A scar is a mark left on the skin after an injury has healed. Most fade over time but do not completely disappear. Scars may also be raised and/or have a different texture to the surrounding skin.
The skin is the body’s largest organ and is constantly getting rid of old cells and making new ones, a process which enables it to repair itself when damaged. Scars are caused by this process.
23 million adults in the UK have some kind of scar. For many, scars don’t cause any problems, but some people can experience physical and emotional challenges as a result of scarring. On this page, we discuss scars and how they can affect your appearance, and how we can support you through the emotional and psychological challenges this may bring.
- If you have scarring from a burn, you may wish to read this page alongside our page on burns.
- If you have sustained scars as a result of military combat, you may be interested in our page for veterans, which has information especially for ex-service personnel.
Many scars are flat and pale in colour, although some can be raised or even indented. Scar tissue often has a different texture to the skin it replaces.
Let’s have a look at seven common types of scar and their characteristics.
Normal fine-line scars
This is the most common type of scar, a raised line typically caused by a minor injury or surgery. Gradually, usually in two years or less, the scar will flatten and fade, but it is unlikely to fully disappear. You may find the scar is itchy for a few months.
Keloid scars are caused by an overgrowth of tissue which happens when too much collagen is produced at the site of a wound, causing the scar to keep growing even after the wound has healed.
Keloid scars appear raised above the skin and are pink, red, darker or the same colour as the surrounding skin. They may be itchy and painful and can restrict movement if they form on a joint.
People who have developed one keloid scar are more likely to develop further keloid scars in future and should let their doctor or surgeon know if having injections or surgery.
Like keloid scars, hypertrophic scars are the result of too much collagen. Unlike keloid scars, they don’t extend beyond the boundaries of the wound. They develop over a period of about six months, before improving.
Hypertrophic scars tend to be more common in younger people and people with black or brown skin.
Pitted or sunken scars
Dents in the skin which are often left by spots from conditions such as chicken pox and acne. They can also be caused by injuries which lead to the loss of fat underneath the skin. They are sometimes known as atrophic or “ice-pick” scars.
Scar contractures cause the skin to shrink. The skin usually becomes tight and in some cases movement may be restricted. They are often caused by burns.
Similarly to scar contractures, stretched scars occur when the skin is stretched during the healing process. For example, broken skin on a joint may be stretched with the movement of the joint as the wound heals.
Stretch marks have a similar cause to scar contractures and stretched scars, occurring when the skin is stretched rapidly, such as during pregnancy or a growth spurt. They may appear red at first and become paler over time.