Acne is stressful enough to handle on its own, but dealing with the aftermath of scars can put anyone over the edge. You may be frustrated with slow results from treatment, but you may not be treating the problem correctly. That is because there isn’t just one type of scar – there are acne scars and then there is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Read on to discover the differences between scars and marks and the best treatments for each.
Scars vs PIH
Most of the time, when people talk about acne “scars” they are referring to a condition called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH manifests itself as marks that stick around after a pimple is gone and technically these marks are not scars at all. If you have fair skin, PIH looks like a pink/reddish, flat blemish. On olive- and brown-skinned women, the discoloration is generally purple, tan, or black. PIH occurs when, in response to injury, the skin is prompted to make more melanin (the substance that gives us our color). Those with darker complexions are most likely to get PIH. The good news, PIH is rarely associated with permanent damage and will eventually fade with time. You can speed along the healing of PIH with over-the-counter and DIY treatments. These treatments, which are targeted to fix acne “scars,” are actually formulated to treat PIH.
True acne scars occur when the inflammation in the skin is severe enough to cause collagen breakdown. This is usually a result of cystic acne. Scars may be pink or slightly darker at first, but as the normal skin color returns an indentation remains in your skin. The most common type of scars are those that look like little saucers, pockmarks, or jagged little divots, referred to as “ice pick” scars. These true scars cannot be healed with time or at home treatments, they must be treated with medical intervention by a dermatologist.
Prevention is Key
The best way to avoid PIH and scars is to stop picking at your pimples! While scarring typically results from cystic acne or lager blemishes, Popping zits will likely leave you marked. Picking or pinching tears skin, which can lead to scabbing, scarring or tiny “scoops” in skin’s surface. Even if you avoid getting a divot, the injury caused will most likely lead to PIH. Following a consistent skin care regimen for acne prone skin and treating breakouts early with a spot treatment should help dry up excess oil, reduce breakouts and inflammation, and lessen the risk of scarring. For severe acne, getting appropriate treatment from a dermatologist will also help.
Everyday, even when you are not sunbathing. Unprotected exposure to UV light of any kind, even through a window at work/school or while walking outside briefly, damages skin cells making healing slower and less efficient. Which means the marks from acne will stick around longer. Protecting your skin from UV exposure every day is critical to preventing and fading discolorations.
Fading PIH “scars”
Speed up the fading of PIH by following these simple steps:
Gentle face wash
While it might be tempting to scrub away the problem, use a mild, granule-free cleanser to wash your face. Washes that contain granules cause little micro-tears on the face, which signal the skin to crank out more melanin.
To even out redness or discoloration caused by PIH, we recommend a combination of products available at the drug store with ingredients that help exfoliate skin to restore texture and tone.
Day: Each morning, apply a vitamin C gel, serum, or cream, depending on your skin type to your PIH marks.
Night: Apply a peas sized amount of a retinol or hydroquinone product to the effected areas of the face. Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is a supreme skin exfoliator, which helps to correct blotchy, uneven complexions; it’s also great at preventing pimples. Hydroquinone has the ability to stop melanin from forming in problem areas. It is most effective on people with darker skin tones. If you have sensitive skin, retinol and hydroquinone may be too irritating. Instead, look for products with soy, kojic acid and coffee berry, all natural antidotes to unwanted brown marks.
1x every 2 weeks – use a mild, at-home chemical peel. They help by exfoliating the skin and fading spots. To avoid dryness, redness, or unintended worsening of PIH, do not do this more then one time every two weeks.
If the over the counter treatments are not showing results consider seeing a dermatologist about prescription products. They pack a stronger punch then drugstore products due to higher doses of active ingredients. Alternatively, your dermatologist may recommend a series of intense pulsed light treatments or laser treatments that hit scars and discoloration on a deeper level and increase skin cell turnover much faster (after one or two treatments).
Treating True Acne Scars
For true acne scars (the pitted, indented kind), treatment options aren’t as easy. Due to the extensive damage to and loss of collagen, no skin-care gel/cream/serum can reverse their appearance. A dermatologist can inject a filler (usually hyaluronic acid) to plump up skin and smooth out the dents. Results are immediate, but only last 4-6 months.
Acne scars and PIH marks are not ideal but with a little patience and the right treatment you can clear up your problem!
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