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Keloid scars form to protect injured skin, such as burns or acne scars. They may flatten over time, but some people may prefer to have them surgically removed.

When skin is injured, fibrous tissue called scar tissue forms over the wound to repair and protect the injury. In some cases, extra scar tissue grows, 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 your body.

Although keloids are not harmful to your health, they may create cosmetic concerns.

Keloids come from the overgrowth of scar tissue. Keloid scars tend to be larger than the original wound. They may take weeks or months to fully develop.

The symptoms of a keloid can include:

  • a localized area that is flesh-colored, pink, or red
  • 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

While keloid scars may be itchy, they’re usually not harmful to your health. You may experience discomfort, tenderness, or irritation from your clothing or other forms of friction.

Keloid scarring can form on large areas of your body, but this is generally rare. When it happens, the hardened, tight scar tissue may restrict your movement.

Keloids are often more of a cosmetic concern than a health concern. You may feel self-conscious if a keloid is very large or in a highly visible location, such as on your earlobe or your face.

Most types of skin injury can contribute to keloid scarring, including:

An estimated 10% of people experience keloid scarring. Men and women are equally likely to have keloid scars. People with darker skin tones are more prone to keloids.

Keloids are more common in the following populations:

  • people of Asian descent
  • people of Latin descent
  • pregnant people
  • people younger than age 30

Keloids tend to have a genetic component, which means you’re more likely to have keloids if one or both of your parents have them.

A 2015 study found that the gene AHNAK 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 have it.

If you have known risk factors for developing keloids, you may want to avoid getting body piercings, unnecessary surgeries, and tattoos.

Learn about options for getting rid of keloids and other scars that are common on the legs.

Keloids are sometimes confused with another more common type of scar called hypertrophic scars. These are flat scars that can range in color from pink to brown. Hypertrophic scars are smaller than keloids. And, unlike keloids, they can go away on their own over time.

Hypertrophic scars occur at similar rates among men and women and affect people of all racial groups. They’re commonly caused by various forms of physical or chemical injuries, such as piercings or exposure to harsh fragrances.

At first, hypertrophic scars can be itchy and painful, but the symptoms subside as the skin heals.

Learn about all your hypertrophic scar treatment options.

The decision to treat a keloid can be a tricky one. Keloid scarring is the result of your body’s attempt to repair itself. After the keloid is removed, the scar tissue may grow back, sometimes larger than before.

Before pursuing any medical procedures, you can consider at-home treatments. Moisturizing oils, which are available online, can help keep the tissue soft. These might help reduce the size of the scar without making it worse.

These treatments require frequent and careful application to be effective and take at least 3 months to work.

Learn about other home remedies for old scars.

Initially, your doctor will probably recommend less-invasive treatments, such as silicone pads, pressure dressings, or injections, especially if the keloid scar is fairly new.

Corticosteroids combined with botulinum toxin type A injections into the keloid tissue have been found to be effective in shrinking keloids.

Combining this treatment with injectable chemotherapy agents, particularly a combination of the steroid triamcinolone and the chemo drug 5-fluorouracil, has been shown to be even more effective than treatment with a corticosteroid alone.

In the case of very large keloids or an older keloid scar, surgical removal may be recommended. The rate of return for keloid scarring after surgery can be high. However, the benefits of removing a large keloid may outweigh the risk of postsurgery scarring.

Cryosurgery is perhaps the most effective type of surgery for keloids. Also called cryotherapy, the process works by essentially freezing away the keloid with liquid nitrogen.

Your doctor may also recommend corticosteroid injections after surgery to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of the keloid returning.

For certain types of scars (including some keloids), your doctor may recommend laser treatment. This treatment resurfaces the keloid and surrounding skin with high beams of light in an effort to create a smoother, more toned appearance.

However, there’s a risk that laser treatment can make your keloids worse by causing increased scarring and redness. While these side effects are sometimes better than the original scar, you may still expect some form of scarring.

Learn about laser treatment for other types of scarring, which has similar benefits and risks.

Treatments for keloid scarring can be difficult and are not always effective. For this reason, it’s important to try to prevent skin injuries that could lead to keloid scarring. Using pressure pads or silicone gel pads after an injury may also help prevent keloids.

Sun exposure or tanning may discolor the scar tissue, making it slightly darker than your surrounding skin. This can make the keloid stand out more. If possible, keep the scar covered when you’re in the sun to prevent discoloration.

Find out more about sunscreen and other ways you can protect your skin.

Although keloids rarely cause negative side effects, you may dislike their appearance. You can have a keloid treated at any time, even years after it appears. So, if a scar is bothering you, you can choose to have it checked out.