You've probably seen those tiny glass jars filled with liquid and some solid sediment at the bottom—sometimes it's pink, sometimes it's white, and (in the case of my favorite product) sometimes it's flesh-tone. The solid in the jar is usually a mix of drying ingredient like camphor, sulfur, and zinc oxide, but many brands throw in a few little extras. Cult-favorite Mario Badescu Drying Lotion adds calming calamine and exfoliating salacylic acid to their formula, while my favorite, End-Zit Acne Control Drying Lotion, keeps it simple, but comes in several shades so that it conceals your breakout while it treats it.
Your doctor might recommend an injectable treatment called a filler. "Mainly, I treat acne scars with hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Restylane, but not all acne scars respond to this sort of treatment," Schlessinger says. "Additionally, I personally find that Accutane has a remarkable effect on acne scars if it is prescribed early on in the course of a scarring acne."
However, if you have a scar, you’re dealing with permanent skin damage that needs treatment in order to disappear. An acne scar changes the texture of the skin. If acne has left indentations, or raised spots, the damage has occurred at a deeper level in the skin. This “cobblestoning” effect indicates scarring that needs more than a surface-level treatment.
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.
Light treatments: Recent years have brought reports of success in treating acne using special lights and similar devices, alone or in conjunction with photosensitizing dyes. It appears that these treatments are safe and can be effective, but it is not clear that their success is lasting. At this point, laser treatment of acne is best thought of as an adjunct to conventional therapy, rather than as a substitute.
Acne scar treatment: “Rolling scars can be treated with microfat injections followed by microneedling with platelet-rich plasma (PRP),” says Dr. Imber. Microneedling creates tiny wounds or pinpricks in the skin. The body’s natural, controlled healing process then kicks in to boost internal collagen production. Microneedling is also a great acne scar treatment because it opens up channels within the skin that give PRP—the healing factors in your own blood—and skin care products direct access to deeper layers of the skin where they’re needed most. PRP is created by taking some of your blood, isolating the platelet-rich plasma, which contains proteins and other growth factors, and injecting it back into the scar. “The objective is to build up the collagen layer under the depression in order to raise it to the level of the surrounding skin,” Dr. Imber says. You’ll likely need multiple treatments, but the results are worth it. This approach is backed up by a new study in the January 2017 issue of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, which found that fat plus PRP improve depressed scars alone and in combination with laser skin resurfacing. What’s more, the treatment improved the social life and relationships of people with scarring, the study showed. These are the innocent habits that practically guarantee your acne will scar.
Spot treatments are key for treating a pimple ASAP. Benzoyl peroxide is often vilified for being harsh, but when it comes to really zapping a zit, it should be your best friend. Just dab it on the trouble spot to dry it out and kill bacteria. For heavy-duty action, try Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel; for something gentler, we like Arithmetic Acne Control Complex, which has soothing ingredients to counter the drying effects and is made with adult skin in mind.
Hormone changes as an adult. The menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. Acne lesions tend to form a few days before the cycle begins and go away after the cycle is completed. Other hormone changes, such as pregnancy and menopause, improve acne in some women. But some women have worse acne during these times. Stopping use of birth control pills can play a role as well.
It is a myth that women get acne because they don't wash enough. Too much washing or scrubbing the skin harshly can make acne worse. And washing away surface oils doesn't do much to prevent or cure acne, because it forms under the skin. The best way to clean the face is to gently wash it twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser. Be careful to remove make-up without harsh scrubbing.
When it comes to acne scars — especially difficult to treat indented or raised ones — the best offense is a good defense. If you’re still struggling with active acne and want to avoid future scarring, Avram likes this drugstore-staple Neutrogena wash because it contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that he says “exfoliates the skin, softens the appearance of the acne itself, and has some antibacterial properties.”
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.
When you think about it, consistently reaching for your go-to face towel every day is like reusing a dinner napkin over and over again. Using dirty towels can harbor bacteria, and they can even introduce new bacteria to your skin, which may lead to more pimples. Thankfully, this doesn't mean you need to reach for a new towel every single time you wash your face, according to Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospital. As long as you're truly washing off all of your makeup, you can stick to switching out your towels on a weekly basis.
Inflammatory Acne: Inflammatory acne is red bumps and pustules, not whiteheads, blackheads and comedones. It does not necessarily start as them, either. It arises on its own. Whiteheads, blackheads or comedones that become inflamed can be painful and unsightly. Persistent inflammatory acne may require treatment by a physician or dermatologist, in addition to over-the-counter acne remedies.
Topical (external) applications: Antibacterial cleansers come in the form of gels, creams, and lotions that are applied to the affected area. The active ingredients that kill surface bacteria include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and resorcinol. Some brands promoted on the Internet and cable TV (such as ProActiv) are much more costly than identical and sometimes more potent products one can buy in the drugstore.