One of the most common problems in skincare and people suffering from acne are acne scars. These scars can be quite visually distracting when meeting someone for the first time. Therefore it is not surprising a lot of people want to know how to lighten acne scars.
Lighten acne scars: How do they form?
To understand the root problem lets talk a bit more on how they form. Acne scars are most often caused by an infection of a pimple.
The pore in which the pimple resides is already under stress due to the buildup of skin debris and sebum in the pore. In addition to this if this gets infected then the follicle wall may break.
If this break happens near the skin’s surface, you’ll probably be alright and the skin will heal relatively quickly without too much concern. However the real trouble starts when the break happens deeper in the skin.
The infected material will in this case spill into the dermis and destroy healthy tissue.
Of course the skin has some mechanisms in place to recover from this. If the infected material does happen to kill healthy skin tissue then the skin will form new collagen fibers in an attempt to fill up what has gone.
Collagen is the fibrous protein that gives skin its strength and flexibility. Unfortunately its only job is to fix the damage, not make it look good. As a result you often see an uneven skin, hence the so-called acne scars.
Types of scars
When the body produces too much collagen, it will show as a raised mass of tissue on the skin’s surface. This is called hypertrophic, or keloid, scarring.
More commonly however, acne will cause so-called atrophic, or depressed, scars. Just as hypertrophic scarring was caused by a raising of the tissue, atrophic scarring (the opposite) is caused by a loss of tissue. These type of scars are also known as ice pick or boxcar scars.
The greatest measure to know whether or not you will form acne scars is the level of inflammation. The deeper the inflammation occurs and how violent the infection is will determine the length and breadth of the scarring. The deeper the breakout, the longer it will take for your skin to heal, increasing your chances of scarring.
Lastly one of the most common mistakes people make is mistaking post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) for acne scars. As the pimple is inflamed, the skin area around it will temporarily look reddish due to the inflammation. However this irritation and discoloration will eventually fade on its own. Retin-A may speed the fading time.
Lighten acne scars: Scar prevention
As we previously discussed, the level of inflammation is the biggest gauge for the level of scarring you will have. Therefore reducing this inflammation will be your biggest key in reducing the level of scarring.
The way to do this is by controlling acne as soon as possible. As soon as you have a breakout or as soon as acne appears, go see a dermatologist. He or she will provide you with a cleaning routine that you must follow to the letter. Only that way will your acne be less, and thus also the scarring.
Also if you are prone to acne, don’t attempt to squeeze anything. Squeezing pimples might lead to you pushing the inflamed debris deeper into the skin. As a result your chances of scarring will increase drastically.
Don’t pick at scabs either. Scabs help the wound underneath heal better. If you pick at the scabs, you’ll only prolong the healing process which has an impact on your chances of scarring.
Lighten acne scars: At-home treatments
First of all PIH will be the most common cause for concern among you readers. Therefore I suggest buying a cortisone cream or lotion such as this one. These lotions will help reduce the redness and swelling. They are cheap and easy to use and if you don’t have one in your medicine cabinet yet, get one. They should be a staple just as band-aids.
Secondly you might want to focus on lightening any dark areas left from the acne scar as an at-home treatment method as well.
Look for skin lightener creams that have kojic acid as an active ingredient. Kojic acid is a natural ingredient that is extracted from certain types of mushroom. Kojic acid has been shown to produce skin lightening effects and can work great in lightening darker spots in the skin. It’s a better substitute for hydroquinone as it hyrdroquinone has been rumored to cause irritation and possibly cancer. This is a good option for a skin lightener with kojic acid.
Other good options for skin lighteners are Arbutin, aka bearberry extract, and vitamin C.
In the word of Flava Flav: Don’t believe the hype! Putting Vitamin E on scars in the hopes of lightening them or curing them is just an urban legend. Studies have shown using vitamin E has no effect at all or even worse; it can cause a worsening of the inflammation. In 90% of cases where people used vitamin E for scar reduction it had no effect. In 33% of cases even people developed contact dermatitis, which is further inflammation of the skin. Referenced study.
Lightening acne scars: Medical treatment
If the above remedies do not offer any resolve to your acne scars, your next step is to go see a dermatologist. They will most likely provide you one of two options: either laser therapy or filler therapy.
In one to three sessions, depending on how severe your condition is, laser skin resurfacing using fractionated laser technology can even out the skin surface and increase and stimulate the formation of new collagen.
Ablative lasers vaporize your scar, allowing smoother skin to take its place. Non-ablative lasers help activate the production of collagen without damaging the surface of your skin.
Filler injections can help fill in the indentations left behind from deep acne scars, but the downside to fillers is that they need to be repeated every 4 to 6 months, as the product reabsorbs into the skin over time.
Patience when trying to lighten acne scars!
Unfortunately all these options require one thing above all: patience!
Usually a few weeks after you break out and scar, new blood vessels move into the injured area to give nourishment to the skin, which is why most early scars look pink.
Months later, collagen will start to form, filling in the injured section of skin and it should fade out.
Unfortunately in the case of cystic acne, the acne destroys skin and fat and it can take up to a year for the scars to fade.
In addition to seeking treatment it’s also important to stay out of the sun as much as possible as UV radiation causes the scars to darken and actually slows down the healing process. In the same way your body reacts to sunlight by producing a tan, in scar tissue this can lead to discoloration with your normal skintone, making scars even more prominent. So make sure to lather up the sunscreen when going outside!