It could come down to your genes.
Chances are pretty good that you've gotten a scar at least once in your life. Whether it was an accident as a kid — learning to ride your bike, running around the neighborhood, roller skating — or an incident that happened when you got older, sometimes cuts, scrapes, burns, and surgeries can leave a permanent mark. Scarring can actually indicate some fascinating things about your health that might be worth knowing, particularly if you're accident-prone. But first, note that even if you do scar easily, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any underlying condition to be concerned about.
There are a number of reasons why you might experience scarring from time to time, but why do some people scar more than others? "Scarring easily has more to do with your genetics than with your health," Dr. Suzanne Friedler, M.D., board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC and clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells Romper. "Some people scar easily and others don't.”
What’s more, it’s not always a reflection on your health. "The same person can scar differently in different body locations,” Friedler continues. “Chests tend to heal poorly. The cartilage high up on the ear may scar worse than the fleshy ear lobe. Also, people with darker complexions tend to scar worse than people with fair skin. The best indicator may be looking at how close family members scar."
Scars can appear even with injuries that you don't think are severe enough to result in one, which goes to show that it can be difficult to predict when a scar will occur and when your injury will heal without a trace. If you do scar relatively easily, it’s likely just your genetics at play, but there are also a few conditions that also can result in easier scarring. Here’s what you need to know before you get that next pesky cut or burn.
You Might Have Some Chronic Inflammation
In a 2017 paper published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers argued that two kinds of scars, keloid and hypertrophic scars, can be the result of chronic inflammation in a lower layer of skin cells. Both keloid and hypertrophic scars are raised above the surface of your skin, often making them more noticeable than other sorts of scars.
“There is an abundance of data suggesting that the strength of the inflammatory response early in the healing process correlates directly with the amount of scar tissue that will eventually form,” Maiman tells Romper. “This is because many of the mediators produced by activated inflammatory cells that are necessary in the beginning of wound healing can also inappropriately stimulate fibroblasts, which drives the production of scar tissue and consequently shapes the final outcome of wound healing.”
You Might Be Deficient In Vitamin E
If you're not getting enough vitamin E from your diet or any supplements you're taking, you might experience a number of symptoms, including an uptick in scarring. In this case, your best bet is to talk to your doctor about any potential deficiencies and determine how to go from there.
However, note that vitamin E deficiencies are very rare in humans, according to Maiman. “It happens almost exclusively in people with an inherited or acquired condition that impairs their ability to absorb the vitamin (for instance, cystic fibrosis, short bowel syndrome, or bile duct obstruction) and in those who cannot absorb dietary fat or have rare disorders of fat metabolism,” she says. So, unless you have one of these specific conditions, you can likely rule this one out.
You Lost Muscle Or Fat From Underneath The Abrasion
If your scar appears sunken below the surface of your skin instead of right at the surface or raised above it, it might be because of what's going on internally. These sorts of scars are often caused by muscle or fat loss beneath the abrasion. “Scars of a certain appearance, specifically those that are indented or pitted — what we term “atrophic” — can be more likely when the depth of injury is such that it affects underlying muscle or fat,” says Maiman. “However, atrophic scars can also happen from injury to the dermis, where collagen is abundant, and so is not entirely dependent on injury to deeper tissues.” If you've had surgery, for instance, you might experience one of these scars.
Your Diet Could Be Falling Short
Your diet may actually play a real role in why you scar so easily. “Good nutritional status is essential for wound healing to take place,” Maiman tells Romper. “Poor nutritional status can both prevent optimal scar formation and prolong the stages of wound healing.”
If you aren't eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you might not be making the blood cells needed to promote healing. Deficiencies in protein and essential vitamins can also contribute to poor healing, according to Maiman. Raising your concerns with your doctor about scarring more frequently or what sorts of nutrients you may not be getting can help you formulate a plan to address those issues.
You May Not Be Getting Get Enough Vitamin C
If you're having a hard time with wounds healing well and scarring issues, it could be due to a lack of vitamin C. “We know well that vitamin C is important in wound healing,” Maiman says. “It is for this reason that people with scurvy, the term for vitamin C deficiency, have a tendency to injure more easily and scar poorly.”
Additionally, a 2013 paper published in the British Journal of Community Nursing noted that a vitamin C deficiency can change the way collagen is produced and scars develop. “This is because vitamin C is an essential cofactor for the enzymes prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase, both of which are required for normal collagen metabolism,” explains Maiman. “Studies have shown that vitamin C may also improve wound healing by stimulating fibroblasts, the cells responsible for synthesizing and laying down collagen, to divide and migrate into the wounded area.”
You Could Have Poor Circulation
“Any condition that impacts how well blood circulates through tissues can detrimentally impact wound healing and, consequently, make a scar more likely to form,” says Maiman. For example, conditions like diabetes, obesity, and peripheral vascular disease can affect blood circulation, which may deter wound healing and result in scarring.
When there’s a shortage of oxygen-rich blood going around, the white blood cells are essentially being strangled and cannot function correctly, Maiman explains. The impaired white blood cells then won’t be able to attend to the wound and initiate healing. “This problem is amplified by the fact that red blood cells rely upon strong circulation to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients to the wound,” she says.
Smoking Might Be Impairing Your Ability To Heal
Smoking cigarettes is a tried-and-true way to leach the oxygen from your blood. “In simple terms, wound healing depends on the body’s ability to transport freshly oxygenated blood and nutrients to and from a wound site,” Maiman says. So when you’re de-oxygenating your blood by smoking, your wound is not getting the fresh oxygen it needs to properly heal. “In fact, the adverse effects of smoking on tissue oxygen concentrations have been demonstrated after smoking just one cigarette, regardless of smoking history,” Maiman warns.
Not only are the white blood cells unable to attend to the wound, but smoking also can diminish the production of collagen. “Smoking is also associated with a reduction in fibroblast proliferation, because fibroblasts produce essential structural proteins such as collagen, which are needed for the formation of new tissue, [and] this is detrimental to wound healing,” notes Maiman. “Collagen is the primary structural protein that affects a healing wound’s tensile strength, and research has demonstrated that its production is diminished in smokers.”
Easy scarring may not be a huge issue, but if you're concerned about how quickly and frequently you're dealing with scars, breaking those concerns down with your doctor is a good place to start. It might be something that can be easily addressed or, at the very least, you might be able to work out a plan to try to minimize the effects.
Moores J. (2013). Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective. British journal of community nursing, Suppl, S6–S11. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjcn.2013.18.sup12.s6
Sadiq A., Khumalo N.P., Bayat A. (2020) Genetics of Keloid Scarring. In: Téot L., Mustoe T.A., Middelkoop E., Gauglitz G.G. (eds) Textbook on Scar Management. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-44766-3_8
Ogawa R. (2017). Keloid and Hypertrophic Scars Are the Result of Chronic Inflammation in the Reticular Dermis. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(3), 606. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18030606
Boyera, N., Galey, I., & Bernard, B. A. (1998). Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 20(3), 151–158. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-2494.1998.171747.x
McDaniel, J. C., & Browning, K. K. (2014). Smoking, chronic wound healing, and implications for evidence-based practice. Journal of wound, ostomy, and continence nursing : official publication of The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society, 41(5), 415–E2. https://doi.org/10.1097/WON.0000000000000057
Dr. Suzanne Friedler, M.D., board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology, Mt Sinai Medical Center
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