Breakouts are undeniably stress-inducing in their own right, but their byproduct scarring can have just as much of an impact on your self-esteem. Scars seem more permanent than blemishes and are often trickier to treat. Thankfully, there are several targeted products that when paired with a regimented routine can and will reduce scarring. We asked dermatologist Dr. Kemi Fabusiwa everything you want to know about clearing your complexion for good.
What causes acne scars?
This might seem like a bit of a "duh" question but it's good to understand the mechanisms at play when scars form. "Acne causes inflammation," explains Dr. Fabusiwa. "This inflammation damages the skin and leads to breaks in the moisture barrier. The skin attempts to heal over this damage by laying down connective tissue such as collagen fibers at the site of injury. It is this dysregulated healing process that leads to uneven skin and scarring. Unfortunately, acne scarring can be disfiguring and often takes a long time to heal."
Different types of scars explained
"There are four types of acne scars," explains Dr. Fabusiwa explains.
- Hypertrophic scars: These are raised as the scar forms too much connective tissue at the site of injury.
- Boxcar scars: Well-defined deep depressions in the skin.
- Rolling scars: Poorly defined deep depressions in the skin.
- Icepick scars: Narrow impressions resembling an ice pick puncture.
Hyperpigmentation often occurs alongside acne scarring as melanocytes release excess melanin at the site of inflammation.
Why are some people more prone to scars than others?
The realization that some people barely suffer from scarring is a hard pill to swallow. Unfortunately, it's got nothing to do with luck and everything to do with your genes. "Acne scarring often depends on our genetics. Darker-skinned individuals are at a higher risk of hyperpigmentation due to their larger melanocytes, which produce more melanin. If you have a predisposition to having acne, you are also more likely to scar."
How can you prevent acne scars from forming?
It is easier said than done. No spots means no scars, and if the solution to acne was simple, well, there would be no article. But, as with 99.9 percent of skincare concerns: "Prevention is much better than cure," stresses Dr. Fabusiwa. "The best way to prevent acne scarring is to prevent acne in the first place. To do this, one must have a diligent skincare routine that includes elements that focus on oil control and reducing inflammation."
What are the best products & ingredients for acne scars?
A combo of preventative and restorative products is necessary, so make sure you are adequately armed from the get-go.
You don't need us to tell you, but Dr. Fabusiwa is here to remind you again how important it is to wear sunscreen. "Daily SPF is imperative in preventing hyperpigmentation." Make sure your chosen protector is oil-free and ideally formulated for blemish-prone skin so it doesn't cause new breakouts.
Known for its base brightening, vitamin C is an integral part of any skincare regimen but holds exceptional value for those struggling with scars. Not only does the antioxidant increase cell turnover, boosting the skin's regeneration process and diminishing hyperpigmentation, it supports collagen production which Dr. Fabusiwa informs us "enhances wound healing." Two birds one stone. Potent serums with a higher percentage of vitamin C will yield the best results, so stick to those over 15 percent.
Is there anything retinol can't do? Put simply, no, not really. If you are unfamiliar with all the wonderous ways it can improve your complexion read this. In a nutshell, you need it. Don't wait until the scars have already formed, if you are battling breakouts you should already be applying retinol regularly. "Retinol or vitamin A prevents acne and the scarring," says Dr. Fabusiwa. It does this by increasing cell turnover, which in turn removes the buildup of dead skin and bacteria from pores. This process of exfoliation helps brighten your complexion and fade any darkened areas.
If your skin is not used to retinol you should start with a low percentage formula and slowly work your way up, checking in to see how your skin is doing as you go. Sensitivity and peeling is a normal part of the process, but if at any point you find it is becoming too much, take a break. On the other hand, if you are using a high strength formula and seeing little results it is worth speaking to a doctor. Often extreme acne and scarring will require a prescription-strength retinoid.
Think of these as a less severe chemical peel (FYI: peels are expensive and often painful) which you can safely administer yourself in the comfort of your bathroom. Again, it makes sense to be using these during, after, and even before blemishes rear their relentless head, so you might as well invest in one now.
AHA glycolic acid is considered the gold standard for intensive resurfacing, while BHA's are known for their superior blemish busting, making it better suited to oily, spot-prone complexions. When used daily, both increase cell turnover, slough away the buildup of dead skin, and refine your complexion. Often, you'll find formulas mix and match so you're getting the benefits of all three. If your skin is very sensitive we suggest sticking to lactic acid as it is far gentler than the rest.
Sometimes scarring is so severe it requires more exhaustive treatment. In this instance, you should turn to professionals to help heal your skin. "Some acne scarring needs more than just 'at home' skincare. You need to consider advanced treatments that can help to resurface and transform the skin. These include micro-needling and advanced peels."
"It is also best to seek professional help as early as possible. This might come in the form of your GP who can give you prescription-strength anti-acne medication or an aesthetician who can administer resurfacing treatments." Dr. Fabusiwa also adds that those with darker skin types should avoid microdermabrasion. "Whilst this does help to resurface the skin. It can also lead to excessive inflammation, which can exacerbate hyperpigmentation."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.