Most of us know how frustrating acne can be.
But what’s even worse is the scars that they leave behind.
The annoying part is these scars can take months to fade.
Some may even be permanent.
Fortunately, there are several ways to make these scars less noticeable.
In this article, we go through various approaches you can use to get rid of acne scars.
We also help you understand how to better deal with them by telling you what they are, what causes them, the types, and how to prevent them.
What are acne scars?
Acne scars are the marks that are formed after acne has resolved. Acne is a condition that occurs when the pores on your skin become clogged with oil or dead skin cells.
There are different types. Blackheads and whiteheads are the most common, and they usually heal smoothly without any evidence of scarring.
However, there are other forms of acne that typically lead to scarring. These include:
- Pustules: These are pus-filled lesions that have a reddish base with a tip that is usually yellow or white.
- Papules: These are tiny bumps that can be red or pink.
- Nodules: These are solid lesions that are larger than pustules and papules, and they hurt more when touched because they extend deeper into the skin.
- Cysts: They are the most likely to scar as they sit deep within the skin. They hurt when touched and are full of pus.
Treatment plans and recommendations for acne scars are made based on the type of damage to your skin, and this depends on the type of acne you had.
What causes acne scars?
Acne scars develop when the body tries to repair the damage caused by acne. In the case where acne penetrates deep into the skin, it causes damage to the skin and the tissue below it. Once the acne resolves, your body tries to repair this damage.
Your body produces a substance called collagen to patch up the damaged area. Collagen is a protein that provides strength and support to the skin.
If too little or too much collagen is produced, a scar will develop. The type of scar depends on the amount of collagen produced.
You might be wondering, Why is it that some people get acne but don’t develop acne scars while others do? We don’t yet know the complete answer to this question.
What we do know is that certain risk factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing acne scars.
Some of these risk factors include:
- Having a first-degree relative with acne scars.
- Having inflammatory acne. This type of acne includes nodules and cysts and tends to penetrate deep into the skin, thereby damaging it.
- Delays in treating or failure to treat inflammatory acne. The risk of scarring increases the longer a person has inflammatory acne.
- Popping, picking, or squeezing acne. Doing this increases the risk of inflammation which further increases the risk of scarring.
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What are the types of acne scars?
It is important to know what type of scars you have before you start treatment because some treatment methods are better for particular types of acne scars than others.
There are three main types of acne scars:
1) Depressed or atrophic scars
These occur when the body doesn’t produce enough collagen during the healing process resulting in a scar that stays below the level of the surrounding skin.
There are three main subtypes:
- Boxcar scars: These are U-shaped scars that have clear edges. They form indentations and can be shallow or go deep into the skin. The deeper they are, the harder they are to treat. They are common on the jaw and lower cheeks.
- Rolling scars: They are also found on the jaw and lower cheeks but, unlike boxcar scars, they don’t have clear edges. Instead, they have sloping edges that can make the skin look uneven and wavy.
- Ice pick scars: This type of scar resembles an ice pick as its base is wide, and the scar gets narrower as it gets deeper into the skin, forming an indentation that looks like the letter “V.” Because they go deep into the skin, ice pick scars are the most difficult to treat. They commonly occur on the upper cheeks and forehead.
2) Raised or hypertrophic scars
Unlike atrophic scars, which cause indentations in the skin, these scars rise off the skin. They occur when there’s too much collagen production during the healing process. They are usually found on the jawline, the back, shoulder, and chest.
These are similar to hypertrophic scars, but they are thicker and more raised. They are also usually hyperpigmented, which makes them darker than the skin around them.
Can you get rid of acne scars?
Acne scars can be frustrating to deal with. They can take weeks to months to fade, and the majority of them are permanent.
Since most acne scars are permanent, reducing their appearance is usually the main goal of treatment.
With this in mind, it is best to prevent acne scars from developing in the first place. We give you some tips on how to do that later.
For now, let’s talk about how to make any already existing scars less noticeable.
How to get rid of acne scars
It is important to know that you need to be acne free before you start treatment for acne scars.
This is because treatments and medications for acne can interfere with those used for acne scars.
Below we discuss various treatment options available to get rid of acne scars:
Medical treatment for acne scars
Before you begin treatment for acne scars, you should be seen by a certified dermatologist.
They will be able to determine whether what you have is actually acne scarring – and not some other skin condition.
If you do have acne scarring, they will determine the types of scars you have.
You are likely to have a combination of different types of acne scars. It is rare to find someone with just one type.
And so, you may need a combination of treatment methods. You may also need to repeat treatment methods more than once to get the desired effect.
Here are some of the treatment options available based on the type of scar:
Treatment for depressed acne scars
The best results are often achieved by using two or more of the following methods:
These are best for treating depressed acne scars that are not very deep. These procedures involve removing layers of skin, which allows the body to create new skin cells.
Resurfacing procedures include:
- Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion: A special tool is used to create friction against the scar tissue and remove the top layers of the skin.
