What you can do differently: For starters, stop going to tanning beds. Period. And if you are in the sun, make sure to slather on a titanium dioxide- or zinc-based sunscreen (these are natural sun protectants and their formulations usually contain fewer chemicals, so they won't break you out as easily), and wear a sun hat or ball cap to shield your facial skin from harsh rays.
True acne scars — as in indentations in the skin like ice-pick scars — can only be erased with professional procedures like microneedling or lasers. Fortunately, what most of us refer to as “scars,” according to Julia Tzu, M.D., founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology, are actually marks caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown spots) or post-inflammatory erythema (red spots), that will fade over several months or years. Fortunately, there are products that can speed up the process.
Extractions: An extraction is the physical unclogging of a clogged pore. The aesthetician pushes a tool called an extractor around each acne lesion, forcing the pus, bacteria, and sometimes blood up through the clogged follicle opening. It is an aggressive procedure that should only be performed by an experienced aesthetician or dermatologist as it can damage your pores if done incorrectly.
There are simple things you can do on your own to help prevent adult acne and keep it from getting worse. First, wash your skin once or twice a day with a non-drying, non-comedogenic cleanser that won't clog your pores. Look for cosmetic products labeled oil-free, non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic (unlikely to cause acne breakouts). In addition, avoid heavy skin creams or hair products which may aggravate your skin condition.
Treatments like radiofrequency microneedling, lasers, and fillers can be effective to treat acne scars, but they can run you hundreds of dollars per treatment. And Hellman says you'll need six to eight treatments and a good amount of time before seeing results. "The process takes a good part of a year," she says. (Her office does offer some package options to help offset some of the cost.)
According to dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, some scars are thick, raised hypertrophic scars that stick out above the skin; others are keloid, which are scars that have over-healed, and manifest as dense, rubbery skin tissue. Then, there are atrophic scars that appear as depressions in the skin — they're the most challenging to treat. The three main categories of atrophic scars are:
Acne appears when a pore in our skin clogs. This clog begins with dead skin cells. Normally, dead skin cells rise to surface of the pore, and the body sheds the cells. When the body starts to make lots of sebum (see-bum), oil that keeps our skin from drying out, the dead skin cells can stick together inside the pore. Instead of rising to the surface, the cells become trapped inside the pore.
"I often recommend PCA Skin Pigment Gel to patients looking to treat scars left behind from acne," explains Rebecca Kazin, a dermatologist at Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and Johns Hopkins department of dermatology. "This gel contains 2 percent hydroquinone blended with other skin brighteners, like kojic acid, resorcinol, and azeleic acid, which work to lighten the pigmentation without irritating the skin," she says. The addition of lactic acid helps maintain moisture to prevent overdrying, which can worsen pigmentation.
Even if battling zits is a distant memory, filed away with high-school gym class and algebra tests, acne marks and scars can annoyingly linger long after pimples are gone. “If someone gets a very large pimple or cyst, the natural healing process of the skin will create a scar,” says David Avram, M.D., of Heights Dermatology and Laser. “The more intense the inflammation, the more likely it will leave a scar.”
It's best to consult a primary care physician or dermatologist if an individual is unable to adequately control his or her acne. The goal of treatment should be the prevention of scarring (not a flawless complexion) so that after the condition spontaneously resolves there is no lasting sign of the affliction. Here are some of the options available: