What are Scars?
Scars are what are left behind after the skin has sustained some injury and successfully healed. Scars are generally considered unsightly, and are characterized by the ways in which they differentiate themselves from the surrounding undamaged skin. Scars may be raised from the surface of the skin, or may appear in hollow indents in the skin’s surface. Scars are almost always discolored with respect to the surrounding skin, and may be darker or lighter in shade, or of varying hues. Scars generally take on red or pink hues, the same color as fresh, underdeveloped skin.
Scars are generally taken as a sign of past injury. As such, the response to scars varies broadly. Scars can signify all manner of events, and thus carry great psychological weight for many different individuals. A scar may be the result of a traumatic car wreck, or a physical altercation with an animal or another human being. In the media they are frequently given romantic, heroic implications, but most individuals with scars simply want to be rid of them.
Scars are very common, and some degree of scarring is almost inevitable of anything at all should break the skin. Scarring is not a disorder or disease as-such, but simply a side effect of the skin’s healing process. A certain degree of scarring is inevitable with almost every wound or event that breaks the skin, and a number that don’t. What remains variable is how visible the scar will be afterward and how long for. Many scars become more and more muted over a course of even years, as the cells replicate and replace themselves, but some are deep enough that they never truly seem to fade.
Who gets Scars?
Anyone who suffers an injury that breaks their skin and is capable of naturally healing their skin is a candidate for scarring. Men and women are equally likely to scar. There are no genetic indicators that make one more likely to scar, nor are there any underlying conditions that inherently make one scar more visible. Scars are extremely common and simply come along with having skin. In fact, there are no particular indicators of scarring with respect to the potentiality of scars to be more or less visible at any given time.
What causes Scars?
Many, many things cause scars, so much so that it would be impossible to describe every individual condition and even that can possibly cause scarring. However, there are many different kinds of scars, as well, and many individual events that will almost inevitably cause lasting, visible scarring that are relatively likely to occur in common day-to-day life. Because scarring is simply a common side-effect of natural healing, many of the events that cause scarring are very common, or if not common, they are at least entirely mundane and predictable; scarring from acne, for instance, could be thought of as common. Scarring from an animal bite is perhaps not ‘common’, but it is also far from exotic.
Acne is a primary source of scars of many different scars. Severe acne frequently causes scarring even if nothing should happen to the acneiform eruptions caused by acne. This is due to the way acne distends and damages the skin from beneath, stretching it, as well as the immune response triggered by the presence of sebum and dead skin in the pores. The ultimate result is an unsightly mark.
Lacerations can cause distinct scars across limbs and the torso. Generally, clean lacerations are not as likely to scar as jagged cuts. Even so, there are always exceptions, and if the cut should not be properly stitched (as may be necessary) or bandaged (as is almost always necessary), a scar is much more likely. The deeper the laceration, the more likely a scar is to result.
Abrasions are not generally associated with scars. An abrasion is simply damage caused by friction against the skin. Getting rugburn from having a piece of rough material dragged across the skin, or being dragged against a stiff carpet, or tripping into a rough surface and ‘skinning’ a part of the body all qualify as an abrasion. Abrasions are generally not very deep, and thus do not scar as often or as badly, frequently fading more readily over time.
Burns are another very common source of scars. Even minor burns cause significantly more damage to the skin than even the cut of a sharp knife. A minor burn untreated or improperly treated will almost leave a scar behind. Severe burns can cause severe scarring, and burns can cause significantly bigger and broader scarring, causing more of the skin to be affected than other sources of damage in many cases. Scar tissue can also form under the skin as a result of severe enough burns.
If a wound becomes infected, scarring becomes much more likely—almost inevitable. The infection damages the skin even more thoroughly and destroys skin cells, forcing the body to regenerate more cells in the damaged are. This produces a more pronounced scar. This principle applies to all sources of scars, including acne, lacerations and abrasions. In this case, bacterial infections are specifically what are being addressed here. Bacterial infections are generally more common, more likely, and furthermore more likely to scar.
Scarring from surgery is almost inevitable if the surgery is major enough. Almost all invasive surgeries result in some form of scarring. However, the controlled nature of the incisions means that these scars are likely to fade some time after the surgery is conducted. They do not represent the abuse of the skin so much as the depth of the incision, and thus require quite some time to fade completely (although they will, indeed, fade completely given a chance to do so).
What do Scars cause?
Scars can cause a number of subtle things on their own, depending on the thickness and severity of the scar. This is especially true considering the many complications that can arise from collections of ‘scar tissue’, scarred areas that may appear nearly anywhere on or even in the body, including the heart itself.
The primary symptom scars cause is simply discoloration. Pitting of the skin, as well as swelling and raising of areas of the skin is very common. Acne, for instance, is known for leaving small craters or ‘pits’ on the face. These generally do heal after some time, but have been the bane of many college students who dealt with severe acne in their high school years. Raising of the skin is more common with severe abrasions and jagged, rough cuts.
