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What's a Keloid Scar and How Do You Get Rid of One?

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Let's face it: Scars suck. Just about everyone has had at least one. Typically, scars fade over time. But sometimes they just stick around reminding you of your acne woes, your appendectomy, or that time you sliced your finger chopping vegetables.

Scars especially annoying when they become noticeably large and thick and have a kind of raised and bumpy look to them—these are called keloid scars. We asked two doctors to give us the lowdown on keloid scars and how to get rid of them.

What are keloids?

"Normally when scar tissue forms, your skin creates collagen," explains Maurice Khosh, M.D., F.A.C.S., a plastic surgeon. "However, sometimes that collagen formation becomes too aggressive and doesn't stop, which causes the scar to continue to get larger."

Sometimes, people can mistake a keloid scar for a hypertrophic one. "Like keloids, hypertrophic scars are caused by excess tension on a wound," says dermatologist Sanusi Umar, M.D. The difference is that while hypertrophic scars remain roughly within the bounds of the original scar, keloid tissues grow beyond the original edges, Khosh adds.

Where do they form?

Keloids can result from surgical scars, wounds, or even tattoos and pierced ears. "A wound that is likely to become a keloid is caused by tension," Umar says. "They can occur anywhere on the body, but they're more likely to form in areas with high tension and subject to a lot of movement, like the middle of your chest or your ear lobes."

Why do some people get them?

According to the Keloid Research Foundation, what causes keloids is poorly understood. However it's clear that genetics plays a role—skin color and family history are two of the biggest risk factors, Umar says. Typically, people with darker skin are more prone to this scar condition, he explains.

"They can happen to anybody," Khosh says. "But the risk factor in a person who is white is quite low."

How do you get rid of them?

There are many methods for treating and diminishing the look of keloids. Here are some of the more effective ways:

  • Steroid injections: Steroids have an anti-inflammatory component that treats the inflammation caused by keloids. Both doctors agree that the number-one way to get rid of smaller keloids is by injecting steroids into the scar to soften and diminish the appearance.
  • Pressure: By applying some pressure onto the scar, you can slow down the growth of the keloid. For instance, if you have a keloid on your ear from a piercing, try wearing clip-on earrings to compress it.
  • Topical treatment: Some doctors like to use sheeting made out of silicone to apply on the keloid or even hypertrophic scars. "The dressing provides pressure on the wound and helps keep more moisture within the skin, which both help to get rid of them," Khosh says.
  • Surgery: If the keloid is larger than normal, your best bet is to minimize the scar through surgery, thus creating a new scar, says Umar. From there, the doctor injects steroids into your new scar to prevent it from growing again.
  • Laser: Some doctors use lasers to diminish the look, but both doctors say that they find this method to be the least effective way for getting rid of keloids, especially ones formed from a surgical procedure.

Other less common methods of treating keloid scars include cryotherapy (freezing the scar), and chemotherapy and radiation, the doctors say. Unfortunately, if yours is pretty large and raised, there's a chance you'll have the scar forever since those are more difficult to treat. But ultimately, keloids are not life-threatening. Speak to a doctor to find out the best method to treat yours.

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