Smallpox Vaccine Scar: 6 Best Tips To Fade It Away

smallpox vaccination

Who does not have the frightful memory of the first vaccination they were going for? The sight of long needles and injections all sent a cold shiver through our spine in our childhood days. Yet, we were forced to get them as they will protect us from fatal diseases in the future days.

Between the 1960s and 1980, the World health organization started a worldwide campaign to vaccinate people to eradicate smallpox. As a result, many people have a permanent smallpox vaccination scar on their upper left arm. The scar and pain were much easy to endure than the severity of smallpox and smallpox scar.


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Source: Depositphotos/Smallpox vaccine

The story of the smallpox vaccine discovery was itself a very interesting one. Many of us may be familiar with it. In fact, the basis of vaccination was developed around smallpox in the year 1796 by Dr Edward Jenner. The first individual to have the trial was a small boy named James Phipps. The causative virus was Variola virus.

As per the statistics given by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 20th century, every 3 out of 10 people got infected with smallpox.

Before the typical vaccine, variolation was the most common method. It derived its name from the causative agent variola virus. In this procedure, a small amount of pus from the smallpox sores of infected people was used to rub on the skin of a healthy person which resulted in a mild form of the disease, which the immune system can battle with the infectious disease.

The typical vaccine was developed in the late 1700s to combat the smallpox virus.

Process of injecting smallpox vaccine

Every vaccine has its own way of being injected. Smallpox vaccines are injected through the puncture method. So what is the puncture method of injection?

  • A bifurcated needle is used which has two prongs. The main aim is to make the smallpox vaccines reach a certain fixed depth of the skin.
  • The needle is dipped in the vaccine solution.
  • Then it is pricked on the skin almost 15 times in a shallow way but vigorously. Most of the time the needle is pushed only up to the dermal layer, not to the deeper subcutaneous tissue.
  • As a result of this pricking, there may be some skin injury at the injection site.

Why does the smallpox vaccine leave scars?

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Scar left behind from a smallpox vaccine/Source: Depositphotos

Not all vaccines cause skin lesions. Some may only develop it due to various reactions like the BCG vaccine and the smallpox vaccine, The human body reacts differently to the same vaccine in different people.

  • The smallpox vaccine scar is developed mainly due to the process of injecting the attenuated virus particle.
  • As a result of injecting the vaccinia virus, the immune system reacts to the virus and a result of which soreness and a skin lesion may get developed.
  • It is due to the interaction of the immune system with the live virus that results in the formation of a sore developing into a blister later and ultimately leads to scar tissue development.

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Source: cottonbro/pexels

Stages of development of the scar

The smallpox vaccine scar passes through a number of stages finally it gradually develops.

  • Firstly as smallpox vaccinations are taken, one can experience pain in that area as the area needs to be pricked quite a several times.
  • As the vaccine is injected only at the superficial dermal layers of the skin, generally a small pimple or bump appears as an inflammatory response.
  • Then the bump gradually enlarges into a bigger vesicle or fluid-filled blister.
  • The pus may ooze and one may feel itchy and this will ultimately lead to raised scar or scab formation.
  • The scab falls after healing but leaves behind a distinctive mark. It is a natural result of healing the sore and scab tissue formation.
  • Generally, its size is less than that of a pencil eraser, but it can vary from person to person.

Thus, the smallpox vaccine leaves a scar on the skin.

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Scar left behind from a smallpox vaccine/Source: Depositphotos


Most people when they get vaccinated generally do not develop any serious complications. In rare cases, it may lead to adverse reactions and cause-

  • Mild fever can develop(due to antibody formation and the reaction of the immune system).
  • Lymph nodes enlargement
  • Soreness in the injected site.

In people with other health issues, it can cause very serious issues-

  • Severe allergic reactions may occur in some.
  • People suffering from eczema may develop eczema vaccinatum.
  • For those who are immunosuppressive in nature, their sore may enlarge and take a larger time to get healed.
  • Scarring of the cornea.
  • Very rarely, it can cause brain inflammation called post-vaccinal encephalitis.

Will smallpox vaccination scar form necessarily?

Now the question may arise in our mind- Is the formation of a scar after smallpox vaccination a must?

The formation of scar basically means successful vaccination. The formation of a scar means that the vaccination successfully created an immune response in the body. Generally, the body responds in one week.

But if there is no such response, then it means that the vaccination might be unsuccessful and require re-vaccinating. One should consult public health officials then.

How to treat the scars?

Generally, a smallpox vaccination scar can self-heal itself. But as the live virus is injected, one must be careful with the site.

  1. Keep the injected area covered with a bandage or sterilized cotton.
  2. One should ensure that the pus does not ooze out.
  3. Change the bandage at regular intervals.
  4. One should wash their hands properly after and before dressing the wound.
  5. One should allow others to touch the blister.
  6. One should do separate laundry.
  7. Proper disposal of the dressing is also necessary.

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    Image Source: msumuh/pixabay

Following all these tips can help one to heal their vaccination scar in a more healthy way. Moreover, it does not even allow the further spreading of the virus from the area to other areas of the body and face.

Tips for fading smallpox vaccination scar

One should consult doctors who can provide medical advice before trying ways to fade the vaccination scar.

1. Protection from Sun exposure

By using sunscreen or avoiding direct sun, one can avoid exposure of that area to the sun’s rays. It shall prevent the thickening and darkening of the scar.

2. Application of skin-softening ointments

The use of skin-softening ointments can fade away the scar in the upper arm. One can use cocoa butter, and natural oils but these do not have any scientific basis.

3. Dermabrasion

One can consult with health officials and doctors for dermabrasion. In this method, the superficial layers of the skin are removed followed by healing.

4. Scar revision

In this method, the previous scar is surgically removed and the healthy edges are stitched back. Although there remains a scar, that is much insignificant in comparison to the previous one.

5. Skin grafting

In this procedure, the affected area is replaced with new healthy skin. But, there might be some markings around the edges in which the skin grafting is being done.

6. Cryotherapy

In this method, cold treatment is given to the affected area to remove the scar. Generally, the doctor treats this as a keloid-a type of raised scar on the skin.

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Image Source: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Smallpox vaccination current status

In the present world, smallpox is fully eradicated as humankind has defeated the variola virus. Hence, there is no more smallpox vaccination anywhere in this world.

In late 1972, the routine vaccinations of smallpox were stopped and gradually in the entire world. So, we generally do not find smallpox vaccination scars in our younger generations. Typically, only people above the age of 40 or more years may have a mark on their arm.

Final thoughts

Smallpox was one of the scariest diseases ever witnessed by mankind. But, it was also a landmark in the history of medical inventions. The process and understanding of vaccination were developed around smallpox. Thus, the disease also taught mankind something which made him more powerful to combat various infectious diseases.

Although the smallpox vaccine left behind a scar on the skin at the injected site, it protects our lives and also prevents many smallpox scars in our skin that may otherwise develop in absence of this vaccine. Currently, there are no more smallpox vaccination and hence no more scars related to it.

But if you want to remove a previous scar, you can consult the doctor. However, it does not cause any problem but can make someone uncomfortable. It is also advised to seek medical attention if required.




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Do note that any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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