- Chemical peeling: Involves the use of chemicals to remove the topmost layers of skin.
- Laser skin resurfacing: Involves the use of heat to remove the uppermost layer of skin.
This is a newer and more affordable approach that is safe for all skin types. The technology used to tighten the skin is called radiofrequency, and it requires repeat appointments.
This procedure is good for depressed acne scars. In some cases, skin tightening can effectively treat deep boxcar and even ice-pick scars.
Collagen induction therapy
As the name implies, this treatment method stimulates the body to produce more collagen.
It involves pricking the skin several times to stimulate collagen production, which is why it is often called micro-needling. Most patients require about three to six sessions.
This is not an effective treatment for acne scars when used alone. It is often part of a treatment plan for boxcar scars as it helps to shape or reduce the edges of the scars and make the skin appear flatter.
It uses an electric probe to heat the skin, which results in the death of the tissues that create edges around the scar.
There are several minor surgical procedures that can be used to reduce the appearance of very noticeable scars.
The surgeon may lift the scar to eliminate indentations and make the scar less noticeable. They may also completely take out the scar to allow new collagen formation.
Another type of procedure called subcision, involves using a needle to break apart fibrous bands that cause indentations by pulling down scar tissue.
Subcision helps release the scarred skin so that it can return to the surface and be at the same level as the surrounding skin.
Treatment for raised acne scars
Some options that dermatologists use to treat raised acne scars include:
- Injections: This involves injecting medications directly into raised and thick scars to help soften and flatten them. The injections are administered once every few weeks, and how often you get them depends on the nature of the scar and certain other factors. Injectable substances include corticosteroids, chemotherapy agents like fluorouracil, and interferon. Surgery maybe be recommended if your scars don’t respond to the injections.
- Cryosurgery: This treatment involves freezing the scar tissue, which causes it to die and slowly fall off. It is often combined with corticosteroid injections for better results. It can, however, cause permanent light spots on the skin. It is, therefore, not recommended for individuals with dark skin tones.
- Laser therapy: Heat is delivered directly to the scarred tissue to basically burns and flatten the raised scars. There are two different types of laser therapy, and your dermatologist would determine which is best for you based on factors such as your skin type.
Home remedies to get rid of acne scars
There are several methods you can try in the comfort of your home to get rid of acne scars. These include over-the-counter products and some natural products.
Over-the-counter skin products
Various skin care products contain active ingredients that may help reduce the appearance of acne scars. Some of the most effective active ingredients to look out for include:
- Retinoids: According to a 2017 review, retinoids can help speed up cell regeneration and improve the appearance of hyperpigmented scars. Retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, however. This can darken existing scars. So, be sure to always wear sunscreen when using products with retinoids.
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): Like retinoids, AHAs can help increase the rate of cell regeneration. They are mild acids that help remove the uppermost layers of skin, which can reduce the appearance of scars.
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is one of the most effective and widely-used acne treatments. It fights signs of inflammation like redness and swelling, which can help prevent the formation of acne scars. It also has exfoliating properties that can make scars less noticeable over time.
There are some natural products you can try that may help clear your acne scars. It is important to note that there is currently not much research proving the effectiveness of these methods for acne scarring specifically. Also, some may cause further irritation, so use them with caution.
- Black seed oil: Some studies have found that black seed oil can speed up and improve wound healing. It can also combat hyperpigmentation.
- Lemon juice: This fruit is rich in natural acids that can help remove the topmost layer of skin and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmented scars. Note that lemon juice can be harsh, especially for those with sensitive skin. So try mixing it with other products and test it on a small patch of skin first.
- Rosehip oil: This oil is widely used for various skincare concerns, particularly for signs of aging. One study showed that it helped reduce the appearance of postsurgical scars.
- Aloe vera: This popular spiky plant has loads of benefits for the skin. One study found that putting aloe vera on wounds helped to reduce inflammation and the size of scar tissue.
How to prevent acne scars
While it may not be possible to completely prevent acne scars from developing, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk:
- Have a solid skincare routine: Sticking to a healthy skin care routine will reduce your number of breakouts and subsequent acne scars.
- Treat as soon as possible: If you get acne, treat it as soon as you can. The longer you leave it untreated, the higher the damage and risk of scar formation.
- Leave your pimples alone: Picking on and squeezing pimples can cause further damage and inflammation, which will worsen the scar that develops.
- Wear sunscreen: Sun rays can darken acne scars and make them more noticeable. Wearing sunscreen helps to prevent further damage and hyperpigmentation.
Acne scars are extremely common and can be very frustrating to deal with. The majority of them are permanent, but there are various treatment methods that can make them less noticeable.
It is best to see a dermatologist who will assess you and determine the best regimen based on factors like your skin type and the type of acne scar you have.
Since most scars are permanent, it is best to prevent them from developing in the first place.
You’re less likely to develop acne scars if you stick to a healthy skin care routine, treat acne as soon as you notice them, and avoid squeezing your pimples.