If there’s one thing worse than acne, it’s acne scars. Those constant reminders that you picked your face when you shouldn’t have; not to mention, acne scars on the face are tough to hide under makeup. Yep, the best solution is to get rid of your acne scars, but like most things, it’s easier said than done.
What are acne scars?
Even if you’ve managed to heal your latest bout of breakouts, there’s a chance that instead of clear skin, you find yourself with a bunch of bumps in their place. “Acne scars are permanent textural changes that occur on the skin as a result of severe acne,” explains Cristina Casaldáliga, mesoesetetic Pharma Group International Trainer.
Acne scarring forms during the acne healing process, and is dependent on the amount of collagen your skin naturally produces to treat the affected area. “If the body produces too little or too much collagen when the area heals, it usually leaves behind a scar. The type of scar will depend on how much collagen the body makes,” says Casaldáliga.
What do acne scars look like?
“There are two main categories: those caused by a loss of tissue (atrophic scars) that appear as damage to the skin texture with depressed areas of various sizes, and those caused by an excess of tissue (hypertrophic scars) that appear more raised and swollen,” says Casaldáliga.
She adds that atrophic scars “have also been subclassified into ice pick, boxcar, and rolling scars”.
"’Icepick’ scars are usually small, yet obvious holes in the skin,” says Daniel Isaacs, Director of Research at Medik8. “‘Boxcar’ scars are depressed areas, usually round or oval in shape with steeply angled sides, similar to chickenpox scars.” As for ‘rolling’ scars, they appear as shallow indents in the skin and have soft, smooth edges that create a wavy and uneven texture across the skin’s surface.
What causes acne scars?
“Acne scars are usually the result of inflamed blemishes caused by skin pores engorged with excess oil, dead skin cells and bacteria,” says Isaacs. “The pore swells, causing a break in the follicle wall. Shallow lesions are usually minor and heal quickly. But if there is a deep break in the wall of the pore, infected material can spill out into surrounding tissue, creating deeper lesions. The skin attempts to repair these lesions by forming new collagen fibres. These repairs usually aren't as smooth and flawless as the original skin.”
Who is most at risk of getting acne scars?
“Anyone can scar but those who aggravate the skin will inevitably scar quicker and deeper,” says Isaacs.
Casaldáliga adds, “The risk increases when the patient has inflammatory (swollen, reddish, and painful) acne, such as acne cysts and nodules. This grade IV type of acne tends to penetrate deep into the skin, damaging the skin.”
How to prevent acne scars
First of all, stop picking your pimples! Isaacs explains, “bacteria can increase the risk of additional cysts forming and can lead to the development of a larger scar forming”.
Additionally, Isaacs recommends staying out of the sun, “as over-exposure can darken scars, making them look more prominent”, and warns, “Don’t irritate inflamed skin - over-washing and scrubbing scarred areas can further reduce skin elasticity and heighten the appearance of scars”.
Casaldáliga also suggests, “The quicker the inflammatory acne is treated, the less the risk of scarring”.
How to get rid of acne scars
Isaacs notes that two key ingredients that can help with acne scar removal are salicylic acid and niacinamide. “Salicylic acid decongests and exfoliates from within the pore, breaking down the clogged oil that can lead to blemishes. Niacinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3, acts as a soothing anti-inflammatory. It quickly reduces redness and irritation surrounding the blemish, while helping to regulate sebum production to prevent further blocked pores.” You can find both ingredients in Medik8 Blemish SOS and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo(+).
The skin care products
While over-the-counter skin care products may not be able to fade acne scars completely (in fact, not even professional treatments can guarantee 100 per cent removal), there are many that will considerably minimise their appearance.
If you’re looking for a solution on how to get rid of acne scars naturally (without fussing around with actual home remedies for acne scars), this Aussie clay mask is for you. There are SO many reviews floating around the Internet that claim this is one of the best products for acne scars. Its hero ingredient is pink clay, which helps detox pores, refine skin, heal existing acne and prevent future breakouts, as well as provide anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties to fade those acne scars.
This acne scar cream is a great all-rounder as it helps lighten post-acne pimple marks and pigmentation in addition to fading scars. It utilises a powerful dose of retinol 8 to boost the skin’s natural collagen product and effectively smooth and refine skin (but is gentle enough for sensitive skin) and also contains niacinamide and turmeric to even out
The in-salon treatments
Your professional options for how to get rid of pimple scars will vary based on your individual circumstance (such as severity, skin type, budget), however, the best acne scar treatment is one that’s matched to the *type* of scarring you have.
Dr John Mahony, Board Member for Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia, says that if raised (hypertrophic) scars are not too old, they will generally respond to judicious cortisone injections. “Small, unhurried doses every fortnight or month is preferred over sanguine, bold dosing designed to smash the keloid in one big hit. Adjunct treatments include pressure, topical silicone, cryotherapy, laser, IPL, and injection of other agents including 5FU.”
As for atrophic scars, Dr Mahony’s top recommendation is a surgical procedure known as subcision. “The simple technique of subcision (especially combined with using HA fillers) will give immediate improvement, albeit with some bruising. Subcision involves using the sharp side-edge of the bevel of a (say) 21G needle to cut (under local anaesthetic) beneath the skin the little fibres holding down the depth of the deep scar. This allows the scar to rise and therefore flatten,” says Dr Mahony.
If you’re after a less invasive treatment, you might want to try microdermabrasion. Acne scars that are light and not too deep are best suited for microdermabrasion. Another option is laser treatment for acne scars (such as CO2 laser, erbium laser, fractionated versions of each, and radiofrequency machines), however, Dr Mahony recommends hyaluronan (HA) fillers over these for fast results. “Simple filling with a microdot technique using a hyaluronan filler will give immediate improvement safely. The hyaluronan will itself promote new collagen, thickening the thinness.”
“Microneedling with the m.pen [pro] device and our exclusive combination of active ingredients from mesoestetic's c.prof 223 skinmark solution formula is also a great technique to dramatically improve the appearance of blemishes,” adds Casaldáliga.