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Everything you need to know about acne scars

Dealing with acne can be frustrating, but dealing with acne scars? That can be downright infuriating. Just when you think you’ve kicked your zits to the curb, their scars pop up to haunt you. But what are you supposed to do?

Have no fear, we’re here to help! We’ve gathered advice from top experts to understand where acne scars come from and – most importantly – how to get rid of them.

The different types of acne scars and how to get rid of them
What are acne scars?

Acne scars are the result of inflamed acne blemishes. When an acne lesion swells, the pore begins to break down and the skin tries to repair itself, resulting in scarring.

There are two major types of acne scars, atrophic scars and hypertrophic scars.

Atrophic scars are flat, shallow indentations that heal below the top layer of skin. These are typically a result of severe cystic acne. There are three main types of atrophic scars: 

  • Boxcar scars are box-like depressions that are more defined than other types of scarring.
  • Ice pick scars are narrow, deep indentations that can appear almost as if they are extra large pores.
  • Rolling scars have varying depressions, causing the skin to look wavy and uneven. 

      These scars are usually found on your face and neck, and are the most common when dealing with facial acne.

      Hypertrophic scars are raised lumps of built up scar tissue that appear on top of the skin. A keloid scar is a type of hypertrophic scar that also expands the skin around the scar itself.

      These scars are more common on your chest and back.

      Essentially, atrophic scars are caused by a lack of tissue, while hypertrophic scars are caused by a buildup of tissue.

      Are dark spots acne scars?

      Technically speaking, no. These spots are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. They aren’t acne scars, as they’re not related to an excess or loss of skin tissue. But they are a result of acne, and they can be annoying. The good news about dark spots is, unlike scars, they usually go away on their own or can be treated simply with topical products. But that’s a post for another time – today, we’re talking scars.

      Can you do anything about acne scars?

      Ok, now that we know what we’re dealing with, what can we do about scars?

      Well, good news! There are a few things you can do at home to help.

      First things first, you need to get rid of any existing acne. You cannot treat acne scarring while you are actively having a breakout. Using a gentle daily cleanser that is formulated to help those prone to acne is a great first step. If you have a few stubborn pimples, you can target them with topical treatments or patches. 

      It’s also important to keep your skin moisturized. Experts stress that you need to wear a moisturizer with SPF to discourage any further discoloration.

      How long do acne scars last?

      If your acne isn’t too severe, scars will usually last between three and six months. For fairly manageable scars, a  good skincare routine (like the one above!) should be enough to help your skin recover from the acne and scarring.

      But, if your scarring doesn’t go away or is more extreme (or if it’s noticeable and bothering you), there are a few things you can do above and beyond your regular routine.

      What is the best treatment for acne scars?

      While there’s no quick fix for acne scarring (how we wish there was!), there are some at home treatments that are worth a shot if your scarring isn’t too severe. 

      Over the counter chemical peels have been shown to improve scarring and hyperpigmentation by promoting skin cell turnover.

      When looking for at-home chemical peels, look for ones that contain ingredients like:

      • Alpha-hydroxy acids (like lactic acid, citric acid, or glycolic acid)
      • Salicylic acid
      • Retinoids
      • Azelaic acid

        These ingredients promote collagen and blood flow while exfoliating the skin. In the process, they can help decrease discoloration, reduce the appearance of lines, brighten your complexion, and reduce inflammation. And that’s exactly what we want!

        How do dermatologists get rid of acne scars?

        When over the counter treatments just aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to visit the dermatologist. There are a number of in-office treatments that can help with acne scars that are just too difficult to manage yourself. 

        Again, you must wait until your acne has healed to try any of these procedures. But, once you’re clear, your dermatologist may recommend one of the following:

        1. Resurfacing. This is the process of removing top layers of skin, which can reduce the appearance of acne scars. Resurfacing includes laser therapy, dermabrasion, and chemical peels. This works best on atrophic and hypertrophic scarring that isn’t too deep.
        2. Microneedling (Collagen Induction Therapy). This involves pressing a needle-studded roller into the depressed (atrophic) acne scars, which stimulates the production of collagen. Microneedling is most effective if you have a large area of depressed scarring. 
        3. Fillers. If you have shallow atrophic scars, fillers might be a good option for you. The dermatologist will actually fill in the scar indentation with collagen, hyaluronic acid, or even your own fat. Depending on how severe the scarring is and what substance is used, fillers may only last a few months.
        4. Injections. If you are suffering from severe hypertrophic acne scarring, your dermatologist may choose to inject you with corticosteroids. The steroids work to break the bonds between the collagen fibers and reduce the amount of scar tissue.
        5. Radiofrequency skin tightening. If you have ice pick scars or deep boxcar scars, the doctor may use a radio frequency which heats the skin and stimulates collagen production.
        6. Electrodessication. This treatment involves using a high voltage current on the skin to dry out unwanted cells and even out the edges of a scar. This works well for boxcar acne scars specifically.
        7. Surgery. There are a few different types of surgery a dermatologist may perform. Punch excision (cutting out individual acne scars and repairing the wounds with stitches or a skin graft), subcision (inserting needles beneath a scar to loosen fibers and depress any raised areas of a hypertrophic scar), and cryosurgery (freezing off raised scars) are a few of the options.

          Some of these procedures may sound a little extreme, but for those who want to get rid of their acne scars for good, these are great options.

          And that’s everything you need to know about acne scarring 

          There you have it! Those are the different types of scarring and the options that are available to you to start healing your acne scars, if you’re so inclined.

          Regardless of what you decide, nothing can replace a good skincare routine and healthy skin habits. If you’re looking to fight acne before it rears its ugly head, think about adding a targeted supplement to your routine – or starting a personalized skincare routine built to give you clear, healthy skin from the inside out.


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