You can find it in many drugstore products—just take a peek at the label. Dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D. likes the Benzac line. "It's active ingredients are salicylic acid and East Indian Sandalwood oil—salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that serves as a keratolytic agent (meaning it dissolves keratin). It unclogs pores by penetrating into the pore to dissolve dead skin cell accumulation and aids in shedding of the top layer of skin. East Indian sandalwood oil is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, which is new to the skin care scene. It soothes the skin and fights off inflammation that often accompanies breakouts."
Scrubbing your face daily with grainy cleansers and exfoliating products can do more harm than good. When done too often, it can cause redness, inflammation, and irritation. “Exfoliating a pimple can pull away healthy skin cells and create an open wound and higher risk for scarring,” says Jessica Weiser, MD, from New York Dermatology Group. “Exfoliation should be done with caution, and not more than 2-3 times a week maximum.”
Retinoids: Retin-A (tretinoin) has been in use for years, and preparations have become milder and gentler while still maintaining its effectiveness. Newer retinoids include adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac). These medications are especially helpful for unclogging pores. Side effects may include irritation and a mild increase in sensitivity to the sun. Adapalene 0.1% is now available without a prescription. With proper sun protection, however, they can be used even during sunny periods. The combination medication known as Epiduo gel -- which contains the retinoid, adapalene, along with the antibacterial, benzoyl peroxide -- is applied once a day.
Acne scars are usually the result of inflamed blemishes caused by skin pores engorged with excess oil, dead skin cells and bacteria. The pore swells, causing a break in the follicle wall. Shallow lesions are usually minor and heal quickly. But if there is a deep break in the wall of the pore, infected material can spill out into surrounding tissue, creating deeper lesions. The skin attempts to repair these lesions by forming new collagen fibers. These repairs usually aren't as smooth and flawless as the original skin.
Fillers. A substance such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, or fat can be used to "fill out" certain types of acne scars, especially those that have resulted in a depressed appearance of the skin. Since fillers are eventually absorbed into your skin, you will have to repeat filler injections, usually every few months, depending on the type of product used. There is no downtime for recovery from this treatment.
If there are multiple ice pick scars, acne scar treatment devices that use radiofrequency energy are Dr. Hellman’s first choice. “These treatments help build collagen from the inside out, and collagen helps to fill the scars from within,” she says. Several treatments are usually needed. The procedures are done using local anesthesia, and it’s effective in all skin types, she says. In one study, published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications, Dr. Hellman found that approximately four treatments with a radiofrequency device produced significant improvement in the depth of the scars. A follow-up study in a 2016 issue of the same journal showed that these results held for up to two years, although some people had touch-ups.
The bad news: There's no secret ingredient or miracle gadget that makes scars totally disappear. Don't get discouraged, though. A lot of what you think is acne scarring is really just hyperpigmentation or erythema (brown or red spots) rather than an actual change in the texture of the skin. Plus, there's a bevy of gels, creams, and treatments that can bring that discoloration down. We asked top dermatologists to recommend the most effective of the bunch.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative, which the skin absorbs and converts to retinoic acid. Retin-A is the prescription form. "Topical retinoids are fortunately one of the most effective treatments for acne, and also happens to be a highly effective antiaging ingredient, because of its collagen-building properties," Dr. Tzu notes. The biggest downside is they're harsh and can sometimes be too much for sensitive skin. For an elegant OTC option, try Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution.
People who escaped their teen years almost pimple-free may develop persistent adult-onset acne as they get older. Despite the normal increase in androgen levels during puberty, some doctors believe that flare-ups of acne have less to do with androgen levels than with how a person's skin responds to an increase in sebum production or to the bacteria that causes acne. The bacteria Propionibacterium acnes occurs naturally in healthy hair follicles. If too many of them accumulate in plugged follicles, they may secrete enzymes that break down sebum and cause inflammation. Some people are simply more sensitive than others to this reaction. Sebum levels that might cause a pimple or two in one person may result in widespread outbreaks -- or even acute cystic acne -- in another person.
Yes, it’s another pricey SkinCeuticals serum, but dermatologists absolutely love their products for treating acne marks. You’ll get more bang for your buck with the inclusion of glycolic and lactic acids, two alpha-hydroxy acids that Avram says help fade marks by exfoliating the top surface of the skin. Nagler says “vitamin C is helpful as an adjunct in preventing free radical damage, which helps with pigmentation.” It’s also worth investing in a high-quality serum since, according to Nagler, vitamin C isn’t stable — and is therefore less effective — in some other products.
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: