. As a result, scars may not seem like a big deal.
Unfortunately, although scars are a part of the natural healing process, they can cause problems. For example, scars can:
- Affect personal appearances
- Lower self-esteem
- Change self-perception
- Contribute to depression, anxiety, and self-loathing
- Remind people of past traumas
There are some things you can do about your scars, but the truth is that your scars will probably never go away completely. Here’s why:
What Scars are?
Your body has a complex system of healing itself after experiencing trauma like injury. When you skin is cut or otherwise damaged, it actually knows what to do. Scars are the natural solution because they close up wounds.
Composed of collagen, a protein that makes up the skin, scars function as a sort of skin that grows to fill in gaps and pull the rest of your skin back together.
Without all of the additional proteins that make up your skin, scars function as a basic type of skin but lack in hair follicles and important glands. Think of scars as a stripped down version of the skin. As a basic version of skin, scar tissue can’t react to light the way the rest of your skin does. Its texture and color may be different from the rest of your skin as well.
Types of Scars
The way that collagen fills in wounds, as well as the balance of collagen to other matter in your body, can affect the type of scar you have as well as the visibility of the scar. There are 4 main types of scars:
When a wound is very neat or very minor, the body’s healing process can be quite seamless. As a result, scars are likely to naturally appear very thin and even. Lying flat to the skin, the healthiest and easiest to manage scars feel like the rest of the skin. The color of such scars is usually pale, appearing pink or white.
Similar to natural, thin scars, slightly raised scars are slightly more noticeable because they feel bumpy and rise up a little bit above the rest of the skin. Usually this type of scarring occurs when the original wound left irregular gaps between the damaged skin layers. As collagen fills in the hole, it has to do so irregularly. The result is a bumpier scar.
Sometimes the body overreacts to the wound, producing more collagen than needed to repair the damaged tissue. Keloid scars are those that are raised high above the skin, likely in an irregular shape. They are created by the excess collagen and may grow for a little while even after the wound has healed.
Essentially the inverse of keloid scars, hypertrophic scars tend to appear as if they are nestled under the surrounding healthier tissues although they are raised up. They feel bumpy and can be very inflexible. Hypertrophic scars occur simply because of collagen imbalances in the body.
Commonly the result of acne or similar skin problems, pitted scars look like little sunken areas on the skin. Often pitted scars can be avoided simply by leaving acne and similar conditions alone instead of itching at them (which creates the wound that scars!)
How to Care Properly for Scars?
The way that you treat your scars has a big effect on how they develop and on how noticeable they are. For instance, if you pick at and rip off scars as they develop, you create more of a wound. As a result, more scar tissue is required and you risk having a bumpier scar in the end.
It is best to clean wounds when they occur and to dress them in order to prevent infection. Once the scar tissue has developed and sealed off the wound you can begin the process of caring for your scars. Your recommended options for care include:
- Using topical creams to soothe itching and promote healing (like salves containing vitamin E)
- Steroid injections and dermal fillers that alter the appearances of scars to be less unsightly
- Surgery to tailor very noticeable, poorly healed, or intensive scarring
- Laser resurfacing can help make scar tissue less noticeable
- Therapy and dermabrasion are designed to specifically prevent collagen imbalance during future scarring and to minimize existing scar tissue
Tips for Living with Scars
Even if you care properly for your scars, the fact of the matter is that your scars will never really go away completely. Regardless of the cause of your scarring or the type of scar you have, your scars are here to stay.
You can, however, do a few things to ensure that your scars don’t impede on your life. For example:
- Apply sunscreen when spending time outside, including on your scar tissue. This will minimize the contrast of your skin and the risk of your scar getting burnt or getting darker. If your scar is relatively new, keep it covered when you are outside as well.
- Don’t scratch your scars. Chances are that they will itch, especially when they are new, but your scars take months to completely heal over and scratching can lengthen and complicate the process.
- Change your style so that your scars are more easily concealed if that is possible. For example, try wearing a tankini instead of a bikini. There are a lot of different styles out there that cover different body parts as needed.
- Own your story. Scars are nothing to be ashamed of. Many people won’t notice or comment on your scars, but if they do, take pride in telling your story and approach it with humor. You might even try asking inquirers if they have any scars to share about, too.