After your acne has disappeared, you may notice scarring or marks left behind after the acne has healed. If you’re concerned about acne scarring, you can try several treatments that are backed by science.
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Acne scars are marks or depressions in the skin that remain after the acne has disappeared.
There are three main types of acne scarring.
Depressed scars (atrophic)
Raised scars (hypertrophic and keloid)
Depressed scars are small indents in the skin. These scars can be further defined as icepick, rolling, or boxcar scars. Icepick scars have a triangular shape, rolling scars have a round shape, and boxcar scars have a squarish shape.
Depressed scars are the most common type of acne scarring and they occur when collagen has been lost. Due to the loss of collagen, an indent is left behind after the acne is gone.
Raised scars are colored bumps and are less common than depressed scars. These scars have a reddish or purple color and feel firm.
Unlike depressed scars, raised scars occur when there is an excess of collagen. The excessive collagen leaves a bump behind after the acne is gone.
Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation is the least common type of acne scar. These scars have a dark and flat appearance.
Several causes¹ or contributing factors lead to acne scars. These include:
Inflammatory acne — acne that’s swollen, painful, and red
Delayed treatment or no treatment of inflammatory acne
Acne that penetrates deep into the skin
Genetics — having a blood relative who has had acne scars increases your risk of developing acne scars
Popping or squeezing acne
Most treatments aim to minimize the appearance of acne scars. However, the success of the treatment depends on the number and size of the scars.
There are a wide range of treatment options available to treat the different types of scars, and many are effective at removing or clearing them.
How can acne scars be treated?
If you were unable to prevent your acne scars from appearing, read on to find ten science-backed treatments that can clear up your acne scars.
1. Get a skin care professional to apply a chemical peel
Chemical peels are a skin resurfacing procedure that involves a dermatologist or skin care professional applying chemicals to your skin. The applied chemicals remove the outer layer of skin that has been damaged by acne scars.
Once the damaged layer of skin is removed, newer, healthier skin replaces it and reduces the appearance of the scars.
The success of chemical peels varies and experts say² that the outcome depends on the type of scarring being treated. Depressed acne scars may require several peels before any substantial results are seen.
Several types of chemical peel are available and your skin care professional will help you choose which one best suits your needs.
Some chemical peels that you might be able to try include:
Glycolic acid peel
Pyruvic acid peel
Salicylic acid peel
The active ingredients in each of these peels vary.
Some peels are more tolerated than others. Jessner's solution and salicylic acid are generally highly tolerated. If you suffer from skin hypersensitivity, you may need to approach chemical peels with caution.
Overall, chemical peels are best suited to people with raised acne scars, although people with depressed acne scars can still try this treatment. Some people may only need a few treatments, while others may need several more for better results.
2. Try dermabrasion or microdermabrasion from a skin care professional
Like chemical peels, dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are skin resurfacing procedures. However, the skin is resurfaced mechanically instead of chemically.
Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are very similar techniques. Dermabrasion penetrates several layers of the outer skin whereas microdermabrasion only penetrates the outermost layers of skin.
If you’re considering dermabrasion, you may require local or general anesthetic for this procedure. Microdermabrasion doesn’t require anesthetic and is therefore more convenient to try.
These therapies treat a range of acne scars, although they may not be suitable for everyone. If you’ve previously taken isotretinoin to treat acne, then you may need to avoid this treatment. Additionally, you should beware that these treatments may cause skin discoloration if you have a darker skin tone.
Overall, promising results have been achieved from dermabrasion and microdermabrasion. These treatments may be more suited for you if you can’t tolerate chemical peels. The number of treatments required before good results are seen varies between people.
3. Try laser skin therapy from a skin care professional
Laser skin therapy is another skin resurfacing procedure. However, unlike other resurfacing procedures, laser skin therapy is only suited to people who have depressed rolling or boxcar acne scars.
Different laser therapies are available. The two main types use ablative and nonablative lasers.
Currently, nonablative laser therapy is preferable to ablative laser therapy because it has fewer side effects and is less invasive.
Ablative laser therapy removes the outer layer of skin by heating the skin beneath it, which encourages the formation of new collagen.
Nonablative laser therapy, however, doesn’t heat the skin; it uses intense pulsed light (IPL) to encourage the formation of new collagen.
The formation of new collagen is an important process in replacing acne scars, and laser therapies have shown good results.
4. Try needling (collagen induction therapy)
Needling and micro-needling are also therapies that encourage the development of new collagen. These procedures are used for people who have depressed acne scars.
Needling is a procedure where a skin care specialist runs a roller covered in needles, over the acne scars. The tiny punctures caused by the needles encourage new collagen to form. If you’re worried about the needles, a numbing cream can be applied before the procedure.
