Let’s talk about acne scars. Let’s say you’ve followed your routine, you’ve used all of the right products for your skin’s needs, and now you are no longer breaking out – you’re clear. But you’ve got some scarring leftover. How do you go about treating it?
How do acne scars form?
First I’d like to distinguish between textural scars (usually small divots in the skin) and post-inflammatory discoloration (redness or darkness).
Post-inflammatory discoloration comes in two main varieties: post-inflammatory erythema (or PIE) and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Both of these discolorations occur due to inflammation, like a breakout. PIE is redness left behind, and PIH is darkness or purpleness. PIE typically goes away on its own with time, whereas PIH can take some work to get rid of.
Scarring is an actual change in the texture of the skin. It can be lighter, darker, or the same color as surrounding skin. Scarring can soften with time, but typically needs more proactive care to minimize effectively.
Step One: Don’t get scarring in the first place!
PIE, PIH, and scarring are all worsened by the same factors. They are not always completely preventable, but a couple of small changes will make a huge impact in preventing and minimizing scarring.
UV exposure (sun exposure and tanning beds) is seriously damaging to skin cells. I know we all look better with a tan, but listen, it’s not worth it! PIE, PIH and scars are all worsened by UV exposure.
Here’s the good news – we have accessible technology to avoid UV exposure!
- Apply SPF daily (minimum of SPF 28, ideally higher)
- If you’re spending time in the sun, reapply SPF every 2 hours
- Wear protective clothing like hats and shirts that cover your décolletage
- Chill in the shade and out of the sun
- Avoid tanning beds!
Picking, squeezing, popping
I know you’ve heard this a thousand times, but picking at breakouts really does only make them worse. In short, picking, squeezing, and popping breakouts drives the comedone deeper into the pore, which can rupture the pore lining. The roughness of picking at breakouts creates additional inflammation which your skin then needs to heal.
Leave extractions to the professionals, and while at home, ice your breakouts! Simply run an ice cube over clean skin for up to a minute or so to reduce inflammation so your skin can focus on healing other things.
Okay, now that I’ve said my piece about prevention, let’s talk about treatment.
The most important aspect of treating acne scarring is to first do no harm. So stick to your skin care to prevent further breakouts, and follow the preventative measures I mentioned above.
Exfoliating serums with hydroxy acids help minimize scarring by encouraging cell turnover – allowing the old, damaged cells to slough away, and fresh, new cells to thrive. The new cells will not have the redness or darkness form PIE and PIH.
Exfoliating serums with Vitamin A derivatives like retinols/retinoids help plump up the youngest cells deep under the skin’s surface. This can be one of the most effective topical products to treat textural scarring.
Home care is the most important aspect to achieving results in your skin because you’re applying your home care twice a day, every day. Professional treatments might be happening one-to-two times a month at most. So even if you pursue professional treatments, follow your skin care professional’s instructions for your home care!
Chemical peels help with scarring by offering professional-grade exfoliation with hydroxy acids stronger than what you can use at home. These peels help to boost or even reset the skin to program new cells to behave optimally, evening out skin tone and texture.
Microneedling is a service that uses a device with dozens of very tiny needles (up to 1mm deep outside of a medical office) which create precise channels in the surface of the skin. I know this sounds painful! But the skin is numbed prior to the service, minimizing discomfort. The channels the microneedles create lead to a healing cascade – or the body sending lots of healing resources to the area to heal the skin. The healing cascade leads to the skin producing more collagen and healthy skin cells, evening out surface scarring. This is my most recommended professional treatment for ice pick acne scars.
A word of caution – do not buy an at home “microneedling” device or roller and use it on yourself. These often cause more damage, and this damage can even be irreparable.
There are certain types of laser treatments you can receive through a dermatologist or medical spa. Most laser treatments are targeted towards evening skin tone and texture and can be extremely effective. They also can have the longest downtime, and come in at the most expensive service of the three I’ve listed, so make sure to do your research before committing to laser treatments.
Wear your SPF
I’m serious – if you want to achieve your skin goals and maintain healthy skin, you have to wear your SPF! Just a parting note for you!