In the US, one in every three people will develop shingles in their lifetime. While shingles are not life-threatening, it is common to worry about the impact the disease can have on you. For most people, the concern revolves around shingles leaving scars. You may want to learn how to prevent, treat, and reduce the likelihood of ¹
This article will help you understand shingles as a viral infection, including treatment, prevention, and whether it will leave scars.
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Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is a viral infection that belongs to the virus family responsible for chickenpox. Research has shown that shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus — the virus that causes chickenpox infection.²
After chickenpox signs and symptoms disappear, the varicella-zoster virus lies inactive in your nerve cells close to the spinal cord and brain. When your immunity weakens due to aging or medical conditions, the virus reactivates to cause shingles.
Shingles cause a painful red or pink rash on one side of your body, around the stomach, chest, or back. However, the skin rash can spread to more visible parts, such as above one eye.
Before the appearance of the rash, you could experience pain, itching, or a burning sensation around the area where the rash will appear. The feeling may persist for days before you notice the rash. Because you have a virus, you may also feel unwell and experience:
When the rash eventually appears, you will probably notice red or pink blisters on one side of the body. When the rash appears around the eye, it may cause vision loss. In rare cases, however, people with weakened immunity may experience a more widespread skin rash that appears like chickenpox.
The shingles skin rash often looks like blisters that crust over within 5–7 days. Usually, the rash fully clears up within 2–4 weeks.
When you notice shingles blisters on your skin, you may worry about the possibility of shingles scarring your skin. The good news is that in most people, the skin rash will clear with no visible scars within 2–4 weeks.
However, some people may get minor scars, and scarring may be more pronounced for those with severe infections. The secret to preventing shingles scarring lies in how well you care for the rash.
Shingles on the face (CDC)³
Shingles on the waist (CDC)³
Shingles on the trunk (Istock photo)⁴
Once the shingle's blisters start to scab, try to leave them intact. Scratching or knocking the scabs open as they heal can make you more susceptible to bacterial infection or the spread of the rash. Knocking and scratching also increase the possibility of scarring.
While it may be hard to avoid scratching and disturbing the rash, visiting a doctor immediately after you get the symptoms can help, as they can guide you on managing the pain and reducing the itching.
You can also try the following tips to minimize itching and discomfort:
Gently compress the affected area with a washcloth dipped in cool water.
Wear loose clothing made from natural fibers.
An oatmeal bath can also help soothe the skin.
You can use painkillers, such as paracetamol, for pain management.
Use antihistamines to reduce itching.
Use unscented soap to clean affected areas.
While most people do not get scars, there is the likelihood of scarring for some. Whether the scars will last for a while before they fade or remain permanently on your skin, preventing scarring should be among your goals.
The following tips can help you reduce the possibility of scarring when combined with those provided in the previous section:
Try not to disrupt the healing process through scratching.
Avoid exposing the affected area to direct sunlight: use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) when you go out.
Keep the affected area moisturized using natural creams rich in vitamins E and C.
Sometimes scarring may still occur despite efforts to prevent it. When this happens, your focus should shift to eliminating the scars. Fortunately, there are numerous ways of eradicating shingles scars, including some home remedies.
After recovering from shingles, you can treat minor scars at home by making simple adjustments to your lifestyle or using readily available household items.
Here are some simple tips to help you eliminate shingles minor scars:
Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, water, and other foods rich in omega-3 and vitamins C and E.
Reduce the use of stimulants, alcohol, and cigarettes. The chemicals in these products prolong the recovery process.
Do not expose the scarred area to direct sunlight. The UV rays from the sun may darken the scars, making them more pronounced.
Avoid stress or maintain your psychological comfort to enhance the natural process of recovery.⁵
Skin camouflage is a product that conceals scarred areas. You can apply a skin camouflage when you feel uncomfortable visiting social places, especially if the scar is on the face. Although you can get over-the-counter skin camouflage products, it is good to consult your doctor or pharmacist before using them.
If the scar still feels itchy or you experience discomfort, you can use silicone gels or sheets. The silicone gel softens the scarred area to relieve pain or discomfort. Like the skin camouflage products, seek your doctor's opinion before using a silicone-based treatment for your scars.
While steroids can help eliminate shingles scars, you should not use them without a prescription. Your doctor or dermatologist will also need to assess your response to steroid treatment to determine whether to continue or switch to other alternatives.
Laser or light therapy is a non-invasive procedure that uses light to repair damaged skin. Preliminary studies show that laser therapy can also treat shingles scars. However, since the treatment has not been in use for a long time, it should only be administered by a qualified professional.
Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to flatten the affected areas and eliminate the scar. However, the use of liquid nitrogen may lighten your skin.
If the scars cause severe pain or discomfort that impacts your day-to-day activities, corrective surgery can help. Corrective surgery will eliminate the scars and the associated discomfort. However, before opting for an invasive surgical procedure, talk to your doctor about all your options.
Most scars will clear up after a few weeks with no professional intervention. However, if the scars persist, cause pain, or affect your social life, seek professional help. It may also help to seek medical assistance immediately if you notice the signs and symptoms of shingles.
Shingle is a viral infection caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. Patients experience a red or pink skin rash on one side of the body, around the stomach, chest, or face. While the rash in most people disappears without scars, it may leave you with mild or permanent scars. The best prevention for shingles is vaccination.
It is important to see your doctor if you develop a rash or if you suspect you have developed shingles.
For most people, shingles rash clears within a few weeks without leaving scars. However, the skin rash may cause mild or sometimes permanent scars.
A shingles rash looks like a stripe of blisters that affects one side of the body.
Anyone who had chickenpox as a child or adult is at risk of getting shingles. However, people above age 50 and those with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing shingles.
In most patients, the pain disappears with the rash. However, complications may cause chronic pain that lasts up to five years.
Shingles | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Photos of shingles | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Signs & symptoms | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Does shingles leave a scar after it heals? | Vinmec International Hospital