ACNE SCAR TREATMENTS THAT WORK
RED LIGHT THERAPY
Sometimes, the marks left behind by healed acne lesions aren't actually scars but hyperpigmentation. This type of blemish will usually clear up on its own, but it may take up to two years for it to fade completely. Red light therapy (RLT) can cause it to go away sooner. RLT provides extra energy for the powerhouse organelles in each skin cell, the mitochondria. This helps reduce inflammation and stimulate collagen growth.
Red light therapy also improves circulation in the treated area. The increase in blood flow to the site of the hyperpigmentation brings nutrients that trigger skin growth and cell regeneration. As broken capillaries and old cells are replaced with new tissue, the hyperpigmentation begins to fade.
VITAMIN C TREATMENT
If you read that a vitamin C treatment will make your acne scars vanish overnight, keep looking. No supplement, exfoliant or treatment is a magic bullet that will immediately remove evidence of past acne breakouts. However, vitamin C has been shown to promote the reduction of scar tissue, leading to "a significant decrease in scar elevation," along with a decrease in excess pigmentation. These results were reported in a study in which vitamin C was added to silicone gel during a six-month treatment.
The positive results may have been achieved through the formation of collagen since vitamin C is an active component of its synthesis and helps regulate the collagen/elastin balance. However, vitamin C in ascorbic acid form needs to be paired with vitamin E for efficient delivery of the vitamin. Sometimes ascorbic acid is mixed with stabilizing substances for more efficient delivery, and you'll see this on a serum label as sodium ascorbyl phosphate. A pH below 4 is also needed for skin to properly absorb vitamin C topically.
The appearance of acne scars can be minimized by the fading of inflammatory marks and smoothing of uneven places on the skin. There are many natural substances that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and/or promote the growth of collagen fibers.
Biologically active sulfur, or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), is one supplement that has anti-inflammatory properties. It also provides the body with sulfur, a necessary compound for many bodily functions, including the production of collagen. It relieves redness and itching from eczema, rosacea and shingles, and has the same positive effects on areas of the skin affected by acne.
Exfoliation is a method of minimizing acne scars by encouraging the shedding of dead skin cells and the formation of new ones. This is also referred to as 'cell turnover'. The simplest form of exfoliation is simply washing your face with a mild exfoliating scrub. There are also chemical exfoliant treatments and dermabrasion, a process that manually removes the top layer of skin cells. Here are five of the most common ways to exfoliate your skin.
A form of vitamin A, retinol promotes cell turnover and stimulates collagen production in the skin. It's used by those who want to reduce fine lines in the face by increasing collagen production. Stimulating collagen formation and renewing skin cells is also exactly what's needed for minimizing acne scars. When you use retinol, your skin may become dry and even peel in places, and using a hydrating lotion helps counter this effect. While you're using retinol products, avoid preparations that contain salicylic acid or any other ingredients that can irritate skin.
The sensitivity to retinol varies among individuals, with some people only experiencing some reddening of the skin. It's best to apply retinol before bedtime and follow up with a hydrating night cream. It should be applied twice a week, preferably the night before you're planning to spend time indoors. Sun exposure can break down the retinol content in your skin and aggravate any irritation you experience from it.
This is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugar cane. AHAs are acids that naturally occur in plants, and they remove a layer of skin cells chemically. Glycolic acid is an AHA with small molecules that penetrate the skin well and keep skin cells from sticking together, making it easier for them to slough off.
Glycolic acid is gentler than retinol, but it can cause dryness if you use other products that are irritating to the skin. Try alternating retinol and glycolic acid, and exfoliate with each one only twice a week. This will give you the benefits of cell turnover and collagen production while lowering the chance of ending up with red, irritated skin.
Retinol and glycolic acid are mild chemical peels that can be bought in over-the-counter formulations. A chemical peel that you get at a spa or dermatologist's office is also used to improve skin tone and texture. People undergo this minimally invasive procedure to lessen the effects of wrinkles, scarring and hyperpigmentation. There are superficial, medium and deep chemical peels, and most people who are undergoing the treatment to reduce acne scarring use one of the first two types.
Superficial peels use salicylic, glycolic and other acids in a stronger concentration that you can buy at the store. A spa technician who has been trained in the application can perform this treatment. There may be redness for a day and some eventual peeling after the procedure. Besides minimizing acne scars, a superficial peel can even skin tone and reduce fine lines on the face.
Trichloroacetic acid is often used for medium-depth peels, and this procedure should be done only under a dermatologist's supervision. It's more effective than a superficial peel on sun damage, dark spots and moderately noticeable acne scars. There's a recuperation period of 5-7 days after a moderate peel, and skin is left raw and red. Ointment has to be continually applied to the skin to help it heal properly.
