In spite of the warnings from dermatologists, parental scoldings, and general disapproval from friends, we couldn’t help it: we tried to get rid of our zits ourselves when we should’ve let them be. Now, though we’ve passed the age where acne and blemishes no longer run our lives, we’re still dealing with the consequences –– our acne scars. The good news, however, is that they’re not permanent. Here’s what you need to know.
How are acne scars formed?
Acne scars, naturally, come from acne, and specifically, from inflamed blemishes, which occur when a follicle or pore becomes enlarged with excess oil, bacteria, or dead skin. When this happens, the pore swells up, causing the follicle’s walls to break. This is where scarring comes in. If that break happens near the surface of the skin, it’s usually a pretty minor wound and will heal quickly, leaving hardly any mark. However, the larger and deeper the inflamed pore, the more serious the legion, as the infected parts move into the surrounding dermis and infect the healthy skin tissue around it.
Our skin tries to respond quickly to the damage by forming new collagen, the protein which gives our skin its flexibility. However, think of this like putting a patch on a pair of jeans: even if you’re able to seal up the area with a similar fabric, it may not exactly match the original pants. This is what happens when our skin tries to heal those deeper lesions –– they never look exactly the same as the original.
Sometimes, our skin goes into overdrive trying to repair the lesion and overproduces collagen, which leads to the tissue on the surface of the skin to have a slightly raised or uneven appearance, which is another form of acne scarring.
Types of acne scars
Just like blemishes themselves, there are different types of acne scars, which means that there are different ways of managing them. Acne scars tend to fall into two camps: hypertrophic/keloid keloid scars, or atrophic/depressed.
HYPERTROPHIC OR KELOID
This is the type of scarring that we mentioned before, that comes from an overproduction of collagen, as the word “hyper” which comes from the Greek for “over” or “above.” As the acne wounds heal, that production of collagen results in a mass of raised tissue on our skin’s surface, leading to an uneven texture.
ATROPHIC OR DEPRESSED
This type of scarring is the exact opposite, when there is a lack of tissue, categorized as either “ice pick” or “box car” scars. Icepick scars are characterized by small, “obvious holes” in the skin –– think hitting ice with a skate and leaving a small hole in the surface –– whereas boxcar scars are more similar to chickenpox scars, and are usually round or oval in shape, with angled sides.
How to reduce them
While the word “scar” may cause you to think of these as permanent additions to your face, the good news is that acne scars can be treated, and, over time, can diminish in appearance. Think about it this way –– if our skin cells regenerate and turn over every 30-70 days, why wouldn’t this be possible? However, considering these are in fact scars, there are some steps that you can take to reduce them.
If you’ve ever browsed through the skin care aisles of a pharmacy or beauty supply store, chances are you’ve come across retinol. Retinol is derived from Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant which is essential for healthy skin. Vitamin A also stimulates fibroblasts - the cells responsible for producing collagen and developing tissue that keeps skin firm and healthy at the deepest layer.
That means that retinol can help your skin turn over, allowing fresh skin to take the place of the scarred ones. In SKIN FILTER, we use Beta Carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, for this exact reason –– to create an ingestible version of retinol, no topical application required.
For more severe scarring, a trip to the dermatologist is advised. Depending on the severity, your dermatologist may recommend a series of chemical peels, which work to remove the outer layers of your skin to remove the surface appearance, allowing the unscarred skin below to come to the surface. Before going this route, however, you may want to try over-the-counter chemical peels, to see if that makes a difference before shelling out the extra dollars.
Another option would be either ablative or non-ablative laser treatment, which work to remove thin layers of skin or stimulate collagen growth and tighten underlying skin, respectively, depending on the procedure. Ultimately, your dermatologist will be able to help you to determine the right course of treatment for your scarring.
How to prevent them moving forward
If there’s one thing we take away from our acne scars, can it finally be that we’ll stop picking at our zits? As much as we’d all love to be Dr. Pimple Popper, the reality is that those types of extraction techniques are best left to the professionals. But in the event that you do have a large blemish pop up, make sure to reduce the inflammation ASAP, with a spot treatment. By reducing the inflammation, you’re limiting the amount of damage that can happen to your skin, so that the inflammation doesn’t spread. If it seems like a simple spot treatment is too small for this, however, don’t be afraid of a visit to your dermatologist. They can always come in and save your skin with a shot of cortisone. And in the meantime, try out our new SKIN FILTER, which helps not only reduce long-term acne scars, but helps to fight blemishes, sun damage, and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles.