Mild cases of acne can be frustrating and affect your self-esteem, but chronic or cystic acne can leave lasting scars. The good news is you don’t have to live with the scars long after puberty or even regular PMS or stress-induced breakouts.
Dermatologists have many tools in their toolkit to treat acne scars. Over time, with the right plan of care, products, and treatments, you can effectively reduce their appearance.
The first step is to get your acne under control and then talk to your doctor about ways to treat acne scars. You have to get rid of new and recurring breakouts for good since new acne can lead to more scarring. It’s also necessary to distinguish between superficial acne marks, like brown and red spots, and true scarring.
Treatment for acne scars
There are safe, effective, and minimally invasive treatment options for acne scars. Some of the most popular in-office procedures include lasers, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, fillers, and surgery.
There are also many factors to consider when choosing the best option:
- Types of scars
- Location and size of scars
- Severity of scarring
- Probability that acne will come back
- General health
- Chronic skin conditions
- Previous treatments
- Cost and downtime
You’ll want to consult with your dermatologist to develop a treatment plan to ensure you’re happy with the outcome. Your dermatologist will examine your scars and may even recommend a combination of therapies for different types of scarring.
Types of acne scars and early treatment
While adolescents usually suffer the most from acne, it’s actually the most common skin condition in the United States. Acne affects 40 to 50 million people, including babies, children, and perimenopausal women. Acne scars are small depressions or indentations in the skin that result from moderate to severe acne.
And there are different types of scars, so it’s important to know what type you have so you can choose the best treatment.
- Boxcar: Wide, U-shaped scars that have sharp edges
- Ice pick: Narrow, V-shaped scars that can penetrate deep into the skin
- Rolling: Wide depressions with rounded edges and an irregular, rolling appearance
- Hypertrophic or raised scars: Common on the chest and back, they have a raised look and are caused by too much collagen during healing
Depending on the severity of your acne, you may need a combination of therapies to achieve clearer skin. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Topical creams and gel
- Oral birth control pills
- Procedure-based treatments
- Other medications
Ways to treat acne scars at home
Scarring occurs when acne goes deep into the skin and damages the tissues beneath it. There are different types of scars, and some treatments are better for particular types than others.
You should consult with your dermatologist to confirm the scarring is from acne and discuss the best method to reduce or remove acne scars. Some topical treatments may work, depending on the severity of your acne scars and your desired results.
At-home topical treatment options include:
- Alpha hydroxy acids: Exfoliates the outer layer of the skin to help remove dead skin and discoloration, prevent clogged pores, smooth rough skin, and minimize acne scars.
- Lactic acid: Improves the texture, appearance, and pigmentation of the skin and lightens acne scars.
- Retinoids: Speeds up cell regeneration, improves skin’s texture, reduces discoloration, and makes scars less noticeable.
- Salicylic acid: Clears pores, reduces swelling and redness and exfoliates the skin
- Sunscreen: Sun exposure can darken scars and cause other skin issues. Choose a sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection, an SPF of 30 or greater, and water resistance.
In-office procedures to treat acne scars
If you have more severe acne scarring, it’s best treated by a professional. You’ve hopefully already been seeing a dermatologist for your acne issues. Talk to your doctor about ways he or she can treat acne scars and remove acne scars and the best options for your skin.
Resurfacing procedures can help reduce the appearance of widespread acne scarring or treat acne scars that are nearly flat. They also can work on depressed acne scars but aren’t as effective on deep scars. Surgery is usually the best treatment for deep scars.
Chemical peels: Your doctor uses a strong acid to remove the top layer of the skin to reduce deeper scars. This works on all types of acne scars, including deeper scars.
Fillers: Just as it sounds, a filler is used to fill in acne scars and even out your skin. It’s injected under the skin to plump up and smooth out scars, especially depressed acne scars. The ingredients include collagen, your own fat, or a commercial filler. This treatment usually lasts between six and 18 months, but some fillers are permanent.
Injections: Several medications have been approved as injectables to treat raised acne scars. The injections target raised scars to help soften and flatten them. You may need a series of injections with one every few weeks.
Laser therapy: Lasers and other light treatments are a good option for raised scars. This procedure removes the top layer of skin, and you have to keep the treated area covered until it’s healed. This option works for all acne scars and has a faster healing time than other resurfacing treatments. But you must be breakout-free, and it works best on lighter skin tones.
Microdermabrasion: This treatment involves deeply exfoliating the top layer of skin. Microdermabrasion is a fast and effective way to remove damaged or dead skin cells and rejuvenate the skin. There is little downtime and minimal discomfort or redness. It’s one of the most effective treatments for facial scars that are shallow or close to the surface.
Microneedling: Your doctor will apply a small needle-studded roller or handheld “pen” over the scars. These tiny needles create small wounds. As the skin heals, it produces collagen which helps plump and smooth the skin. Microneedling can help reduce the depth and appearance of acne scars, but it can take several treatments to notice results. Works best on widespread depressed acne scars but not recommended for raised acne scars.
Skin tightening: A newer treatment that is more affordable and good for all skin colors, skin tightening uses a technology called radiofrequency. As the skin tightens, depressed acne scars become less noticeable. This option requires repeat appointments and some at-home care.
In-office surgery: In some cases, you may want to have your acne scar surgically removed. Your doctor can remove a raised scar – or one in a highly visible location – and you’ll be left with a small scar that will fade over time. A subcision involves lifting the scar to help bring it to the surface so it’s less noticeable. Surgery is an option for deep or depressed scars and raised scars. Your doctor may recommend a follow-up treatment for the best results.
Other factors to consider
Many people can live with acne scars just fine. But if yours are affecting your daily life, or make you feel self-conscious, you may be a good candidate for additional acne scar treatments.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Why do I want to get rid of my acne scars?
- Do my scars interfere with opportunities to get a job, date, or feel good about my appearance?
- Have my scars made me less social, depressed, or embarrassed? Am I afraid to bare my skin or wear tank tops or a swimsuit?
- How do I want to look after treatment? What are the results I am hoping to achieve?
- How much can I afford to spend?
- How much time do I have for treatments, recovery, and follow-up appointments?
You don’t have to live with acne scars. There are ways to treat acne scars and reduce their appearance, sometimes even permanently. Many scars fade over time. You want to get on top of your acne outbreaks, especially if you have cystic acne, and talk to a dermatologist sooner rather than later.
And remember, the best acne treatment is prevention. You’re less likely to experience scarring if you have fewer breakouts. Follow a regular skin care routine, including washing your face and using gentle products for acne-prone skin. Be mindful of your hand hygiene and keep your hands away from your face. Habits such as picking, popping or squeezing your pimples only make them worse. It can irritate the skin, spread dirt and germs, and inflame underlying tissue, which can cause scars.
APDerm offers a full line of products, along with medical, cosmetic, and surgical procedures, that can revitalize your skin and treat acne scars. Contact APDerm today if you are concerned about your acne or to schedule a consultation for cosmetic services.