Scars from acne can seem like double punishment — first you had to deal with the pimples, now you have marks as a reminder.
Is there anything you can do?
To understand scars, you need to understand acne. Acne refers to lesions or pimples caused when the hair follicles (or "pores") on the skin become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. A plugged follicle is the perfect place for bacteria to grow and create the red bumps and pus-filled red bumps known as pimples. (The usual bacteria that causes acne is called Propionibacterium acnes.) Hormonal changes during the teen years often cause increased oil production that contributes to the problem.
Acne comes in different forms:
- mild acne, which refers to the whiteheads or blackheads that most of us get at various times
- moderately severe acne, which includes red inflamed pimples called papules and red pimples with white centers called pustules
- severe acne, which causes nodules — painful, pus-filled cysts or lumps — to appear under the skin
Most serious scarring is caused by the more severe forms of acne, with nodules more likely to leave permanent scars than other types of acne. The best way to deal with acne is to get treatment soon after the acne appears to prevent further severe acne and more scarring. If you have nodules, see your doctor or dermatologist for treatment.
If you have serious scarring from previous bouts with acne, there are some things you can do. One form of treatment is laser resurfacing, which can be done in the doctor's or dermatologist's office. The laser removes the damaged top layer of skin and tightens the middle layer, leaving skin smoother. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. The doctor will try to lessen any pain by first numbing the skin with local anesthesia. It usually takes between 3 and 10 days for the skin to heal completely.
Another method for treating acne scarring is dermabrasion, which uses a rotating wire brush or spinning diamond instrument to wear down the surface of the skin. As the skin heals, a new, smoother layer replaces the abraded skin. It may take a bit longer for skin to heal using dermabrasion — usually between 10 days and 3 weeks.
The newest form of treatment for acne scarring is called fractional laser therapy. This type of treatment works at a deeper level than laser resurfacing or dermabrasion, Because fractional laser therapy doesn't wound the top layer of tissue, healing time is shorter. Fractional laser therapy is quite costly, and it's not usually covered by insurance.
A person's acne will need to be under control before having any of these treatments.
Depending on the severity of the acne scars, the doctor or dermatologist may also suggest a chemical peel or microdermabrasion to help improve the appearance of scarred areas. These milder treatments can be done right in the office.
Sometimes doctors inject material under the scar to raise it to the level of normal skin. Finally, in some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove deeply indented scars.
One thing you shouldn't do to deal with acne scars is load up your face with masks or fancy lotions — these won't help and may irritate your skin further, making the scars red and even more noticeable.
If you have a red or brownish mark on your face that you got from a bad zit, have no fear — it will eventually fade, just like the scars you had on your knees after you fell off your bike when you were a kid. However, it may take 12 months or longer — so your best bet is to avoid these kinds of marks by not squeezing or popping your zits, no matter how tempting it may seem.