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A keloid develops when scar tissue builds up after a skin puncture or wound. It can appear as a firm, raised scar. The keloid lump is often larger than the wound that caused it to form. It is not uncommon for keloids to appear on the ear after getting an ear piercing.

Keloids may form on any part of the ear, and they vary in size and shape.

In this article, we discuss the causes of keloids and explain the at-home and medical treatment options.

A woman with a keloid on the ear before and after it being removed via surgery.Share on Pinterest
Some people may have a keloid surgically removed.
Image credit: ©️ Lee SY, Park J – Annals of dermatology (2015).

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), unlike other types of raised scars, keloids are typically larger than the original wound.

The AAD also state that keloids can form on any part of the body but often develop on the ears after a person gets a piercing. The keloid may occur anywhere from the earlobe to the cartilage.

Keloids form in different shapes and sizes, largely depending on the position of the scar. On an earlobe, the keloid will probably be round and solid.

A keloid may start to develop shortly after the wound, but it may be months before it becomes apparent. Whether or not a keloid forms at all depends on the individual.

Some people find that they form keloids after minor wounds, such as acne spots, while others will never have them.

Keloids typically appear slowly and take 3–12 months to start showing.

On the ear, they can:

  • begin as a raised scar that is pink, red, or purple
  • be round or oval
  • cause pain and itching
  • feel either soft or hard
  • darken in color after some time to become darker than the surrounding skin

The AAD state that it is not clear why keloids form.

According to one 2016 article, ear piercing is easily the most common reason for keloids to develop on the ear in those who are predisposed to forming them. The authors suggest that this may be because of the way the wound heals.

Other researchers have proposed that a local inflammatory reaction to the metallic backs of earrings may be responsible for the frequent occurrence of keloids on the earlobe.

Keloids can be difficult to treat. However, a person can try the following:

  • softening the skin with emollient creams or oils
  • applying silicone or polyurethane scar-reducing patches
  • using silicone gel to promote healing
  • applying pressure dressings

In some cases, the surgical removal of a keloid may be possible. However, this procedure may cause an even larger keloid scar to develop, as the operation will create a new wound.

According to the AAD, a dermatologist may use a combination of the following treatment options:

Corticosteroid injections

A series of these injections leads 50–80% of keloids to shrink.

A person will typically have these injections once every 3–4 weeks. After the first injection, a person may notice that the keloid feels softer.

Keloid surgery

A dermatologist can remove the keloid. However, the AAD state that nearly 100% of keloids will return after surgical removal.

After keloid surgery, dermatologists can inject a corticosteroid or use cryotherapy to help reduce the chances of the keloid returning.

Laser treatment

A dermatologist may use this to help reduce the size and discoloration of the keloid.

Cryotherapy

This procedure, which typically works best on smaller keloids, can help reduce the size and hardness of the keloid. A dermatologist will freeze the keloid from the inside out.

Over recent years, studies have found the process of cryotherapy to be effective for recently formed keloids.

Ligature

A dermatologist may recommend using surgical thread to remove the keloid gradually, if it is possible to tie thread around it.

The surgical thread will need replacing every 2–3 weeks.

Learn more about how to treat keloids here.

Although keloids can affect anyone, a person is more likely to develop keloids if they:

  • are of Asian, African, or Hispanic descent
  • are between the ages of 10 and 30 years
  • have a family history of keloids

If a person has sustained an injury on the ear or had an ear piercing, they should pay close attention to the wound.

Those with piercings can ask for plastic earring backs rather than metal ones. At the first sign of thickening of the skin, they can remove the earring and wear a pressure earring for at least 12 hours per day for 4–6 months.

If a person has a wound on their ear, they should take care to treat it properly by:

  • washing the area with soap and water to remove dirt and debris
  • bandaging the wound with petrolatum gauze
  • cleaning the wound every day
  • protecting the wound from the sun with sunscreen
  • applying silicone sheets or silicone gel as the wound begins healing

A keloid scar may cause discomfort, but it will not affect a person’s overall general health. Therefore, there is no harm in attempting to treat the scar at home before seeking medical attention.

A keloid scar can be similar in appearance to a cancerous tumor. However, keloids are not cancerous. Anyone who is uncertain about the origin of the lump should ask a doctor to check it.

A person may wish to see a doctor if the keloid is very large or unlikely to go away without medical treatment.

Keloids may be itchy or uncomfortable, but they are benign.

In some cases, keloid scars will disappear without help, but others will need treatment before they settle down.

A form of treatment that works for one person will not necessarily work for another. In some cases, a keloid is resistant to treatment, and it may not go away completely.

Keloids are firm, raised areas of skin that form when scar tissue builds up after a wound.

Not everyone will develop keloids. However, some people are more susceptible to developing them.

The outlook for people with keloid scarring varies. In some cases, the keloid will disappear over time without treatment. In other cases, home remedies may be ineffective, and surgery might create bigger scars. Even after surgical removal, keloids often grow back.

It is important to verify whether the lump is a keloid scar, as people sometimes confuse keloids with other skin lesions, including malignant tumors.

SHOP FOR FIRST AID PRODUCTS

Some of the first aid products that we mention in this article are available to purchase in pharmacies and online: