Although you’ve got plentiful options for treating acne, even a victory over the pesky pimples can leave scars behind. Just like the blemishes themselves, however, acne scars can be minimized. While expensive procedures such as dermabrasion, resurfacing and laser treatment cater to deep depressions in the skin and are the most effective treatments for scars, over-the-counter products and lifestyle tweaks can help you win the fight against discoloration.
Skin Care Solutions
Non-prescription scar creams and gels may help reduce the size and appearance of acne scars. In particular, self-drying silicone gel—which hydrates the skin, bolsters collagen production and protects scar tissue from bacteria—might improve the texture, color and depth of scars. While the dark spots that acne leaves behind often take about six months to lighten up on their own, products that contain glycolic or salicylic acid speed the process along. Similarly, retinoid creams encourage healing and skin brightening.
Acne Scars and Hyperpigmentation
Not all post-acne marks are the same. Depending on the severity of the acne, it can leave behind depressions and raised marks, which are harder to treat, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), which show up as flat, discolored marks on the skin. Purplish, red and pink marks may appear where acne once was in those with lighter skin, and may look like tan to dark brown marks where acne once was in those with darker skin. While these are commonly referred to as “acne scars,” they’re not technically scars and will fade over time.
Because depressed and raised acne scars are deeper in the skin, they will not go away on their own and require treatments like dermabrasion, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, light therapies and other dermatological procedures. Treating PIH early may help clear it up faster and prevent further darkening. Superficial chemical peels with alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxyl acids are common treatments for PIH since they are generally well-tolerated by the skin.
Chemical peels work by promoting exfoliation and distributing skin pigment (melanin) in the “basal layer,”—the layer of skin responsible for making pigment. Glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid peels also have all been shown to be effective in treating PIH. Day-to-day moisturizing with oil-based ingredients also promotes a healthy environment for healing, and gentle skin-brightening agents like kojic acid or soy lend skin a healthy glow that detracts from the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Fading acne scars isn’t an instantaneous process—as you incorporate scar-fading methods into your skin-care routine, avoid habits that can be counterproductive in the long term. Constantly touching the scars, overwashing or aggressively scrubbing your face can lead to more acne, irritation and inflammation. Likewise, tanning may darken scars, making them even more noticeable. Perhaps more than anything, refrain from picking at pimples to help prevent scars in the future. When acne appears, focus on getting rid of it with gentle, nonabrasive methods to prevent scars from appearing in the first place. For instance, mild benzoyl peroxide spot creams and sulfur masks offer relatively speedy treatments that dry out pimples without bursting them.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.