Zits, spots, or pimples – regardless of what we call them, the nature of acne is anything but superficial and temporary. While most acne sufferers go through adolescence with little to no consequences, a smaller part of the population has to deal with permanent pimple scars.
Like a delinquent teenager, acne loves carving its “acne was here” signature on people’s faces. But is there really nothing to be done against this bully?
You'll be happy to know there is! While some deep scars will never fully heal, most acne scars aren’t too serious to get rid of. Here's how.
Bouts of pimples rarely leave any temporary or permanent scars. But when acne inflammation intensifies, it can also damage the deeper layers of the skin. This is how acne scars occur.
Not all acne is created equal, and not all skin types are equally prone to it. Some types of acne, most notably the cystic kind, are especially prone to leave scarring. These marks may sometimes last for months and years.
Depending on the type of acne you’ve dealt with and the nature of the skin damage it's caused, scientists differentiate between several types of scarring: atrophic scarring, hypertrophic scarring, and discoloration. Treatment for acne scars will depend on the type of acne scarring you have.
As the most common type of pimple scarring, atrophic scars are easily noticeable since they appear as hollowed-out surfaces on the skin. Atrophic scars can take various shapes, such as shallow, round indentations on the skin surface, or even sometimes resemble sharp V-shaped or U-shaped cuts. Since atrophic scars are holes in the skin where healthy tissue was once present, they’re one of the most difficult scars to heal.
Opposite in nature to atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars are made of tissue buildup over the affected area. They resemble raised, protruding skin features. If we can think of atrophic scars as valleys or lakes in the skin, hypertrophic scars would be small hills or ridges. These raised scars are built from all the excess collagen during the acne inflammation. While hypertrophic scars are less common, they are still very challenging to repair.
While technically not scarring, skin discoloration due to inflammation and acne lesions is also considered a permanent skin alteration. Discoloration has to do with the changing of skin pigment and is often glaringly obvious to the eye. Dermatologists distinguish between three different types of skin discoloration:
Being a more superficial change to the skin, discoloration, and skin tone is usually easier to treat than actual scars, and they can often fade away on their own after several weeks or months.
It goes without saying that a single person can suffer from any combination of the scars described above – or even have all of them at once. If you're unsure which type of acne scars you have, check in the mirror under different light – certain types of light, such as fluorescent, sunlight, or incandescent, make different skin features more easily visible. It also always pays off to visit the dermatologist and receive a correct diagnosis.
There are many ways to treat acne scars. The treatment of pimple and acne scars can be divided into three groups: prevention, medical treatments, and home remedies.
As the saying goes, ‘It's better safe than sorry.’ But sometimes, it’s too late to do something about a situation. This is especially true for acne inflammation since it can flare up unexpectedly and quickly escalate to more serious acne types in the blink of an eye. If you want to prevent acne scars, stick to a good skincare routine to keep your face clean and clear of all the bacteria and cells that can clog pores and cause acne. We recommend the Complete Clear 3-Step System. At the very least, try a salicylic acid cleanser.
But what do you do once an acne inflammation has caught you off-guard? Well, whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel. Managing acne is a lot about preventing future acne scars. And while visiting the dermatologist is a must at that point, here are some general guidelines to follow.
While it’s very tempting, most people don’t take all the necessary precautions to keep their skin properly sanitized, so popping pimples often spurs further inflammation. Popping your zits also damages your skin, which increases the likelihood of inflicting damage to the skin and causing deep acne scars.
Since harmful UV rays interfere with the skin, they also aid in creating different types of acne scars. Besides intensifying pigmentation and permanent discoloration, UV rays can make atrophic and hypertrophic scars appear more pronounced. All of this amounts to premature signs of aging, robbing you of your young looks.
Modern medical science makes continuous advances in acne medications, aesthetics, and corrective surgery. Fear not - most of the treatments for acne scar removal are far from dangerous or invasive. They can feel slightly uncomfortable at most, but the payoff is much greater.
Here’s a brief list of some of the most effective medical treatments for removing acne scars.
As the name suggests, this medical procedure involves filling up atrophic scars with collagen, which smoothes the skin's surface.
Medical lasers come in various configurations and types and are used for different purposes. Hypertrophic scars are also very treatable by laser; a procedure known as laser resurfacing is very effective in smoothing out elevated tissues of the skin.
Some medical laser resurfacing procedures treat discoloration scarring, where the emitted light modifies the pigment under the skin. Other laser resurfacing methods smooth skin by stimulating collagen production, making shallow atrophic scars less pronounced.
Chemical peels use alpha hydroxy acids to remove the skin's surface layers (depending on the scar tissue). This gentle method of “chipping away” the outermost layer of skin cells enables the adjustment of the ‘height’ levels of relative areas of the skin, smoothing your complexion. A dermatologist can help you find the right chemical peel for you.
