Just when you are finally leaving childhood behind and entering the less-forgiving world of adults, that’s when you your formerly baby-smooth skin starts erupting in embarrassing blemishes. For most of us, this is a humiliating period of our lives that we are more than happy to leave behind with our puberty, never to be thought of again, unless we look back at our unfortunate high school yearbook photos.
However, for some people, the scars from embarrassing acne episodes are not just emotional ones. Many people go on to carry scars from past acne breakouts on their faces for years—or without treatment, possibly for the rest of their lives. Acne scarring appears as bumps, dents, and discoloration that mars the surface of the skin, resulting in skin that isn’t smooth or clear.
Why is it that some acne clears up without a problem, but other pimples leave scars? And is there something we can use to treat acne scars to minimize their appearance?
While it’s possible for small pimples on the surface of the skin to leave scars—especially if you pop them, allow them to become infected, or pick at the scabs—most surface acne clears up and eventually vanishes without a trace, leaving smooth skin behind. With surface acne, the red or brown marks that linger behind—known as post-acne hyperpigmentation—will eventually fade away. However, deeper, cystic acne is much more likely to leave scars behind.
Cystic acne mostly concerns the face, though it’s also possible to develop cystic acne on the back, shoulders, and upper arms. Cystic acne is less common than surface acne, and it’s the most serious form of acne. With cystic acne, cysts or nodules of infection may form deep below the surface of the skin. Bumps from cystic acne are large and may be sore or painful. They may start out with a firm, sore spot deep below the surface of the skin which later becomes a large, white, pus-filled bump with surrounding redness.
Cystic acne is more common in those with oily skin. Scarring occurs when inflammation in the cyst destroys the surrounding tissue, triggering the skin to develop scar tissue.
Cystic acne can be treated effectively with any of the best acne treatments available today. Early treatment and management of cystic acne is the best way to reduce the likelihood of scarring.
You can also help to prevent or minimize breakouts by washing your face with a gentle cleanser for acne-prone skin. Wash no more than twice per day and avoid heavy scrubbing.
Over-stripping the oils from your skin can cause oil glands to go into overdrive to produce more protective sebum, which can exacerbate the problem.
Treat your skin to lightweight, oil-free moisturizer after washing. While it may seem counterproductive to add moisture to oily, acne-prone skin, one reason your skin may overproduce oils is in an attempt to seal hydration into dehydrated skin. Drinking plenty of water and moisturizing your skin will help to seal hydration into your skin cells your skin won’t need to produce as much protective oil.
Exfoliating your skin with a gentle exfoliating scrub once per week will not only give your skin a healthy glow, it can also reduce breakouts. Dead skin cells can contribute to acne by clogging pores and causing pimples. Gentle exfoliation removes the dead skin cells that clog pores and give your face a dull, grayish appearance.
Avoid squeezing or popping pimples. As tempting as it can be to try to pop a pimple, squeezing them greatly increases the chance of scarring. Squeezing can cause the pimple to become inflamed deep below the skin’s surface, making it more likely to scar. Squeezing a pimple can cause surface acne to become cystic acne. Popping pimples actually interferes with the body’s healing process and can make it take longer.
If you absolutely can’t resist popping a pimple, at least wait until the pimple has a white head. If it doesn’t pop easily, stop! Wait a few more days before trying again—or better yet, resist completely. The pressure produced by popping a pimple can also cause a larger hole to appear in the head of the pimple, which makes it more likely to scar. Popping your pimple can also spread the bacteria into surrounding pores and cause more pimples to appear, which is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
While the best treatment is prevention, it isn’t always possible to prevent breakouts and scarring. If you do have acne scars, it doesn’t mean that you have to live with them. There are many treatment options available. Some of the best acne scar treatments contain ingredients like retinol, which encourages the sloughing-off of dead skin cells and the growth of newer, healthier cells. This can help to fade discoloration and smooth out roughened skin texture.
Salicylic acid is another common ingredient found in the best acne scar treatments. It’s the same ingredient commonly used to treat active acne breakouts, but salicylic acid can also help to smooth and fade acne scars.
If you find that your acne scars are having a negative impact on your self-esteem and over the counter products are not enough, there are treatment options available that can be performed as outpatient procedures in your dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office. Treatment for scars should not be attempted until after your skin has stopped breaking out, or when your breakouts are being managed and minimized.
Dermabrasion is one of the most highly recommended treatment options for more serious acne scarring. In the dermabrasion process, the doctor uses a wire brush or rotating wheel with a diamond exfoliator to deeply exfoliate the surface of the skin. This improves discoloration and smooths the skin’s surface.
Laser resurfacing can also be performed in your doctor’s office. In laser resurfacing treatments, a laser removes the top layer of skin and tightens the middle layer to form a new, smoother surface.
For deep “rolling” scars that make the skin’s surface appear uneven, a doctor can inject collagen or fillers under the skin to lift the depressed areas for a more even, smooth appearance.
There are many effective treatments available today for both acne prevention and acne scarring correction. Don’t be afraid to speak to your dermatologist about your skin and seek a solution to stop the scarring before it starts!