What Is Scar Tissue, Symptoms and Treatment

A Scar tissue on your skin is often unsightly and can interfere with normal joint movements. If you know only too well how much a glaring scar tissue can affect your self-esteem and self-confidence, continue reading. We’ll not only explain what a scar tissue is made of, but also highlight some of the ordinary causes and the various treatment options you can turn to.

What Is Scar Tissue – Scar Tissue Meaning

So you hate that scar that has been sitting solidly on your face since teenage with all your heart and you are wondering, “what is scar tissue really?” Well, scar tissue is the fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin when the skin is damaged. A scar tissue forms as part of the biological process of wound healing.

In other words, scar tissue is the body’s natural response to injuries and trauma and is and is therefore not a bad thing per se unless its location, size, and shape is of aesthetic concern  to you or is limiting normal activities e.g. use of hands.

A scar tissue is comprised mainly of collagen, the same protein found in normal skin but the collagen in scar tissue is a little different from that in normal tissues. While the collagen in normal tissue has a random, basket-weave formation, the collagen in scar tissue cross-links to form a pronounced alignment in one direction.

This makes the scar tissue collagen to have a poorer functional quality compared to the randomly aligned collagen in normal tissue. For instance, the portion of the skin covering the scar tissue is less resistant to the harmful effects of the UV rays, and hair follicles and sweat glands don’t regrow in scar tissue.

What Causes Scar Tissue

So what causes scar tissue? An injury to the skin e.g. cuts and scrapes are the most common cause of scar tissue. When the skin is ruptured, the first response by the body is clotting of blood. The upper part of the clot formed then dries out to form a scab that covers the wound.

In the lower part of the clot however, a biological process of wound healing begins whereby fibroblast cells from the surrounding tissue migrate into the blood clot and break it down before replacing it with scar tissue that is primarily made up of collagen.

The collagen accumulated in the scar tissue is distinct for its pronounced single direction alignment unlike the collagen in normal tissue which is notable for a random (basketweave) alignment.

Collagen helps to strengthen and heal the wound and continues to form in the scarring site for about 3 months. This coupled with an increased blood supply make the scarring site to appear lumpy, raised and red. Eventually some of the collagen breakdown and the blood supply reduce and as result, the scar tissue becomes softer, flatter, and paler.

Most wounds – in fact most wounds – result in some degree of scar tissue formation. The only exception is animals that exhibit complete regeneration whereby damaged tissues regrow without formation of scars.

Some skin conditions such as acne are also known to cause scar tissue and so are skin infections such as chickenpox. Surgery can also cause a build up of scar tissue and so can burns and scalds.

Now that we know what causes scar tissue, what are some of the common symptoms of scar tissue?

Scar Tissue Symptoms – Symptoms of Scar Tissue

Scar tissue symptoms vary depending on the type of scar and the underlying cause. For example, the most obvious symptoms of keloid scar tissue are its growth beyond the original boundaries of the wound and their typical shiny look. They are also typically raised and hairless.

Hypertrophic scars on the other hand are usually raised, red and grow along the boundaries of the original wound. Location of the scar also has significant on the appearance and symptoms of scar tissue. For example, a scar formed from the healing of a wound sustained on the shoulder will likely appear stretched due to joint movements.

Understanding the different types of scars is the key to understanding the typical scar tissue symptoms to look out for.

Scar Tissue Treatment

Scar tissue fade away gradually but never go away completely. But if a scar bothers you (maybe it affects your self-esteem or limits movement of joints), then there are various scar tissue treatment options that can help. These include:

Injections: steroid injections are often administered to reduce hypertrophic and keloid types of scars. Collagen injections (or other filler injections) can also be used to fill atrophic scars but on the downside, the results are typically temporary.

Dermabrasion: as the name suggests, dermabrasion involves the removal of the upper layer of the skin with specialized abrading equipment. It is typically used for treatment of raised scars (think of hypertrophic scars and keloid scars). The American Society of Plastic Surgeons describes dermabrasion as “mechanical polishing of the skin”.

A less invasive newer form of dermabrasion called microdermabrasion can also be used but it is usually only effective for treatment of superficial scars.

Laser skin resurfacing: Skin resurfacing is often used to heal scars and like, dermabrasion, involves the removal of upper layers of the skin with high energy laser light to trigger a new growth of healthy skin at the site of the scar tissue.

There are newer forms of laser that achieve subtle results by targeting the collagen in the dermis directly without removing the epidermis layer of the skin. This essentially means lower downtime after the laser skin resurfacing treatment.

Radiotherapy: radiation therapy is another option for treatment of scar tissues which is commonly used to reduce hypertrophic and keloid scars. It is however not readily used (reserved for extreme cases to stop recurrence of scars) because of the potential long-term side-effects of radiotherapy.

Cryotherapy: this involves freezing the scar and is commonly used to treat hypertrophic and keloid scars.  

Surgery: in severe cases, a doctor can recommend scar revision surgery to alter the shape and size of the scar and thus make it less noticeable or to restore skin function. Surgery is generally not recommended for hypertrophic and keloid scar because it can worsen them and they are known for a tendency to recur after surgery, but surgery is sometimes used alongside other treatment options e.g. radiotherapy or injections, to reduce such scars.

It is however important to note that no single scar tissue treatment has been shown to completely eliminate scars, but most of them will help to reduce their size and prominence significantly and thus make them less noticeable.

It is also important to highlight at this point that although various topical treatments such as vitamin E and cocoa butter creams are often advanced as scar tissue treatment, the WebMD website refutes the claim saying that they are not effective for reducing the appearance of scars.

Scar Tissue Cream

There are an ever growing number of creams claiming to help reduce scar tissue, but since no products are created equally, you will want to spend your hard earned cash on a scar tissue cream that really works; not the kind that promise you the heavens but simply don’t live to their promise.

One scar tissue cream that seems to elicit positive reviews from its users and worth the try is Revitol Scar cream which helps to not only reduce the appearance of scars but also to even out the skin tone to make the scar consistent with the surrounding skin.

This product features four ingredients: onion extract, glycolic acid, copper peptide and hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is often at the center of controversy as it is thought to be carcinogenic but scientific research is yet to ascertain the claim beyond any doubt.

Other scar tissue creams to choose from are:

  • Skinception Dermefface FX7
  • Kelo-Cote Advanced Formula Scar Gel
  • TriDerma Scar Reliever
  • Selevax Intensive Scar Cream

Healing Scar Tissue- Extra Tips?

These additional tips may help to fasten the scar tissue healing process:

  • Avoid exposure to excessive sunlight by using a good sunscreen and using wide-brimmed hat to cover your face
  • Massage the scar in circular motions
  • Cover wounds with bandages and keep them clean to ensure proper healing

Scar Tissue Removal – A Summary

As we have discussed in this article, the options available for removal of scar tissue range from laser skin resurfacing, radiotherapy, dermabrasion and steroid injections, to filler injections, cryotherapy, and surgery.

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