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Gone With the Zit: Dealing with Acne Scars

Sometimes, acne can leave unwanted scarring in its wake. Here’s why you get acne scars, and what you can do to treat them.

Those who suffer from chronic acne are likely experts at concealing the occasional post-pimple blemish. But what can you do about stubborn spots that just won’t disappear? If your acne has left long-lasting marks, there are concrete steps you can take towards protecting your skin and preventing new scars from forming. After all, regardless of your age, the sooner you start healing scars, the better your complexion will be in the future.

Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars

Before we can address best practices for minimizing acne scarring, it’s essential to differentiate between marks and scars. Acne marks are generally red or brown spots on the skin — and while they might appear menacing, they’re relatively harmless. This form of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation should disappear in a matter of months, particularly if you employ the right topical treatment.

Acne scars, on the other hand, are a sign of permanent damage to the collagen in your skin, and as such, they’re much more difficult to treat. These scars can come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they can only be properly treated with the help of a licensed dermatologist.

Different Types of Scars

While no two scars are exactly the same, they typically share a common root cause: the production of either too much or too little tissue post-trauma.

If too much tissue is produced, the skin will generally form either a keloid or hypertrophic scar. Both scars feature thick tissue, the main difference being that hypertrophic scars stick out above the skin.

If too little tissue is produced, on the other hand, the skin will form atrophic scars, which appear as depressions in the skin. There are three main types of atrophic scars: ice pick scars, which are deeper than they are wide; boxcar scars, which are broad depressions with defined/rectangular edges; and rolling scars, which are similarly broad but feature round, sloping edges.

Finding the Right Treatment

If all you have are acne marks (rather than scars), treatment is fairly easy — a good serum containing vitamin C or retinoids can go a long way towards erasing signs of hyperpigmentation. Scars, on the other hand, are a little trickier to treat. Whenever possible, preventative measures are the best medicine. That means sticking to a good skincare regimen, always wearing sunscreen, and never popping your pimples.

If you already have visible acne scars, there are treatment options you can pursue beyond just topical serums and creams. Dermal fillers, an injectable solution that fills the soft tissue under the skin and stimulates collagen, is a popular option for acne scars. However, since the procedure needs to be redone every four to six months, dermal fillers can become quite costly.

For a more permanent solution, there’s laser resurfacing, a procedure in which concentrated light beams are used to remove dead skin cells and damaged layers of skin. Though this procedure is more expensive upfront, the collagen it replenishes won’t disappear as it would with dermal fillers. Non-ablative laser resurfacing is a less invasive process that heats the inner layers of the skin but leaves the surface untouched. Consequently, recovery time is shorter — though four to six sessions are usually required to see benefits.

No matter which course of action you choose to take, remember to always consult a licensed dermatologist before committing to treatment.

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