When you're battling chronic acne, your first concern may be to banish those unsightly blemishes that are detracting from your appearance and having a negative impact on your self-esteem. Once you succeed in clearing up your complexion, you may be disheartened to see that traces of your acne breakouts linger on your face in the form of acne marks.
Approximately 95 percent of all people with chronic acne experience some degree of acne marking after their blemishes are healed. For those with fair skin, acne marks may range in color from pink to purple and may occur in only a small area or be widespread across the face. Darker skinned individuals may notice brown or even black spots in the areas where acne was once prominent on their complexions.
Acne marks stem from a phenomenon called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH. Breakouts of acne are caused by infections located within the pores. Your immune system's natural response to the presence of bacterial infections is to increase blood flow to the affected area, which results in the inflammation that is common with acne. Inflammation is necessary to fight off the infection and is triggered by the release of specialized chemical messengers in your body that activate immune system cells. Inflammation persists until the acne infection is cleared up, meaning that these chemicals continue to work in your skin until your last blemish is healed.
In addition to activating immune system cells, the chemical messengers that prompt inflammation also stimulate the melanocytes, the cells that produce the melanin that contributes to skin coloration. When inflammation occurs for only a short period of time, the melanocytes typically do not produce enough melanin to make a noticeable difference on your complexion; however, when you suffer from acne for an extended period of time, the continual release of melanin allows the pigment to build up in the affected area. As a result, the area becomes concentrated with the pigment and appears discolored or marked.
PIH or acne marks generally decrease over time. Your skin is constantly being shed and renewed through the natural skin cell turnover process, and eventually, the discolored areas are completely removed from your complexion. Since your body is no longer transmitting the chemical signals that prompt inflammation and also stimulate melanin production, your new skin does not have the over-concentration of pigment and returns to its normal shade.
Unfortunately, the skin cell turnover process is gradual and can take a year or more to completely eliminate acne marks. The darker the acne marks, the longer the process will take to resolve discoloration. There are, however, ways that you can hasten the fading process through treatments.
Minor cases of acne marks may be treatable on your own through the use of home remedies. The most common home remedy for acne marks involves the use of lemon juice, which is rich in vitamin C, a skin-brightening agent. The citric acid contained in lemon juice also helps exfoliate the skin by dissolving the weak bonds between dead and healthy skin cells. This speeds up the skin cell turnover process.
Always opt for the juice of natural lemons, rather than bottled varieties found in the store, which can contain skin-irritating preservatives. To get the most juice from a lemon, you can microwave it for 15 seconds on a medium temperature before slicing it and squeezing or juicing. The first time you apply lemon juice to your acne marks, dilute the solution with an equal part water to prevent the possibility of irritation. Apply the solution with a cotton swab or cotton ball twice per day. If you do not experience stinging or redness, you can gradually decrease the amount of water that you added to increase the potency of the home remedy. If you rely solely on lemon juice, you can expect to continue the treatment for several months to over a year to completely eradicate acne marks.
For severe cases of acne marks, you may enlist the help of your doctor. Studies have found that treatment with the prescription medication adapalene can be effective for removing signs of PIH in acne sufferers. Adapalene is a member of the retinoid family of drugs, which are derived from vitamin A. Retinoids provide a major boost to the skin cell turnover process, helping your body to shed discolored skin cells more quickly. Other retinoid drugs, like tretinoin, may also be helpful for treating acne marks. Redness and skin peeling are possible side effects of retinoid medications. Results may take three to six months to become apparent.
Chemical peels performed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons are another possible clinical treatment for severe acne marks. Performed in an office setting, a chemical peel involves having a thin layer of chemicals, typically glycolic acid, applied to your skin in trouble zones. The acid helps to remove the affected, discolored tissue and then is wiped away, removing some of the discolored skin. Typically, chemical peels require more than one treatment, spaced four to six weeks apart. Irritation, redness and swelling are common side effects of the procedure.
Over-the-counter treatments for acne marks allow you to enjoy faster results than home remedies without the high risk for side effects found with some clinical treatments. Today's skin care product lineups offer a host of options to deal with acne marks. Formulations are available with a variety of different active ingredients, allowing you to experiment as necessary to find the one that works best for you.
Found in a number of skin care treatment products, azelaic acid is a white powder that is sourced from grains like wheat and rye. When placed on your skin, azelaic acid interacts with the melanocytes, causing them to decrease their output of melanin. This has a direct effect on how much pigment is being released into the area of your acne marks and makes them fade much faster. Azelaic acid is often the preferred treatment for acne marks for people with dark skin.
Produced by certain types of fungi, kojic acid works similarly to azelaic acid by decreasing the amount of pigment produced by your body. Skin care treatment products often contain kojic acid as their active ingredient, and you can enhance the effects of these products by incorporating other items into your skin care regimen that contain the ingredient. Exfoliators with kojic acid provide extra benefits by speeding up the skin cell turnover process, while moisturizers that contain the acid help soothe irritation and keep moisture levels in the skin tissue balanced, which is crucial for healing.
The roots of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant provide the fragrant oil licorice extract. In addition to being used for flavoring, licorice is a powerful ingredient for skin care and helps to treat a variety of common problems. For acne marks, licorice is similar to kojic and azelaic acids, working by slowing the release of melanin into your skin. In addition to being used in treatments, cleansers, moisturizers and toners, licorice extract is also found in a small number of skin concealers, allowing them to disguise your acne marks while helping to heal them.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Obtained from fruits, alpha hydroxy acids assist with acne marks through exfoliation. Similarly to lemon juice treatments, products that contain alpha hydroxy acids loosen the grip that discolored skin cells have upon your complexion and allow them to be wiped away. In addition to exfoliators, you will find masks, treatments and moisturizers that all contain alpha hydroxy acids and can be used to help eradicate acne marks.
Derived from vitamin A, retinol is a nonprescription strength form of retinoids that provides exfoliative benefits without as much of a potential for side effects as their prescription counterparts. Mask products that contain retinol allow hyperpigmented skin to receive prolonged contact with concentrated doses of the ingredient to fade acne marks. You'll also find retinol in skin care treatments, moisturizers, exfoliators and cleansers.