Will My Acne Scars Ever Go The F*** Away?
Didn’t Listen To Your Mama?
If you’re past the prevention stage and dealing with already-existing acne scars, you have options depending on the results you want and how much money you’re willing to spend. Hyperpigmentation caused by acne is easier to treat at home, but actual hypertrophic of atrophic acne scars (the “ice pick” scars) are a little less straightforward and generally require professional help.
Try These At Home
Topical Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C can help block abnormal pigment production and brighten existing dark spots. An industry darling for many reasons, this powerful antioxidant can help decrease melanin production (thus, lessening hyperpigmentation) and increase collagen synthesis. In a serum, it’s a great way to layer under your sunscreen and build healthy collagen to promote healing. (8)
Available over-the-counter or in prescriptive higher doses, retinol can help with both hyperpigmentation and scarring. Over time, topical retinoids increase cell turnover which helps fade acne marks and can help visibly smooth the appearance of acne scars. It’s definitely not for everyone, though, especially if you have sensitive skin. And since retinol makes your skin even more sensitive to the sun, you’ll need more than sunscreen after you use it...hope you like hats! (9)
These are your best bet when treating acne scars at home. Regular chemical exfoliation helps fade scars and marks left behind by acne by encouraging skin cell regeneration, but only after your skin has completely healed and cleared up. Under no circumstances should you exfoliate an active breakout or open, inflamed pimple. Never, ever, EVER use products that are going to hurt, irritate or dry out your skin while it’s dealing with a breakout. All that does is make it hard for your skin to heal.
Back to hydroxy acids… (which we’re obsessed with)
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid or lactic acid help soften, loosen and dislodge dead skin cells, which promotes cell turnover. The process of new skin cells forming in turns helps even out your skin tone and smoothes skin texture, making acne marks and scars less noticeable over time.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and recognized as one of the best treatments for acne scars. It’s a heavier-duty exfoliant than AHAs, which work mostly on the surface of the skin, and penetrates deeper to more thoroughly remove dead skin cells. But it can irritate dry or sensitive skin with overuse, so treat it as a spot treatment not a daily, allover step in your skincare routine. (10, 11)
Yes - Kojic acid is technically an AHA acid (above). But this one has such strong skin lightening properties that it deserves its own shout out. Kojic acid is a byproduct of Japanese rice wine — specifically fungus during the fermentation process. And although it’s still more popular in its native Japan, kojic acid has earned its place in the AHA ranks for melanin-decreasing magic. It’s a great lightening treatment for those looking to fade spots or hyperpigmentation, but it can lead to sensitivity so proceed with caution.
Niacinamide - also known as Vitamin B3 - Niacinamide is a standout ingredient because of its versatility for treating almost any skin care concern and skin mood. Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin that works with the natural substances in your skin to help visibly improve the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles, & dullness. It’s basically the supermom equivalent of skincare.
Be on the lookout for this one...it’s a prescription-strength lightener available over the counter in lower, but still powerful percentages. It works, especially for hyperpigmentation, by inhibiting melanin. But it’s pretty dang toxic in higher concentrations and has been linked to increased photosensitivity, allergic reactions and carcinogenic properties. We’re not sold on slathering any level of hydroquinone on our skin. (12)
Rosehip oil can work wonders when it comes to calming, soothing and repairing damaged skin, so much so, it's been used to increase healing time following the treatment of burns. It’s not going to get rid of acne marks or scars, but it can help fade them over time. Try adding a few drops to your moisturizer at night.
Don’t Try These at Home
The reality is some acne scars are just too severe for at-home treatments to get rid of completely and may require professional help to see improvement. In-office treatments can be more effective than at-home topicals or exfoliation, but they’re also $$$. But if your heart (and wallet) are into it, ask your dermatologist about the risks and potential results of microdermabrasion, lasers, fillers, needling or even punch techniques.
This facial resurfacing technique sands away the outer layer of the skin’s surface to rev up its natural exfoliation and regeneration process, which accelerates the visible diminishing of scars and hyperpigmentation.
Certain scars can be filled with a substance like hyaluronic acid injectables that elevate depressed areas for a more even texture. Some are more-or-less permanent, others can be applied and removed like makeup.
Just like it sounds, this technique uses tiny needles to puncture the skin’s surface, stimulating a healing response and, hopefully, an uptick in collagen production. Ouch. But these don’t offer the same control or precisions as lasers...which don’t sound any less extreme, but do get better kudos from dermatologists?
Similar to needling, lasers pierce tiny holes in the skin’s surface to stimulate healing. Best to stop use of topical treatments like chemical acids or retinoids if you’re going to to the laser route.
Usually reserved for very deep scars, like ice pick scars, this involves using a tool to, indeed, punch the scar, cut it out and sew it back up. Since this is adding injury to injury, it might not be the best option for skin tones prone to hyperpigmentation. (13, 14)
Great. What Else?
Just be patient. It sucks, but time is still the best healer. Even if it doesn’t erase all your scars, acne or otherwise, time is the process of getting used to our scars and learning to love them for the uniqueness they give us. Alright, that’s enough feel-good positive thinking for one day.