Overview

A keloid scar is a thick raised scar. It can occur wherever you have a skin injury but usually forms on earlobes, shoulders, cheeks or the chest. If you're prone to developing keloids, you might get them in more than one place.

A keloid scar isn't harmful to your physical health, but it can cause emotional distress. Prevention or early treatment is key.

Keloid scar treatment is possible. If you don't like how a keloid looks or feels, talk with a doctor about how to flatten or remove it. Even with treatment, a keloid can last for years or recur.

Symptoms

A keloid scar may form within months to years of the inciting injury. Signs and symptoms might include:

  • Thick, irregular scarring, typically on the earlobes, shoulders, cheeks or middle chest
  • Shiny, hairless, lumpy, raised skin
  • Varied size, depending on the size of the original injury and when the keloid stops growing
  • Varied texture, from soft to firm and rubbery
  • Reddish, brown or purplish, depending on your skin color
  • Itchiness
  • Discomfort

When to see a doctor

Early treatment can help minimize growth of a keloid. Talk with a doctor soon after you notice a keloid. If you want to treat one that you've had for a while, talk with a doctor who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist).

Causes

Experts don't completely understand what causes keloid scars. But most agree it's likely a dysfunction of the wound-healing process. Collagen — a protein found throughout the body — is useful to wound healing, but when the body produces too much, keloids can form.

Keloid growth might be triggered by any sort of skin injury — an insect bite, acne, an injection, body piercing, burns, hair removal, and even minor scratches and bumps. Sometimes keloids form for no obvious reason.

Keloids aren't contagious or cancerous.

A keloid is different from a hypertrophic scar. A hypertrophic scar stays within the bounds of the original wound and can fade over time without treatment.

Risk factors

Risk factors for keloids include:

  • Having brown or Black skin. Keloids are most common in people with brown or Black skin. The reason for this predisposition is unknown.
  • Having a personal or family history of keloids. Keloids can run in families, indicating that the tendency might be inherited. If you've had one keloid, you're at risk of developing others.
  • Being under 30. You're more likely to develop a keloid if you're between the ages of 20 and 30.

Complications

Keloids located on a joint might develop hard, tight tissue that restricts movement.

Prevention

If you're prone to developing keloids, take these preventive self-care tips:

  • Practice good wound care. Keep a wound clean and moist. Gently wash the area with mild soap and water. Apply a thin layer of petrolatum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor) or other ointment. Reapply the ointment throughout the day as needed. Your doctor might recommend applying a pressure pad or a silicone gel pad to a wound while it's healing. Adults need to take these preventive steps for six months after skin injury, and children up to 18 months.

    Applying pressure earrings to your earlobes after an ear piercing helps prevent keloids.

  • Protect your skin from injury. Try to avoid injuring your skin. Consider not getting body piercings, tattoos and elective surgeries. Even minor injuries — such as ingrown hairs, cuts and scratches — can incite a keloid to grow.

    If you decide to undergo surgery, talk with your doctor about your tendency to develop keloids. Your doctor can use surgical techniques that reduce the risk of developing keloids at the surgical site. After surgery, ask your doctor about postoperative care and follow the instructions carefully.

Sept. 22, 2021
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