The skin is deliberately injured in a controlled setting during dermabrasion. The reason for this is to allow fresh skin to form that's free of the wrinkles, scars and spots that were present in the original layer of skin. Microdermabrasion is a gentler form of dermabrasion that only removes the top layer of skin. It can be performed by a trained technician, while a dermabrasion treatment must be administered by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
Dermabrasion is an out-patient procedure, and the recovery time can be several weeks. For the first 48 hours, the wound is bandaged with dressings and has to be kept moist. The affected area is usually covered with petroleum jelly for the ten days it takes for healing to occur. Skin may be red for 3-6 weeks after a dermabrasion treatment. However, it can have a minimizing effect on scars from previous acne outbreaks.
Dermabrasion is in the same category as a medium to deep chemical peel and skin laser treatments. It works on the deeper layers of skin, and people with darker skin may experience a difference in skin pigmentation from the treatment. Neither dermabrasion nor microdermabrasion should be performed if there are active acne lesions on the face.
Like superficial chemical peels and micro dermabrasion, this technique removes the top layer of skin cells from your face. The difference is that the top layer of skin is scraped from the face using the edge of a sterile scalpel. Only the surface skin is scraped off, and any fine hairs on the face are removed with it. Dermaplaning is considered to be a deep exfoliation, but not as deep as a medium chemical peel or dermabrasion.
This is a helpful alternative to a chemical peel for those who have sensitive skin. An esthetician performs the procedure under medical supervision. It should only be done every few weeks, and it's important to wear sunscreen after a treatment to avoid hyperpigmentation spots. Dermaplaning is suitable for all skin types and it's a painless procedure. Some people have compared it to the feel of a cat's tongue on the skin.
A laser uses a single wavelength of focused light to destroy specific cells in a controlled manner. Ablative laser treatment removes skin cells in the dermis and epidermis, while a non-ablative laser treatment only heats the tissue just underneath the top layer. As with a chemical peel or dermabrasion, the damaged tissue repairs itself, giving the skin a smoother appearance.
An ablative laser treatment can vaporize scar tissue and is a good choice for raised scars or noticeable hyper-pigmentation. Non-ablative lasers are used to 'remodel' the acne scar by creating a wound that will become more filled-out with connective tissue after it heals. Collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts can fill in and tighten skin after a laser treatment, giving it a firmer surface.
For non-ablative laser treatment, a numbing gel is spread on the skin before the procedure. Ablative treatment is more painful, and a local anesthetic is used, along with an oral relaxation pill if needed. Although the laser treatment only takes a few minutes, a typical treatment session can last a couple of hours including preparation time. After a treatment, you may be given antibiotics to take and you'll need to stay out of the sun for two weeks or more.
INTENSE PULSED LIGHT TREATMENT
Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment sends light to the deeper part of surface skin using a micro-fine beam. It damages skin cells beneath the surface, causing them to be replaced with fresh cells and more collagen. This is a useful treatment for reversing the effects of pitted skin caused by former acne lesions. The scattered light from an IPL treatment is also more effective than a focused laser treatment for removing pigmentation.
Treatment takes 20-30 minutes, and it stings the skin in a similar way to the snap of a rubber band. There's mild swelling and redness at the affected site for a couple of days, and it may take 3-6 treatments to achieve the desired results. IPL and laser treatment can both be used for treating acne scars, and the results may overlap for more effective results.
Choose Your Provider Carefully
Choosing a qualified specialist is one of the most important aspects of any therapy for the treatment of acne scars. The best results depend on the experience and skill of your practitioner, not just the treatment method you prefer. If treatments are performed too often or inexpertly, they can fail to succeed and even cause new skin problems. Also, keep in mind that most insurance plans consider acne scar treatment to be an elective procedure and don't cover the cost.
A board-certified dermatologist is the only choice for intensive scar-treatment therapies like a deep chemical peel or dermabrasion. A superficial chemical peel or microdermabrasion should be performed by a licensed esthetician. Before undergoing any type of laser procedure, you should have a medical consultation with your dermatologist. Write down any questions you have since it's easy to forget them in the moment.
A Variety of Options Available
Your dermatologist may recommend one or more of the acne scarring remedies described above. There could be several sessions involved, and the effects might not be noticeable for weeks or months. You'll also have to avoid the sun for several weeks after each treatment, but the results can be significant. Many people with acne scars have seen positive changes to their skin from these procedures, and your doctor will help you decide which course of treatment is right for you.