Please don’t believe that anything can get rid of acne marks ‘overnight’, it’s just not true. Or that lemon juice will magically make scars and dark marks disappear – because it won’t.
Instead, here’s an honest guide to what you can do that will work. As dermatologists have proven.
First, A Quick Primer On Adult Acne
Acne is often thought of as something that only happens when you are a teenager. But as many of us know all too well, acne during adulthood is very common. About 33% of all acne clients seen by doctors are 25 years old or older. If you are female, odds are that you are more likely to get adult acne too. Women are 7 times more likely to get adult acne than men.
What causes adult acne?
For women, most adult acne is due to hormone changes. This is simply because nearly everything makes our hormones go a little crazy – our menstrual cycle, pregnancy, peri-menopause (the period before menopause), menopause and starting or stopping birth control pills!
As if that wasn’t enough (and here’s where men don’t escape), other factors include stress, if you have close family with adult acne (i.e. hereditary/genetics), if you use pore-clogging hair and skin products, take certain medications or smoke. All of which make you more likely to get adult acne.
OK, Moving On – So What Are ‘Acne Marks’ Really?
Quite simply, acne marks are skin damage as a result of acne/spots.
They are NOT the same as SCARS.
Acne marks and scars are often confused, but they are really very different things. You need to know the difference between them as the treatments are very different for each.
When you get reddish/purply or brown marks (darker skins = darker marks) that continue after a spot or pimple has gone – that is an acne mark. If you want the super-nerdy dermatologist name for this, it’s called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Basically inflammation, or swelling, that has temporarily interrupted the skin from healing properly. This is made much worse by picking at spots (yes, that’s why!).
Great, so it’s got a fancy name…
The good thing about things having fancy names is that generally this means that doctors understand it pretty well!
Firstly, the good news. Acne marks will tend to go away on their own. The not so good news is that it can typically take anywhere up to 6 months for this to happen.
You can speed this process up dramatically though (yay!). Just don’t believe any nonsense about it happening overnight. Realistically home treatment can bring this down to weeks instead of months.
And by home treatment, I don’t mean the long list of ‘home remedies’ that are regularly recommended. These range from lemon juice to baking soda and all sorts of other strange things – but seem to be recommended by people who have NEVER tried them. As they just don’t work!
What Does Work…
What does work is what dermatologists recommend we use. That is, creams containing retinoid, vitamin C and other skin brightening/whitening ingredients.
But be prepared to use these every day according to the instructions, and be patient until the marks lighten and fade.
You can find my top 3 skin lightening products here, which includes products specifically designed for acne marks.
So When Is A Mark Actually A Scar?
A real acne scar is a very different thing. They look different but will also not fade away on their own, whereas acne hyperpigmentation marks typically will.
Scars are actually as a result of collagen damage (collagen is what makes skin elastic – more about collagen here). The skin fails to heal properly and normal tissue gets replaced with tougher more fibrous tissue. This is why you can feel scars with your finger tips.
There are two types of acne scars:-
- Depressed or atrophic acne scars (the body does not produce enough repair tissue) – these are depressions or pits in your skin, and you usually get these on your face.
- Raised or keloid/hypertrophic acne scars (the body produces too much repair tissue) are simply the opposite – scars that are elevated or bumps, and you usually get these on your back and chest. If you are of African American, Hispanic or Asian heritage, you are more likely to get this form of scarring.
Why Do We Get Acne Scars?
Anyone can get scarring, but you are more likely to if:-
- You have severe acne that causes swollen, painful cysts (pockets of fluid). This type of acne usually goes deep into your skin which can damage the skin structure and leaves a scar after it clears.
- You pick at, squeeze or pop your acne. It may be very tempting to pop your pimples, but try not to! Doing so increases inflammation which can increase your risk of getting acne marks and scars.
- You have a family member who has developed acne scars. Unfortunately, it tends to run in families.
Can You Do Anything To Get Rid Of Scars?
The good news is YES. There are lots of ways to improve or lighten the appearance of them. The not so good news is that they tend to be expensive treatments.
- Skin Resurfacing: This involves removing various layers of damaged skin in order for new healthy skin to appear. This works if your acne marks are not very deep. There are 4 main types of skin resurfacing procedures:
- Laser skin resurfacing: A laser is used to even out your skin.
- Chemical peeling: A special acid is used to remove the top layer of your skin.
- Dermabrasion: A fast spinning wheel with a rough surface removes the top layer of your skin.
- Microdermabrasion: Small, exfoliating crystals are used to gently remove the top layers of your skin.
- Skin Fillers: This involves placing a filler such as collagen or your own fat into a depressed acne scar to plump it out.
- Skin Tightening: This involves using radiofrequency technology to tighten your skin. When your skin tightens, the scars are harder to see. This procedure is considered safe for all skin tones.
- Collagen Induction Therapy: This is also called needling or micro-needling. This involves using a sterilized hand-held roller full of needles along affected areas. This encourages your body to produce collagen.
- Laser Therapy: This involves using laser and other light therapies to reduce scarring.
- Cryosurgery: This involves freezing raised acne scars so they fall off. It is not recommended for darker skin tones.
- Scar Creams, Gels & Silicone Dressings: These can help reduce the size of raised areas and flatten them.
- Surgery: If you have very severe acne scarring, your dermatologist may suggest surgery. They lift the scar up to reduce the depth of the indentation, or cut away/break it up to make it less prominent. Sometimes skin grafts (taking skin from another part of your body) can be used to help replace the damaged tissue.
What Can I Do To Avoid Getting More Marks & Scars?
Nothing will guarantee you won’t get more – but there are some tips that will help to limit them.
Firstly, as I’ve already said, do your best to avoid picking and squeezing. The damage this causes does directly lead to more marks and scars. If you cannot avoid squeezing, be as gentle as you can – and make sure your hands and nails are very clean first.
Next, it can greatly help to limit or protect your skin from sun exposure. Particularly for darker marks. The sun triggers your skin to produce pigment or melanin (a tan as we call it), and this extra pigment can make marks and scars look a lot worse than they are. So avoid the sun and you can naturally lighten acne scars or marks.
Finally – treat early. That is, treat acne/spots early to try and limit how bad they get. And treat any signs of damage after they heal early too.
The last thing to remember is that any kind of blemish always looks far worse to you than to anyone else. This is because we spend time examining them closely in a mirror in bright spotlights! Other people do not see you that way, so things are never quite as bad as you think.