The presence of scar tissue as created by a scar can cause stiffness. This stiffness can vary between only rarely noticeable, such as when the scar is directly and intentionally touched, to quite irksome. The latter is more common if the scar should be near the skin of a joint. Scars can grow more supple over time, but the difference in thickness between the skin can be difficult to deal with.
Scars can be painful under some circumstances. Scar tissue can press heavily on nerves and constrict them more readily, and this is aside from the discomfort that can be caused by the disparity in skin texture as clothing or other solid objects slide along the skin’s surface.
Scars can have intense social ramifications depending upon their location and severity. Large and extensive scarring can be disfiguring, which can make observers uncomfortable. In most cases, however, the scars only lead the individual suffering form them to believe that those around them are uncomfortable (when they may not have noticed, or simply don’t care), which can cause serious confidence issues.
How serious are Scars?
Scars are not serious per-se, in that they do not pose a health risk. They are the product of the skin healing itself over time. Everyone has minor scarring somewhere. Most scars are not noticeable at all, and are only scars in the purely academic sense. That said, scarring of appropriate severity can have different ramifications, and the presence of scar tissue is another matter entirely.
For the symptoms of surface scars, however, even severe local scarring does not pose a major health risk. Scars are uncomfortable, but scarcely likely to be more than uncomfortable even under the worst of circumstances. Extensive scarring that covers a relevantly large percentage of the body (such as from severe, widespread burns) can rob the skin of most of its ability to sense temperature and pain, and can also lead to the inability of the skin to regulate its own temperature by sweating, but this is only under the most severe of circumstances, and is more deeply related to the depth of the scar tissue penetration.
What do Scar treatments look like?
There are many treatments available for scars on the market. Many are over-the-counter items appropriate for individuals of varying ages, and these are generally only used for minor scars. For more extensive and deeper scarring, there are more intense options available, many of them including some form of surgery.
Scar treatment truly begins with prevention, however. While it is impossible to perfectly avoid all damage to the skin, there are still a number of steps that can be taken to insulate it. Children on roller skates and other wheeled toys should wear elbowpads and kneepads as appropriate, for instance. Individuals likely to trip and risk harming themselves may want to wear long pants or sleeves to avoid damage, and etcetera. Individuals suffering from acne would be best served by not touching their pimples under any circumstances, to avoid the risk of breaking them—acne can scar even if the pustules are unbroken, but their breakage is almost guaranteed to cause pockmark scarring.
But when the damage has already occurred, there are still steps to be taken to make sure the skin heals as efficiently as possible with a minimum of scarring. First and foremost, disinfection is necessary. Disinfection is a critical point even ignoring the potential for scarring to occur. Proper disinfection following the breaking of the skin can prevent the festering and spreading of most bacteria, which can prevent the wound from becoming infected. Preventing infection ensures that the skin will heal more rapidly, rather than wasting time purging the infection first; infections slow healing considerably. Preventing infection is perhaps the single most important thing that one can do to avoid scarring, aside from avoiding damage in the first place.
Pulling the wound together to heal properly plays a momentous role in keeping scars from forming. Large lacerations, for instance, must be stitched. This allows them to heal in a more timely manner, and prevents further blood loss, which is the primary reason stitces are necessary, but it also greatly reduces the risk of scarring; if the healing tissues were to form in a gap of sorts, for instance, there would be a deep gash of scar tissue left behind when all was said and done. This would lead to a very obvious scar. The same premise applies to bandages for smaller wounds, making it important to cover them up as much as possible, aside from the utility of bandages in preventing further bleeding and protecting the wound from further damage.
Scar removal is another thing entirely. There exist any number of over-the-counter balms, creams and oils intended to smooth away scars by promoting healing. These are generally met with mixed reviews. Unscented oils without moisturizer or other extras are generally best able to penetrate the skin and actually act on cells under the surface layers of the skin, making them a viable option, while the moisturizers and cocoa butter extractions are generally most reliable for minor scarring alone.
Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are a popular spa treatment available for removal of scars. Dermabrasion involves smoothing away the skin at a very precise depth. This strips and sloughs away scar tissue on the surface, frequently normalizing skin tone and thickness to that of the surrounding skin. Microdermabrasion is a much more delicate procedure generally reserved for the face and, rarely, the bikini area. It is most frequently used on small scars, such as from acne. Dermabrasion varies widely in cost, but many cheaper salons are seeking certification in dermabrasion and other spa-like services in hopes of bringing in more clientele.
For more extensive or delicate scarring, laser treatments are available. Laser treatments operate on a principle similar to dermabrasion, but use lasers to lightly burn away the scar tissue to varying depths, allowing the scarred skin to more readily match the skin around it, and encouraging healing again in a controlled set of circumstances, further reducing the risk. Laser treatments are also available that claim to simply stimulate the skin’s healing response, but these claims are frequently dubious, and should be treated with a certain amount of skepticism until efficacy can be demonstrated.
How do I know if I have Scars?
Scars are easy to identify and do not need to be ‘diagnosed’ as such. That said, scars still do vary in severity and relevance, and severe scarring may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be examined by a medical professional. All of this ignores the potential of subcutaneous scar tissue to form in relation to a number of other conditions.