An overgrowth of scar tissue causes keloid scars, which are unsightly and uncomfortable. These scars are often the result of injuries, surgeries, or even pimples. Though anyone can develop a keloid, some people are more likely to develop one than others, including those with darker skin tones, who have a family history of keloids, or who have a tendency to develop hypertrophic scars.
Keloids can vary in size, shape, and color, and can be difficult to treat. They can also cause itching, pain, and discomfort, especially when they are located in areas that are prone to movement, such as the chest or the earlobes. Because keloids can be so bothersome, many people seek treatment in order to reduce their size and improve their appearance.
If you are dealing with keloids or are worried that you may be at risk for developing them, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about keloids, including how they form, who is most at risk, and what you can do to prevent and treat them.
Causes of keloids
The exact cause of keloids is unknown, but there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing them. These include:
Injury or trauma
Injury or trauma is one of the most common causes of keloids. Collagen is produced by the body in response to skin injuries to assist in tissue repair. In some cases, however, the body produces too much collagen, leading to the formation of keloids. Keloids can form after any type of skin injury, including surgical incisions, cuts, burns, and even minor abrasions. The severity of the injury does not necessarily correlate with the likelihood of developing a keloid – even a small cut or scrape can result in the formation of a keloid.
Keloids can also be caused by hormonal changes. Some women may notice the formation of keloids during pregnancy or after menopause when their hormone levels are fluctuating. While the exact mechanism by which hormones contribute to keloid formation is not fully understood, it is believed that changes in estrogen levels may be a factor. Hormones can also affect the healing process, which may contribute to the development of keloids. Women who are pregnant or experiencing hormonal changes should be aware of the increased risk of keloid formation and take steps to prevent them if possible.
Infection can also be a contributing factor to the development of keloids. When the skin is infected, the body produces an immune response that can result in inflammation and the production of excess collagen. This can lead to the formation of a keloid. Infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and can occur after any type of skin injury, including surgical incisions and piercings. Treating infections promptly and effectively can help reduce the risk of keloid formation, but it is important to note that not all keloids are caused by infection.
Treatment options for keloids
There is no one treatment that works for every patient with keloids, but the following options are some of the more common ones:
Corticosteroid injections are a common treatment option for keloids. These injections contain a type of steroid medication that helps reduce inflammation and shrink the keloid. The injection is typically administered directly into the keloid by a healthcare professional.
Multiple injections may be required to see significant improvement, and the frequency of injections will depend on the size and location of the keloid. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may need to be given once every four to six weeks for several months.
While corticosteroid injections can be effective, they do come with some potential side effects. These can include thinning of the skin, discoloration, and temporary pain or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, corticosteroid injections can also cause systemic side effects such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and changes in mood.
Surgery is an option for treating keloids in cases where other treatments have been ineffective or when the keloid is particularly large or persistent. During surgery, the keloid is removed, and the wound is closed with stitches. The stitches are typically left in place for around a week, and patients are instructed to keep the area clean and dry.
While surgery can be an effective way to remove keloids, there is a risk of the keloid returning after surgery. This is because surgical incisions can sometimes cause new keloids to form. To minimize this risk, some healthcare providers recommend using radiation therapy after surgery. Radiation therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of keloid recurrence after surgery.
Cryotherapy is a treatment option for keloids that involves freezing the tissue using liquid nitrogen. The extreme cold temperature destroys the keloid tissue, and over time, the body reabsorbs the damaged tissue, leaving behind healthy skin.
Cryotherapy is typically performed in a healthcare provider’s office, and the procedure only takes a few minutes to complete. The number of treatments required will depend on the size and location of the keloid, but most patients require at least two to three treatments spaced several weeks apart.
While cryotherapy can be effective in reducing the size and appearance of keloids, it does come with some potential side effects. These can include pain, blistering, and skin discoloration. In some cases, cryotherapy may also cause the keloid to become even more raised or bumpy.
Cryotherapy is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with dark skin tones, as it may cause hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. It is important to discuss your individual risk factors with your healthcare provider before undergoing cryotherapy for keloids.
Laser therapy is a treatment option for keloids that involves using a high-energy laser to break down the tissue. The laser light heats up the keloid tissue, causing it to break down and eventually be reabsorbed by the body. Laser therapy can be an effective way to reduce the size and appearance of keloids, particularly for those with darker skin tones who may be at a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation with other treatments.
Laser therapy is typically performed in a healthcare provider’s office and can take several sessions to achieve the desired results. The number of sessions required will depend on the size and location of the keloid.
