After an injury or surgical procedure, scars often linger as a visual reminder of the trauma the body has endured. Cosmetically, they may be unsightly. And, as wounds heal, scars can cause tissue to contract, limiting mobility, inducing pain and causing functional problems later on.
“It's an astronomical burden on our healthcare system,” says plastic surgeon Steven Moran, chair of the Division of Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Reconstructive Transplant Surgery.
For centuries, people have attempted to find cures for unseemly or uncomfortable scarring. These treatments, which range from surgical removal to freezing scars with liquid nitrogen, often deliver inconsistent results.
But what if, in lieu of a silver bullet to treat existing scars, medical providers could prevent them from forming in the first place? In two recent studies, researchers have discovered novel ways to do just that. Like something straight from science fiction, topical or injected medicines may allow tissue to grow back, complete with hair follicles, sweat glands, skin oil and pores.
Types of Scarring
Scars can form in many ways throughout the body. When the dermis — the second layer of skin — is damaged, the tissue commonly heals improperly. Scars can also form when muscle is stitched together during surgery, or when a ligament or tendon is torn.
In healthy tissue, cells are arranged in a very organized fashion. But when tissue is damaged, cells and other substances, like collagen, rush to fill in the wound. In this process, the body may send too much collagen or new cells may be disorganized. Collagen, which is found throughout the body, is key to the healing process. But when there is too much in a small space, as is the case with many scars, there may be visible differences in the skin, like raised or reddened tissue.