If you have a purple scar, you might wonder, “why is it purple?” Well, scar formation is a complex process. And in some people, it’s far more complex. This is why some people get worse scars, with more noticeable colors, than others.
But before you can understand why scars become colored at all, it’s important to recognize how scars form in the first place.
A Scar is Born
Quite simply, a scar forms when your skin repairs a wound. To repair a wound, your skin cells produce epithelial tissue to fill in the wound a little. Then, a connective tissue that’s made up of collagen fibers aims to bridge and strengthen the wound.
But unfortunately, these collagen fibers aren’t overly elastic. In trying to bridge the wound, they sometimes form clumsy bundles of fibrous tissue. This is scar tissue.
Scar tissue serves a wonderful purpose, but it’s not the most ideal tissue.
- It’s not flexible
- It has a different texture from the surrounding tissue
- Hair follicles won’t grow on it
Also, if scar tissue forms over joint injuries, it may cause contracture scars – or skin tightening. Contractures are most often seen with what’s known as hypertrophic scars.1
How does Collagen Influence Scar Formation?
As we age, we need more collagen in our skin to help us look younger. However, excess collagen isn’t always a good thing, especially as it relates to scars.
Usually, organized collagen is strong and neat. But, when it’s pushed into emergency mode, the skin lays down that collagen in a rather quick and messy manner.2
So, a scar is basically a bundle of unorganized collagen in the skin’s dermis.
In the worst case scenario, this haphazard collagen production gets out of control. For example, the type of scar known as a keloid scar produces lumpy, collagen scar tissue way outside of the borders of the original wound.3
Why Are New Scars Often Red or Purple?
Now you may have noticed, the wound healing process tends to turn an area of skin red, or reddish-purple, while it heals. This is due to irritation at the wound site, healing activity, and increased blood flow to the area.
Broken blood vessels in the region can also lead to this discoloration.
But as the wound heals, this discoloration does tend to fade – in most cases. Sometimes, it doesn’t, like with hypertrophic or keloid scars.4
Why Does Keloid Scarring Turn Purple?
With keloid scars, collagen somehow misses the cue to stop mending the wound. So, it keeps on multiplying, even after the wound is closed and strong. This can leave large, unsightly scars that are now far greater than the size of the original wound.
To make matters worse, keloid scars are often lumpy, thick, and purple in color. This color is due to the fact that keloids tend to have an increased amount of blood vessels. And these blood vessels tend to be dilated and unevenly scattered.5,6
What are Atrophic Scars?
Atrophic scars are basically the opposite of hypertrophic or keloid scars. Where hypertrophic or keloid scars have too much collagen and sit on top of the skin, atrophic have too little collagen and dip inward like a crater.7
Remember that pimple you thought was the worst thing ever? Well, when pimples leave atrophic scars behind, things get worse.
Atrophic scars have a sunken, “pockmark” appearance as is commonly found with chickenpox or cystic acne scars. They’re often described as icepick or boxcar scars. They also tend to lack pigment and appear white. This whiteness is known as hypopigmentation.
Another common variety of atrophic scar is stretch marks. Stretch marks evolve not from an open wound, but from an event (rapidly stretched skin) that destroys the strength of the collagen fibers.8
Why do Raised Scars Change Color?
As you’ve seen, scars can appear red or purple due to an excess of blood vessels. This color usually fades as the scars heal, but they may remain in keloid-type scars.
Some people swear that their scar changes color in the shower, which also has to do with blood vessels – they dilate from the change in hot and cold water temperatures.
However, there is another way in which scars can change color. This is called hyperpigmentation. It can be caused by infection, excessive irritation, and most especially UV rays. All of these can affect the color of your scar.
UV light can trigger the overproduction of the skin’s natural pigment, melanin. This can cause the scar to turn dark brown, or to gain dark spots.
The best way to prevent a scar from becoming discolored is to take great care of it from the wound stage. Keep it covered, keep it clean, and don’t put anything on it that could cause irritation. And, keep it out of direct sunlight.9
Can You Get Rid of a Purple Scar?
Unfortunately, complete scar removal is sometimes impossible on damaged skin. Thankfully, many scars will simply fade over time to the point in which they’re barely visible – even surgical incisions. However, other types of scars may not.
For example, getting rid of keloid and hypertrophic scars is challenging. Hypertrophic scars fair the best, reacting better to treatments, but keloid scarring has a high rate of recurrence.10
If your scar is purple because it’s in the early stages of the healing process, then your chances are good that it will fade considerably – and lose its purple shade.
However, if your scar is purple because it’s a keloid scar, you may want to talk to a dermatologist about some of the following options.
Understanding Your Type of Scarring
As simple as scar formation sounds, scars are anything but straightforward. What turns out to be a mild scar on one person can turn out to be a very difficult, discolored scar on those with different skin types. In fact, darker skin tones often struggle with stubborn scars the most.
Scars, including purple scars, can be a very emotional issue. It’s essential that you act early in the healing process to ensure the best possible outcome. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about your options if you’re concerned about keloid, hypertrophic, or bad acne scarring.
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