The time frame for when you can expect to see results from this treatment varies. Scientists say² that, overall, full results are seen at 12 months. However, you may notice some improvement within the first three months.
5. Get fillers
A range of injectable fillers is available to plump up those depressed acne scars. As the name suggests, fillers fill the indents in the skin so that the scars can no longer be seen.
Fillers are permanent or semi-permanent. The semi-permanent fillers last between six and 18 months.
Fillers are recommended by experts³ for rolling or boxcar depressed acne scars, but not icepick scars.
If you have depressed acne scars and are considering needling therapy and fillers, be aware that you can’t try needling if you’ve already tried the fillers.
Overall, fillers produce results very quickly. However, if you use semi-permanent fillers, the results will not last, so you’ll require more fillers or another treatment when the scars return.
6. Try skin tightening therapy
Skin tightening is a more affordable therapy that’s suited to all skin types. This treatment is for people with depressed scars, including those with icepick scars.
Radiofrequency therapy is used to tighten the skin. As the skin tightens, the indents of the depressed scars become less noticeable.
Although this treatment is more affordable, it often doesn’t always produce permanent results and, as with other therapies, it requires multiple sessions. Experts recommend this treatment once a month. Also, a lot of recovery care at home is needed in the first week after the treatment.
7. Use silicone
If you’re looking for a therapy that you can use without a prescription and at home, silicone could be suitable for you.
A variety of products that contain silicone for acne scars is available. These include creams, gels, pads, and dressings.
Although scientists don’t fully understand how silicone works for acne scars, some believe that it has a hydrating effect.
Silicone is best suited for raised acne scars and also helps prevent the recurrence of scars. If you’re considering silicone, you’ll need to continually use this product for the best results.
8. Use sunscreen
Using sunscreen may seem like an unlikely treatment for acne scars, yet many experts³ recommend this.
Sun damage can make acne scars worse or prevent them from healing. Therefore, if you’re going outside during the day, remember to use sunscreen to protect your acne scars from the damaging sun rays.
Ensure that you use an oil-free⁴ sunscreen to prevent more acne developing.
9. Exfoliate at home
Using gentle facial scrubs at home may reduce the appearance of some acne scars. However, the results will be minimal and the scars will fade more slowly than if any previously mentioned treatment is used.
If you’re reluctant to see a skin care professional, then exfoliating in combination with other at-home treatments could be beneficial.
Experts⁵ say that exfoliating does fade the scars, but using additional therapies is recommended for faster results.
10. Try these useful products at home
Many treatments are offered at skin care clinics because at-home treatments can take longer to work and may not yield the same results. The severity of your scarring also impacts the effectiveness of at-home products.
Some at-home treatments use the same ingredients that are included in chemical peels. However, the concentration of these ingredients is reduced so that the products are safer for you to use without a prescription.
For example, you can buy a range of products that contain glycolic acid and salicylic acid. An added bonus of these products is that they treat any current signs of acne and can prevent some acne from occurring again. If you use products that also treat your current acne, this will minimize future scarring.
Products that contain retinoids and lactic acid⁴ can also cause acne scars to fade.
Here are some inappropriate treatments that can’t get rid of acne scars.
Some people believe that getting a tan will hide the appearance of acne. However, as mentioned previously, damaging sun rays can make acne scars worse. Additionally, tanning could also make the scars darker and more noticeable. Tanning can also lead to other problems, like skin cancer⁶.
Another misconception is that acne scars are unavoidable. But if you treat your acne while it is present, this can prevent or reduce the formation of scars.
Using lots of products and undergoing multiple procedures at the same time also doesn’t get rid of scars. By using lots of products, you could be irritating your skin. It’s best to limit the number of products you apply and only use what’s essential.
If acne scars remain after trying several at-home methods or treatments from skin care professionals, you may need to see your doctor for more advice. Some surgical procedures for removing acne scars are available if all else fails.
Also, if you notice that your acne scars are making you feel less confident and you avoid leaving the house because of them, you should discuss this with your doctor.
Mentioning the scars to your doctor may also be useful so that you can get a proper diagnosis of the type of scars that are present. Nonsurgical options target different types of acne scars; therefore, it’s important that you’re getting a procedure that’s best suited to your acne scars.
You may feel embarrassed by your acne scars; however, this problem is more common than you may think. Fortunately, professional and at-home treatment options are available. If you’re reluctant to get treatment from a clinic, you can start with at-home treatments first before progressing on to other treatments if needed.
With treatment, acne scars can be reduced or removed. Talk to your skin care professional to determine what treatment will be best for you.
Acne scars: Who gets and causes | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Acne scars: Diagnosis and treatment | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Acne vulgaris (2021)
Does exfoliating my skin really help? | Skin Center Of South Miami
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