Keloid and hypertrophic scars are a type of scarring pathology which is characterised by excess collagen deposition produced during the wound healing process. The mechanism by which this occurs is not understood and although hypertrophic scars can regress spontaneously, keloids do not, and currently no effective treatment exists. In this paper we hypothesise that nitric oxide, a free radical molecule synthesised by numerous mammalian cells, is involved in the formation of these scars. We suggest that the excess collagen production in keloid lesions can be attributed to higher than normal levels of nitric oxide, as the free radical is a known stimulus for fibroblast collagen synthesis. Furthermore, we propose that the basal epidermis is a source of this additional nitric oxide and we discuss this in relation to known histological characteristics of keloid and hypertrophic lesions. © 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.