What Are Keloids?
Your skin puts up with a lot, whether you realize it or not. Day-to-day cuts, scrapes and bruises, an accidental burn from the curling iron, a nick from shaving, an ingrown hair, a new tattoo, an acne breakout …
The body’s natural reaction to cuts, pokes and trauma to the skin is to heal. And most of the time, you heal up and are good as new. But in some cases, these minor injuries can result in unsightly, painful and rather itchy scars called keloids that can form long after injury to the skin occurs. Even though keloids are commonly thought of as scars, they are actually benign tumors of the skin.
Lamont R. Jones, M.D., MBA, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doctor) at Henry Ford Health System and lead researcher on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study on the formation and treatment of keloids, says to think of keloids as your body being a little too good at healing wounds. “After an injury, your body tries to heal a wound as it normally would but ends up developing an excess amount of scar tissue, which develops into a non-cancerous tumor of the skin” says Dr. Jones. “This excess scar tissue can appear in different ways depending on its location on your body.”
Keloids commonly develop in several areas of the upper body including:
- Jawline and neck
- Upper back
Unlike normal scars, keloids typically grow beyond the borders of the original injury – making it appear raised. Keloids tend to differ in color from the surrounding skin and often get worse over time. They can also appear as small clusters or larger lumps.
It isn’t fully understood why keloids form. Anyone can develop them, but some people are more likely to than others. Typically, people with darker skin – including people of Asian, African, Hispanic or Middle Eastern descent – tend to experience keloids more frequently.
Unfortunately, treating keloids can be tricky. There isn’t a magic pill or ointment that can make them disappear. Treatment takes time and often requires trying different treatment methods or a combination of treatment methods.
“At home, you can massage the affected area if it isn’t too painful,” says Dr. Jones. “There is no harm in trying over-the-counter ointments as long as they don’t cause irritation to the skin, however, most studies show minimal effectiveness. You may see better results by developing a treatment plan with a doctor who has experience treating keloids.”
Luckily, there are plenty of treatment options that can improve symptoms and minimize or reduce the appearance of keloids including:
- Pressure dressings
- Cortisone injections
- Cryotherapy (freezing a keloid to reduce appearance of scar)
- Laser treatment
- Radiation therapy
How to Prevent Keloids
If you have had a keloid before or getting them runs in the family, you are more likely to develop them. Take these precautions to reduce your chance of having a keloid develop:
- Keep skin injuries clean
- Avoid products or clothing that causes skin irritation
- Treat acne
- Avoid cutting or shaving hair to close to the skin
- Avoid elective skin injuries (piercings, tattoos, surgeries, etc.)
You cannot always prevent keloids. For example, you may need to have a surgical procedure at some point and the incision can result in a keloid. If you are preparing for a surgery, make sure to let your doctor know that you have a history of keloids. Depending on the procedure, there may be a minimally invasive option available. After the procedure, your doctor may inject the incision with steroids, prescribe a topical steroid treatment, or use silicon or pressure dressing to reduce the risk of scarring and keloid development.
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Lamont R. Jones is the vice chair of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery and the director of the Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic at Henry Ford Health System. He sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center – Fairlane (Dearborn) and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.