Understanding Vaccine Scar: Causes, Difference, And Treatments

Understanding Vaccine Scars: Causes, Difference, and Common Treatments

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Getting vaccinated is important to get adaptive immunity to some life threatening diseases. Though, some vaccines can end up leaving a scar or a blister on our skin. For instance, a lot of people get a BCG vaccine scar or a polio vaccine scar on arm. The location of the injection and its nature can impact the overall scarring on the skin. In order to get rid of TB, BCG, or smallpox vaccine scar, it is important to understand which vaccine leaves a scar. Later, a holistic treatment is followed to get rid of these vaccine scars.

What is a Vaccination Scar?

You might already know how vaccination works. A neutralized virus is injected into our body so that your body forms immunity against it. In most of the cases, the virus is injected into the body through a needle. Since the needle punctures our skin and destroys the healthy cells, our body reacts differently while healing them.

The vaccine scar formation and the healing would majorly depend on the type of virus injected. As a result, the regenerated skin cells do not match and forms a vaccine scar on arm, shoulder, or any other area. Sometimes, it can be a flat crust while at times it can develop into a blister as well. Unfortunately, even with age, the scar doesn’t go away and leaves a permanent impression.

Also Read: Dermatologist For Scar Removal Treatment

What Causes Vaccine Scar?

There are different scenarios under which a vaccine can form a scar on our body. It doesn’t matter if you have been vaccinated when you were a kid or an adult, it can infect your skin nevertheless. As stated, every vaccine can react in a different way. In order to understand what causes a vaccine scar, let’s consider the example of a smallpox vaccine.

To give a smallpox vaccine, multiple needle pricks are used to enter a live sister (neutralized) virus to our body. As the virus enters our body, it reacts similarly to smallpox and forms a scab at the site of the injection. As a result, our body generates antibodies against it and develops immunity to smallpox.

Even though it meets the desired result, the scab that was formed at the site of the injection turns into a blister or a pigmented scar. Just like a smallpox vaccine scar, a TB vaccine scar or a polio vaccine scar on arm can also develop. There could be a slight difference in their placement and appearance. For instance, a BCG vaccine scar is mostly found in the left shoulder due to certain guidelines about the placement of the injection.

Also Read: Different Types Of Scars, Removal Methods And Prevention

Which Vaccine Leaves A Scar?

 Our body can react to a vaccine in different ways. While certain vaccines might not leave a scar on one’s body, it can leave a prominent blister on someone else –

  • BCG Vaccine – BCG vaccine is used to make our body immune to Tuberculosis. The TB vaccine scar usually starts with a swelling at the site of the injection. In a few days, the soreness is healed automatically. It takes about 2 to 6 weeks for the red blister to subside and form a depression
  • Smallpox Vaccine – Besides BCG, smallpox vaccination can also leave a vaccine scars. Though, these scars are mostly seen in people who are born in the 1980s and before. The smallpox vaccine scar usually starts with a small, red, and round bulb. Gradually, it subsides and leaves a depressing scar
  • Polio Vaccine – The Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV) is also known to leave a small scar on the skin. In most of the cases, it leads to minor pigmentation on the upper layer of the skin, which is automatically healed.

BCG Vaccine Scar vs Smallpox Scar

Identifying the type of vaccine scar is quite important in order to treat it. As you can see, most of the people either get a smallpox or a BCG vaccine scar. At first, both of these scars might look similar, but they can easily be distinguished. A smallpox vaccine scar is usually more depressed than a BCG vaccine scar. Also, a smallpox scar is rounder and has distinctive edges.

The BCG scar would be a bit raised and might form a distorted round figure. While both of these scars can be found on the left shoulder, the vaccination that left round scar is considered as smallpox.

Another way to distinguish them is by considering the age and nationality of the patient. Smallpox vaccines that leave scars were discontinued by 1980s in almost all the countries. Therefore, if a person is born after that, then they might not have a smallpox vaccine scar. Also, if they come from countries with higher rates of Tuberculosis, they might have a BCG vaccine scar as well.

Also Read: Hypertrophic Scar – Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Vaccine Scar Treatment

The good news is that a vaccine scar can easily be treated by following the right approach. Here are some of the recommended treatments –

  • Laser Resurfacing – This is a non-invasive and quick treatment for vaccine scars of all kinds. In this, the scar tissue is carefully exposed to a controlled beam of laser, which destroys the pigmented cells. This boosts the production of natural collagen in our skin. The new skin cells automatically fill the depression and fade the vaccine scars.
  • Dermal Fillers – If you are looking for a vaccine scar removal treatment with minimum discomfort, then you can explore dermal fillers in detail. In this technique, a dermatologist will heal the depressed scar with skin-friendly materials (like Hyaluronic acid). It stays there for the next few months until it gets automatically absorbed by the skin. The depressed vaccine scar caused by BCG or smallpox is raised and forms a flawless finish.
  • Intralesional Injections – If the scar is a bit prominent and seems to expand, then your dermatologist can also inject it with steroids. With the treatment, your doctor would make sure that the scar is flattened. Though, you might need to get a handful of intralesional injections to get the desired results.
  • Other Treatments – Besides that, there are a few other vaccine scar treatments that your dermatologist might suggest. For instance, a chemical peel can get rid of a blister or a small scab on the skin. If the scar is prominent, then your doctor can also perform a simple incision surgery as well to get a permanent solution. There are also a few topical medicines that can help you get rid of some scars. You should visit an experienced dermatologist to know about these solutions in detail.

Also Read: Scar Tissue – Types, Treatment, Prevention & FAQ’s

Your Questions Answered On Vaccination Scar

BCG vaccine but no scar

While in most of the cases, a BCG vaccine would lead to the formation of a blister or a scar, it is not a compulsion. Sometimes, infants don’t develop a scar at the site of the vaccine. There is nothing to worry about in this situation. Though, you can visit a doctor to get a professional opinion.

BCG vaccine scar infection

Sometimes, the vaccination site can get infected a few weeks or months after the shot. It can also develop pus and infection as well. In this case, you should consult a doctor and get it checked. By following a course of treatment (topical and oral medication), the infection would be treated.

Also Read: How To Remove Acne Scars – Know From A Dermatologist

Now when you know how to get rid of a vaccine scars in a holistic manner, you can simply visit an experienced dermatologist. Try to visit an expert dermato-trichologists who follows stringent protocols related to vaccine scar removal. In this way, you would get the desired results effectively.

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About The Author

Kushneet Kukreja

Kushneet Kukreja

A postgraduate in Biotechnology from Kingston University and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition, Kushneet Kukreja is a passionate writer who works in close association with the dermatologists at our head office to generate valuable and scientifically accurate content for our blog.


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