Breakouts can come and go, but the scars they leave behind can linger for years (or more). You've probably been told, "Don't pop your pimples, or you'll end up with a mark." But recently, I learned that the most common acne scars have nothing to do with your tendency to squeeze zits. "Popping pimples doesn't cause scarring," Mark Karolak, D.O., a board-certified facial plastic surgeon at Reflections Center for Skin and Body, tells SELF. "If it's just a whitehead and blackhead on the surface, it can be popped without creating any scarring."
Eat healthily. Foods that are highly processed and contain a lot of oils greatly increase the amount of acne on your body. Getting the proper amount of nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein help your skin to regenerate faster and limit unnecessary oil production. When at all possible, avoid foods that are processed or contain a lot of sugar (think junk foods).
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The best way to fix them: Since they're more closely related to bacteria than your hormones or a lack of exfoliation, papular pustules require a different plan of attack entirely. "Inflammatory acne types really respond to antibiotics, either topical or systemic," says Dr. Hale. These, of course, require a trip to your dermatologist. To tide you over, you could also try applying hydrocortisone cream, which temporarily takes down redness and swelling. But in the long run, it won't do much to make these disappear completely or keep them from popping up again.
The inflammation caused by your breakout can cause more than just the pimple you see on the surface, it can also cause damage below the skin. "The inflammatory response produces a loss in collagen and the overlying skin will collapse and leave a depression," Howard Sobel, M.D., a NYC dermatologist and founder of DDF Skincare, tells SELF. To get rid of these tiny pockmarks, Dr. Karolak relies on a TCA Cross chemical peel. TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid. "We use a little applicator and go into the hole with chemicals to cause a burn. That causes the wall of that ice pick to heal itself and close in on itself," explains Dr. Karolak.
Avoid getting sunburned. Many medicines used to treat acne can make you more prone to sunburn. Many people think that the sun helps acne, because the redness from sunburn may make acne lesions less visible. But, too much sun can also increase your risk of skin cancer and early aging of the skin. When you're going to be outside, use sunscreen of at least SPF 15. Also, try to stay in the shade as much as you can.
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.
What you can do differently: Wipe your face, chest, and back down before you work out with facial wipes, like Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, to remove your makeup. Then, if you don't have time to shower immediately after the gym, use another fresh facial wipe to clear away any sweat and bacteria on your skin to minimize the chance of new pimples popping up.
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.)
Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone [Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred] or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes sometimes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid). Most cases of acne, however, are not drug related.