When skin is injured, fibrous tissue, called scar tissue, forms over the wound to repair and protect the injury. In some cases, scar tissue grows excessively, forming smooth, hard growths called keloids. Keloids can be much larger than the original wound. They’re most commonly found on the chest, shoulders, earlobes, and cheeks. However, keloids can affect any part of the body.
Although keloids aren’t harmful to your health, they may create cosmetic concerns.
Keloids occur from the overgrowth of scar tissue. Symptoms occur at a site of previous skin injury.
The symptoms of keloids can include:
- a localized area that is flesh-colored, pink, or red in color
- a lumpy or ridged area of skin that’s usually raised
- an area that continues to grow larger with scar tissue over time
- an itchy patch of skin
Keloid scars tend to be larger than the original wound itself. They may take weeks or months to develop fully.
While keloid scars may be itchy, they’re usually not harmful to your health. You may experience discomfort, tenderness, or possible irritation from your clothing or other forms of friction. In rare instances, you may experience keloid scarring on a significant amount of your body. When this occurs, the hardened, tight scar tissue may restrict your movements.
Keloids are often more of a cosmetic concern than a health one. You may feel self-conscious if the keloid is very large or in a highly visible location, such as an earlobe or on the face. Sun exposure or tanning may discolor the scar tissue, making it slightly darker than your surrounding skin. This can make the keloid stand out even more than it already does. Keep the scar covered when you’re in the sun to prevent discoloration.
Most skin injury types can contribute to keloid scarring. These include:
- acne scars
- chickenpox scars
- ear piercing
- surgical incision sites
- vaccination sites
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), an estimated 10 percent of people experience keloid scarring. Men and women are equally likely to have keloid scars. Those with darkly pigmented skin, such as African-Americans, are more prone to keloids.
Other risk factors associated with keloid formation include:
- being of Asian heritage
- being of Latino heritage
- being pregnant
- being younger than 30
Keloids tend to have a genetic component, which means you’re more likely to have keloids if one or both of your parents has them. According to a study conducted at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, a gene known as the AHNAK gene may play a role in determining who develops keloids and who doesn’t. The researchers found that people who have the AHNAK gene may be more likely to develop keloid scars than those who don’t.
If people have known risk factors for developing keloids, they may want to avoid getting body piercings, unnecessary surgeries, or tattoos.
Keloids typically don’t require medical attention, but you may want to contact your doctor if growth continues, you develop additional symptoms, or you want to have the keloids surgically removed.
Keloids are benign, but uncontrolled growth may be a sign of skin cancer. After diagnosing keloid scarring by visual exam, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy to rule out other conditions. This involves taking a small sample of tissue from the scarred area and analyzing it for cancerous cells.
The decision to treat a keloid can be a tricky one. Keloid scarring is the result of the body’s attempt to repair itself. After removing the keloid, the scar tissue may grow back again, and sometimes it grows back larger than before.
Examples of keloid treatments include:
- corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation
- moisturizing oils to keep the tissue soft
- using pressure or silicone gel pads after injury
- freezing the tissue to kill skin cells
- laser treatments to reduce scar tissue
- radiation to shrink keloids
Initially, your doctor will probably recommend less invasive treatments, such as applying silicone pads, pressure dressings, or injections. These treatments require frequent and careful application to prove effective. However, keloids tend to shrink and become flatter over time even without treatment.
In the instance of very large keloids, surgical removal may be indicated. According to the Dermatology Online Journal, the rate of keloid scarring coming back can be high after surgery. Your doctor may recommend steroid injections after surgery to lower the risk of the keloid returning.
Although they rarely cause adverse side effects, keloids can be an annoying and sometimes physically embarrassing occurrence. Treatments for keloid scarring can be difficult and not always effective. For this reason, it’s important to try to prevent skin injuries that could lead to keloid scarring.