The skin is the largest organ of the body, with an average surface area of 1.8 square metres in adults. Our skin is very sophisticated. It helps to keep us cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather and it also prevents us from dehydrating. Our skin is constantly shedding old cells and creating new ones, enabling it to repair itself if damaged. It is the repair process that can result in a scar.
A scar is an essential part of this natural healing process following an injury to the thick layer of skin (the dermis) or the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). Damage to the outer layer of skin is healed by rebuilding the tissue, and in these instances, scarring is slight. When we damage the thick layer of tissue beneath the skin, rebuilding is more complicated. Our bodies lay down collagen fibres (a protein which is naturally produced by the body) and this usually results in a noticeable scar.
After the wound has healed, the scar continues to alter as new collagen is formed and the blood vessels return to normal. This is the reason why most scars will fade and improve in appearance over the two years following an injury. However, there will always be some visible evidence of the injury and hair follicles and sweat glands do not grow back.
It is important to remember that a wound does not become a scar until the skin has healed completely. Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and injuries such as minor burns or sunburn are not scars because the skin is broken or still being repaired. However, these conditions could lead to a minor scar if scratched before the outer layer of skin is healed.
An estimated 23 million adults in the UK have some sort of scar and for most people this does not cause any problems. However, this is not true for all people. The Scar Information Service aims to offer information which explains what scarring is and what can be done to come to terms with it.
UK GP Chris Steele, has appeared extensively on television as a medical expert, including This Morning where he has been dispensing medical advice in his weekly phone-in since the programme's first broadcast in 1998. He also has a weekly column in TV Quick and has published a number of books offering advice on medical matters.