While laser therapy can be effective in treating keloids, it does come with some potential risks and side effects. These can include pain, redness, and swelling at the treatment site. In some cases, laser therapy may also cause scarring or changes in skin color.
Laser therapy is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications. It is important to discuss your individual risk factors with your healthcare provider before undergoing laser therapy for keloids.
Radiation therapy is a treatment option for keloids that involves using high-energy radiation to break down the tissue. This treatment is typically used in cases where other treatment options, such as corticosteroid injections or surgery, have not been effective.
During radiation therapy, a healthcare provider will use a machine to deliver a targeted dose of radiation to the keloid tissue. The radiation works by damaging the cells in the tissue, causing them to break down and eventually be reabsorbed by the body.
Radiation therapy can be an effective way to reduce the size and appearance of keloids, but it is typically reserved for more severe cases due to the potential risks and side effects. These can include skin damage, changes in skin color, and an increased risk of developing skin cancer in the treated area.
Radiation therapy is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or who have previously received radiation therapy in the same area. It is important to discuss your individual risk factors with your healthcare provider before undergoing radiation therapy for keloids.
Tips for preventing keloids
While there is no surefire way to prevent keloids, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing them:
Avoid unnecessary skin trauma
Keloids often develop as a result of skin trauma, such as cuts, burns, or acne. To reduce your risk of developing keloids, it is important to avoid unnecessary skin trauma. This may include taking steps to prevent injuries, such as wearing protective clothing during sports or activities that could cause cuts or bruises. If you do experience skin trauma, be sure to treat the wound promptly and follow proper wound care guidelines to minimize scarring. By taking steps to avoid skin trauma, you can help reduce your risk of developing keloids and other types of scars.
Keep wounds clean and covered
One of the most important steps in preventing keloids is to keep wounds clean and covered. If you experience skin trauma, it is essential to clean the wound properly to reduce the risk of infection. This may involve using a gentle cleanser and warm water, and applying an antibiotic ointment. After cleaning the wound, cover it with a sterile bandage or dressing to prevent dirt and bacteria from entering. By keeping wounds clean and covered, you can minimize scarring and reduce the risk of developing keloids or other types of scars.
Wear pressure garments
Another effective way to prevent keloids is to wear pressure garments. These garments are designed to apply pressure to the skin and prevent excess collagen production, which can lead to the formation of keloids. Pressure garments are often recommended for people who are at high risk of developing keloids, such as those with a family history of the condition or those who have previously developed keloids. They are typically worn for several months following an injury or surgical procedure to help minimize scarring and reduce the risk of keloid formation. If you are at risk of developing keloids, talk to your doctor about whether pressure garments may be a good option for you.
Treat acne promptly
Acne is a common cause of keloid formation, so it’s important to treat it promptly to reduce your risk of developing keloids. If you have acne, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about the best treatment options for your skin type and severity of acne. This may include topical creams, oral medications, or other acne treatments. By treating acne promptly, you can help prevent the development of keloids and other types of scars. It’s also important to avoid picking at or popping pimples, as this can increase your risk of scarring and keloid formation.
Avoid sun exposure
Sun exposure can cause skin damage and increase the risk of keloid formation, so it’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. This may involve wearing protective clothing, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, and using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Be sure to apply sunscreen generously and reapply it every two hours or more often if you are sweating or swimming. By avoiding sun exposure and protecting your skin from UV radiation, you can reduce your risk of developing keloids and other types of skin damage.
Keloids can be a frustrating and difficult-to-treat condition, but there are options available. If you are prone to keloid formation, taking steps to prevent them can help reduce your risk of developing them. And if you do develop a keloid, there are several treatment options available that can help reduce its size and improve its appearance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do keloid scars differ from hypertrophic scars?
A keloid is a raised scar that grows beyond the boundaries of the original wound, while a hypertrophic scar is a raised scar that does not extend beyond the original wound.
Are keloids contagious?
No, keloids are not contagious.
Can keloids be prevented?
While it is not always possible to prevent keloids, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing them. Avoiding tattoos and piercings, keeping wounds clean, avoiding unnecessary surgeries, and seeking prompt medical attention for injuries are all ways to reduce the risk of keloid formation.
Can keloids be removed completely?
Keloids can be removed, but there is a risk of them returning or becoming larger after treatment. The best approach to keloid treatment is a combination of therapies, including medical treatments and home remedies, to minimize the risk of recurrence.
Keloid formation takes how long?
Keloids can take weeks or months to form and may continue to grow for years if left untreated.