Acne is most common during the teenage years and during young adulthood, although older adults get it too. Some people live through the “acne years” without any scarring, but most people who have had acne have some degree of scarring, although it may be not be obvious. An unfortunate few will have visible scars that are difficult to cover up even with cosmetics. Fortunately, there are effective ways to deal with these “not so pretty” reminders that you once had acne.
What Causes Them?
Some people are more prone to scarring than others because of genetics. Acne severity plays a role too. People who have a more severe case of acne, particularly with inflammatory lesions that look red, swollen and inflamed are more likely to form visible scars.
Any time the surface of the skin is damaged, cells called fibroblasts try to repair the damage by laying down new collagen. Since the collagen isn’t laid down perfectly, it can leave a visible scar. Not all acne scars are alike. Some scars look depressed or indented rather than elevated because collagen tissue is destroyed. Picking at acne bumps and pustules and trying to pop them can cause the area to become more inflamed and increase the risk of scarring. The more acne lesions a person has, the more likely they are to end up with scars. That’s why treating acne early is important.
Prompt treatment reduces the risk of scarring because it reduces the number of acne lesions. There are a variety of treatments available to treat acne and reduce the number of outbreaks. Simple things like not picking at bumps and not popping them reduces the risk of scarring.
Scars can take up to two years to completely form. Once a scar has formed, there are home treatments to make it look less noticeable. Some products contain onion extract. This particular extract has anti-inflammatory properties that changes the way collagen is laid down over the scar. It helps to soften their texture and reduce redness and discoloration, although it may take several months to see improvement.
Another treatment that works for treating scars is silicone available in over the counter products. It’s not clear exactly how silicone works, but it seems to alter collagen fibers around the scar, helping them lie in a more regular pattern. Silicone helps to flatten out raised scars and decrease redness and discoloration. One study showed that the combination of silicone and Mederma was more effective than either product used alone.
Scars can take up to two years to completely form.
Another thing that helps to improve the appearance of an acne scar is scar massage. It works by reducing collagen build-up around the scar. To do it, use the pads of your fingers to massage the area and the tissue surrounding it once or twice a day. Don’t forget to apply high-powered sun protection that is effective against both UVA and UVB rays. Scars can darken when they’re exposed to ultraviolet light.
Products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids can improve the appearance of superficial acne scars by sloughing off the outer layer of skin cells that cover the scar, but they’re unlikely to be effective for deeper scars. Some doctors do a series of peels using higher concentrations of alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid to treat superficial scars.
A dermatologist can treat deep scars from acne using injectable fillers, dermabrasion or a series of laser treatments. There are also surgical techniques that can completely excise a scar or break up the fibrous tissue around the scar. The drawback to these treatments is cost and the potential for side effects.
The Bottom Line?
The easiest way to treat acne scars is to prevent them by treating acne with the right skin care products and not picking at or popping pimples. Once they’ve formed products like Mederma and silicone can soften their texture and make them look less obvious.