The dermaroller is one of the latest technologies for skin rejuvenation and scar removal. It has shown promising results in treating stretch marks and scars. Moreover, dermarollers are widely available, easily affordable, and come in different shapes and sizes.
Dermarollers apply a technique similar to acupuncture called micro-needling which stimulates collagen production. By making hundreds of tiny but harmless little holes in your skin, the dermaroller prods your body to produce collagen to heal the wounds. This has a relaxing, rejuvenating effect on the skin, which enables smoothening.
However, while high-tech medical treatments are effective, they can also be pricey and exceed your budget. Luckily, there are also other, more affordable options on the table.
More and more people report positive results from using DIY clay masks, spot treatments, and home remedies. While the main advantage of these home remedies is their affordability, the health benefits, especially when it comes to smoothening out wrinkles, shouldn’t be discounted either. Many oils, foods, and ingredients that are popular in home remedy formulas possess strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Of course, as with any treatment for acne scars or acne, patience and persistence are key. Don’t expect miracles in a few days; some of these remedies will need weeks or months to show results - especially for deeper scars. Sticking to a routine is your best bet.
Oils are… oily, right? So they have no place being used in the treatment of acne or acne scars, right?
Well, that’s where you’re wrong. There's a misconception that oils should only be used on dry skin, but that idea has long since been discounted. Oils complement our own skin’s healthy function. They are especially useful in normalizing the skin’s natural oil – the sebum. So yes, you can use them on oily skin.
Sebum is one of the main contributors to acne inflammation. So, it’s wise to keep our skin well-hydrated, oily, and elastic instead of starving it of those qualities. Depriving it of moisture and nurture, our skin may try to overcompensate by producing massive production of sebum and clogged pores. And those, as you might know, are the breeding grounds for acne inflammation.
So, which oils are well-suited for removing blemishes and smoothening acne scars?
Argan oil is one of the newcomers on the stage of skincare, but it’s so popular because it really is a game-changer. It’s rich in water, making it a powerful, natural moisturizer. But it also contains a huge amount of naturally occurring vitamin E. Argan oil has been reported to be especially effective in removing red marks from ‘ghosts of pimples past.’ So head out to the store and give it a try.
Perhaps one of the most popular ingredients in natural remedies, the reputation of tea tree oil is definitely well deserved. Due to its powerful anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, tea tree oil has been used in healing balms throughout history, usually for treating various wounds and scars.
If used in the last stages of acne inflammation, research has shown that tea tree oil minimizes the risk of hypertrophic, raised scars.
While there is no hard scientific evidence that rosehip oil can help remove scars or smoothen skin, people who have used it report positive results backed with visible evidence. Check out our in-depth article on rosehip oil to learn more about its benefits.
Other oils that have beneficial skin effects are the following:
Besides oils, other methods and ingredients are beneficial in improving acne scars and smoothening the surrounding skin.
Honey is a well-known antiseptic and finds broad use in treating acne. Archaeologists still stumble upon the occasional ancient Egyptian jar of honey, typically filled with ingredients perfectly preserved for thousands of years.
Honey is a quick wound healer and can almost certainly prevent acne scarring if applied at the right moment.
This precious, meaty cactus has built its well-deserved reputation as one of the most potent ingredients for treating burns. While it's best to apply aloe vera before acne scars form and the skin heals, some report that the wonder cactus may smoothen skin regardless.
All in all, aloe vera is one of the staples of the skincare industry, and it is intensely beneficial for acne.
At the risk of sounding cliche, you are what you eat.
A good night’s sleep and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (vitamins and enzymes) can do wonders for the body and the soul. But your skin will thank you, too, since all those vitamins, enzymes, and essential amino acids will help it keep itself healthy and clean.
Exercise helps too, but if you decide to hit the gym, keep everything clean, especially when touching your face.
A fancy word for removing dead skin cells, exfoliation makes room for healthy skin cells to grow, which can sometimes hasten skin smoothing. However, depending on the ingredient, exfoliation isn’t the gentlest thing you can do to your skin, so be careful not to inflame it further.
Always ensure your skin has healed and the acne is gone before you exfoliate acne scars. Some people use coffee, lemon, or even strawberries, while others use skin care products. Whichever means you choose, be gentle and don't overdo it.
Acne comes and goes, but some scars are here to stay. From chemical peels to fillers, modern medicine offers several treatments that have proven successful to remove acne scars.
Treating acne scars can be a long, arduous, and often discouraging process. It inspires sharp, sometimes harsh self-reflection, leading to shaken self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression.
But time is your ally. Sooner or later, almost every treatment and routine produces an effect, as thousands of people can prove. The combined wisdom and support from others who have walked this path can only benefit you, and dermatologists can guide you through the appropriate treatment plan that combines the right methods for you.