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Scars come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: itchiness.
While new scars are often the itchiest, old scars can itch too, especially when you experience skin changes like weight loss. Scar types include:
- stretch marks
- atrophic scars
Itchy scars don’t have to keep you up at night or fidgeting at work. Read on for more information on how to treat them.
Scarring is the body’s natural response to a skin injury that reaches the dermis, the layer of skin just under your outermost skin layer. The injury triggers the body to make collagen, a skin protein. Collagen fibers are naturally thicker and less flexible than surrounding skin.
Here are a few reasons why scars can become itchy:
When something injures your skin, your body’s nerve endings can become damaged, too. The nerve endings can become very sensitive and cause itchy sensations as they start healing.
New scars form for a number of reasons:
- due to acne blemishes
- cuts and scrapes
- excess skin stretching that leads to stretch marks
Old scars are considered to be at least 2 years old, and they can itch for a number of reasons.
Sometimes, a scar can make the skin feel very tight. This is often the case if scarring occurs after a skin burn. Tight, stretched skin is often itchier.
Also, if you suddenly experience weight or skin changes, the scar may itch more. The same is true if you have dry skin.
Surgical scars are often deeper than the average skin injury. As the skin starts to heal, it’s usually itchy.
Treatments for scarring can depend on the type of scar you have. For example, a doctor wouldn’t usually recommend surgery to correct a small scar. But they may suggest it for large, hypertrophic scars that rise above the skin.
Your doctor may recommend noninvasive and invasive treatment options.
Doctors will usually recommend noninvasive treatments first to reduce the itchiness and overall appearance of a scar. Examples of these types of treatments include:
- Applying highly moisturizing creams or oils. Examples include cocoa butter or coconut oil. Vitamin E oil is also an option for older scars, but it’s important to know that it can affect healing in new scars. These products can help the skin from drying out, which can also reduce itching.
- Using silicon sheeting bandages. These bandages are available at most drugstores and can be applied as an adhesive or placed over the injured area.
- Using onion-based ointments. Ointments like Mederma may help to reduce a scar’s appearance. They must be applied regularly over the course of several months to see results. However, current research published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery hasn’t proven these ointments to be a highly effective scar treatment.
- Applying special compression bandages. These bandages are available through your doctor’s office or pharmacy. They put constant pressure on the scar to keep it from hardening.
- Massaging the scar tissue. This can help to soften and flatten the scar. Massage the scar in small, circular motions for a period of 10 minutes or more at least three times per day, applying as much pressure as is tolerable. It’s important to know that massage usually isn’t effective in treating scars that are 2 years old or older.
In addition to these measures, it’s always a good idea to apply sunscreen to an injured area. This helps prevent scars from becoming hyperpigmented, or darker than the skin around them.
If a scar fails to respond to at-home treatments and causes significant discomfort or an undesirable appearance, a doctor may recommend invasive treatments. These include:
- Intralesional corticosteroid injections. A doctor injects a corticosteroid into the lesion, which can reduce inflammation.
- Surgical excision. A doctor will only recommend surgical removal of a scar if they believe they can reduce the scar’s appearance without making it worse.
- Laser therapy. Doctors may use lasers to burn or damage the layers of skin below the scar to promote healing.
- Cryosurgery. This approach involves applying chemicals that freeze the scar tissue. This destroys the tissue and can reduce its appearance. Doctors may follow cryosurgery with injections of steroids or other medications, such as 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream or bleomycin.
- Radiation therapy. In some cases, doctors recommend radiation therapy for keloids, or highly raised scars. Because it has significant side effects, radiation is usually a last resort for scars that haven’t responded to other treatments.
Your doctor will consider if the treatment will help improve the scar or make it worse. They’ll discuss the risks and benefits to each intervention as well as recovery times.
Itchy scar prevention can start before the scar forms. Promoting healthy skin healing whenever possible is a big step to minimizing a scar and skin damage. Preventive tips include:
- Keeping injured skin clean. Wash an injured area with mild soap and warm water. Allowing dirt to linger increases the risks for inflammation and infection.
- Applying ointments to keep the skin moist. Dried-out skin can cause scabbing, which increases healing time and ups the itch factor. Petroleum jelly applied with clean hands or gauze is a good option. You can also apply antibacterial ointments, but it isn’t usually necessary if you keep the area clean.
- Using silicone gel or hydrogel sheets on the injured area. These can keep the skin moisturized for especially itchy injuries.
If you try these tips and your scar starts to hurt more or doesn’t seem to be healing, call your doctor.
Itchy scars are rarely a medical emergency. However, if you itch them excessively, it’s possible that you could introduce infection-causing bacteria. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, and feeling hot to the touch. You should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
You should also see a doctor if:
- An itchy scar is interfering with your daily life.
- The scar is making your skin feel so tight that it’s painful.
- You’re concerned about the cosmetic appearance of your scar.
Your doctor can evaluate the scar and make treatment recommendations.
Itching can be a symptom of the scar healing process, and treatments are available.
From keeping the scar moisturized to massaging it, these steps can help minimize itching. If over-the-counter medications aren’t helping to minimize the discomfort, talk to your doctor about other potential treatments.