My Keloid Scars Went TikTok Viral. Here’s How I Really Feel About Them

Growing up, I found it difficult to escape the overwhelming, picture perfect, Instagram-filtered beauty standards that drowned out any semblance of reality. Add to that the dubious use of targeted ads and it's no wonder many of us invented new ways to hate our bodies. Besides noses, lips and wrinkles, scars sit pretty near the top of the endless list of insecurities we tend to fixate on.
TikTok videos relating to acne scars have an enormous 647.9 million views, while #scarremoval has amassed billions of pairs of eyes and counting. Many of us have scars as a result of teenage breakouts, accidents or nicks, for instance. But when I was a teenager, little did I know that one absent-minded choice would leave me with lifelong scars that even if removed, can come back bigger and painfully more noticeable.

Before you say it, it’s nothing to do with hygiene. It’s genetics 🥲 ##piercings ##keloid ##fail ##alternativetiktok ##MakeItCinematic ##storytime

♬ Why so serious - Ellis😇🙏🏽
My keloid scars weren't always this big and painful. When I was 17, I decided to get four ear piercings in the space of a few months. What I wouldn't give to warn the wide-eyed, rebellious teen sat in a piercing shop that it might not be such a genius idea. Why not wait and see how they heal? I'd ask myself. As much as it pains me to write this sentence, maybe my parents were right when they said I didn't know absolutely everything. But by that point, I'd already donned my choppy black fringe and given myself Sharpie tattoos. I needed to reach peak teenage angst and piercings would take me there.
While we're more understanding of skin conditions in 2021, keloid scarring is still deemed 'ugly' or 'gross' by much of society. Some people say it's a result of bad hygiene (which is entirely false). Others have thanked the heavens they aren't me. But what exactly is a keloid scar? Consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto describes keloids as "a raised scar that is usually quite firm, and can be quite pink or red". Dr Mahto says that keloid scarring often occurs at a site of trauma. "For example acne spots and ear piercings," she says. "The main thing about keloid scarring is that they extend beyond the injury that caused them," she adds, which explains why they look different from flat scars. Some people with keloid scars describe them as lumps, bumps or growths.

Coming into my late teens and early 20s with a huge deformity that's impossible to hide had a catastrophic effect on me.

Keloid scarring is more commonly seen in Black and brown people. I'm of South Asian heritage. "The first fundamental reason is down to fibroblasts, which are your collagen-producing cells," Dr Mahto adds. "Black and Asian skin tends to have more fibroblasts — bigger fibroblasts. The second fundamental reason is that there are lots of inflammatory markers in Black and Asian skin, and inflammation occurs as a result of trauma. This particular inflammatory marker stimulates your collagen-producing cells to go into overdrive," she says, which then produces a keloid scar.
Given that I'd already had three nose piercings, a belly button piercing and lobe piercings that healed fine, I had no reason to think that piercing my helix would be anything other than a little bit of a sting when I tucked back my hair. But I'd got a total of four piercings on my cartilage within a few months of each other without letting them heal first. They started off as small bumps and over time they grew bigger and bigger — as did my anxiety. It's quite an understatement to say that the keloid scars had an enormous effect on my mental health and self-confidence. Had I been a little patient, I'd have realised that I'm prone to them. The scars appear only on my ear cartilage; rather confusingly, I've since gone on to have many tattoos, piercings, cuts and bruises that haven't reacted the same way.
As my keloid scars grew enlarged, I changed my hairstyle, my clothing and stopped wearing hats. Come to think of it, I changed every bit of my appearance, as well as my body language, to stop myself revealing the scars to people. I've had to grow thick skin (quite literally, as much of it is just a clump of cells) and that's exactly what prompted me to head to TikTok and make a video. I aired my frustrations about living with keloid scars and, unexpectedly, my 10 second clip went viral, hitting 1.9 million views as of this week. In the days since posting, I've found many others like me but I've also realised that there are a lot people who don't know what keloid scarring is — and why would they? Keloids aren't as widely discussed as acne scarring, for instance, and research suggests that just 10% of people experience keloid scars.
Though I have been met with much love, many of the now-deleted comments on my TikTok took me aback. A handful of people were shocked, disgusted and even tagged their friends to laugh. I spoke about receiving unsolicited (and often useless) advice, like using tea tree oil, aspirin paste and washing the keloid scars with salt water. Many viewers wondered how I live with my keloid scars. The short answer? You learn to over time. The long answer isn't so short and sweet. Coming into my late teens and early 20s with a huge deformity that's impossible to hide had a catastrophic effect on me. Online trolls would say it could have been worse but with an already brittle mental state, my keloid scars completely destroyed me. There were nights I remember crying myself to sleep over them. I brainstormed ways I could mutilate myself because either way, I thought, It would be better than these grotesque things.

When I chose to show my scars on TikTok, so many people in the comments section agreed that seeing my video made them feel more comfortable with their own scars.

I dread to imagine how many young people — especially young women — are weighed down by the pressures of today's unattainable beauty standards. How many people might have got a piercing in an area of insecurity to feel better about themselves but were left feeling even more upset. When I chose to show my scars on TikTok, so many people in the comments section agreed that seeing my video made them feel more comfortable with their own scars. "This makes me feel so much better about mine knowing it's not just me who gets them," wrote one person. Another commented: "I've had my keloid on my lobe since I was like 11, had it cut off twice but it always comes back. It's my friend now." One commenter named theirs "Jelly Bean" and others joked with me that mine needs a name, too. Another commenter suggested it must have been heartbreaking and although I replied that it was a little, I embrace my keloid scars now.
You might be clutching your irritated scaffold bar or infected nose piercing and thinking, Could this be me? How do I avoid this and how can I be safe? As Dr Mahto mentions, piercings aren't the primary cause. Any trauma to the body can cause keloids to develop randomly. Experienced piercer Chloe Victoria corroborates this: "A keloid has nothing to do with it being a piercing, and keloids form due to trauma to the body. An irritation bump is directly caused by irritation of the piercing and this can be improper piercing angles, not downsizing jewellery after swelling has gone down or improper aftercare, for example. An irritation bump can and will go away with the correct troubleshooting and care to the piercing." Here's a helpful TikTok video created by another piercer, which echoes this. In other words, keloid scars are based on how your body produces collagen and you won't know if you're prone to them until it happens. Dr Anjali suggests looking at your family history as if your parents or other family members have keloid scars, you may be likely to experience them as well.
The primary reason for my TikTok video was to gain closure and to reach out to others but medical treatment is still a route I'd like to explore in the future if the NHS would be willing to facilitate it. Right now, the NHS no longer removes keloids. Even though mine bleed and ache, and I have to use special pillows just to sleep, I'd have to turn to private care for removal. According to Dr Mahto, there are treatment options if this is a route you want to go down but it does depend on the size and number of scars, and where they are on your body. One round of steroid injections (which may reduce the size) would cost upwards of £150, while surgery can be into the thousands. For me currently it is an unforeseeable prospect and over time I'm learning to accept my keloid scars.
I'm not ashamed and, like many others who have them, I'd only ever want to get my keloid scars removed for health reasons. At this point I'm alive, I'm myself and I'm happy. If anything, I feel as though my keloid scars make me more unique and different. Why would I want to be the same as everybody else?

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