how to treat acne scarsSource: Romariolen/Shutterstock

No matter what you try, sometimes it seems like acne scars won’t go away! So we got in touch with not one, but two dermatologists; Dr. Mona Gohara, the Associate Clinical Professor at Yale School of Medicine, and New York’s leading dermatologist, Dr. Doris Day. Because let’s be real, when it comes to a skincare concern as complex and as difficult to treat as acne and scarring, the more help we have, the better chance we have of tackling it.

But first, as with any skincare problem, before you know how to get rid of it, you should learn how to avoid it:

What Causes Acne?

Acne occurs when your hair follicle becomes clogged with a combination of sebum, a natural oil your skin produces, and dead skin, which then causes pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads to form. If you have severe acne, you could also be experiencing cystic acne, which means the infection has gone deeper into your skin, causing the pore to become inflamed, forming a bump of pus. You should treat each type of acne differently; to find out how to banish acne, check out our guide.

acne-diagram (1)

What Causes Acne Scarring?

Dr. Day told us that “A scar is a true change in the texture of the skin,” and Dr. Gohara explained that there are “two categories of post acne ‘marks.’ The first form of scarring is generally more permanent and is a result of inflamed or cystic pimples that are left untreated or that are more severe in nature. The second is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIP); these are discolorations that are left behind (particularly on darker skin) from breakouts, these are not permanent and can be treated.”

What Is The Best Way To Avoid Acne Scarring?

The most simple and effective way of reducing any acne scarring is not picking or squeezing your pimples, as Dr. Day tells us it will only “increase the risk of scarring.” If you try to squeeze them, you’ll aggravate them as the dirt and bacteria on your hands and nails will transfer onto your skin. Plus, if you pop them, the leaking pus will spread the acne bacteria further.

What you do need to do, however, is apply a good sunscreen that has at least SPF 30 with 5-star UVA protection, daily. Dr. Day explains that this is really important as “the sun breaks down collagen and can make acne scarring and hyperpigmentation worse, so it’s very important to protect your skin from the sun.” Dr. Gohara recommends the La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra-light Mineral Fluid, $35, and powder sunscreens such as Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield, $65, as they can be easily reapplied throughout the day without messing up your makeup (you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours). Using a good retinol cream will also help prevent acne scarring, and Dr. Gohara recommends the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, $80, as it’s packed with antioxidants, fruit enzymes and vitamins that will help even out your skin tone, leaving your skin looking glowy AF.

How To Treat Acne Scarring

When it comes to acne scarring, since no scar is the same and everybody’s skin is different, there’s no one treatment that will work for everyone. Treatment will also depend on the type of scar – post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a dark flat mark, and a real scar, where the surface of the skin has changed – and each type of scar has a variety of different treatments. Here’s how you should treat each type of scar:

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Thankfully, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is easier to treat than type-one acne scars. Dr. Gohara insists that “As it relates to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation” the most important cream to apply is “sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher daily each morning.” She also recommends looking for “skincare products that contain pigmentation helping antioxidants like vitamin C. Retinol can also be very helpful as it’ll help even out your complexion, reducing the appearance of scars. There are also prescription fading creams that can be prescribed by your dermatologist.”

Dr. Day adds that products that contain “vitamin C, vitamin A, niacinamide, growth factors, and peptides” are also extremely beneficial as they “help stimulate collagen production and brighten the skin, which helps with decreasing hyperpigmentation and redness.”

Type 1 scars: Depressed Scars

Dr. Gohara tells us that “Real scars are much harder to treat” and “they usually require a laser or a device to help rebuild collagen.” When it comes to treating type 1 scars, Dr. Days reminds us that you have to be realistic as although “the goal is always to completely erase the scar, a more likely expectation is to improve it by 50-80%, and this should be understood before starting treatment. Some scars will be completely removed, others will be improved.” Here are some treatments that Dr. Day and Dr. Gohrara would recommend:

Method 1: Fraxel Lazer Therapy

Both Dr. Day and Dr. Gohara recommend Fraxel laser therapy, which is an FDA approved laser therapy, which according to Dr. Day, “can help both the discoloration and the changes in texture from acne scars.”

The treatment: According to Dr. Day, it’s “typically a series of four to six sessions at one-month intervals.” She explains “the entire face is treated to make sure the skin all looks even in tone and texture at the end of treatments.” Before the laser treatment, a “topical anesthetic is applied for about 45 minutes, which is washed off before the laser is applied to the skin.”

Post-appointment: After the appointment, you can expect your face to feel a little red, and it will feel as if you’ve been sunburnt but only for about thirty minutes. After the therapy, it won’t be healed straight away, and Dr. Day told us that “the redness can last for a few hours to a day, then it slowly looks bronzed and flaky for about 5-7 days. However, you can wear moisturizer and make up the next day, so there’s really very little in the way of downtime.” And although this type of laser therapy is appropriate for a variety of skin types, it should be avoided if you have “darker skin or skin that has had recent sun exposure or skin with melasma (patchy hormonal hyperpigmentation).” Check out our expert’s guide to treating hyperpigmentation and acne scarring for darker skin tones here.

Method 2: Threads

One of Dr. Day’s fav treatments for acne scarring is Euro threads, as the results are long-lasting, sometimes “even permanent”. She explains “the threads are made of an ingredient found in absorbable stitches called PDO or PLLA. These threads come in different lengths and styles, and are placed under and around the scars, which help to erase it by smoothing the skin and stimulating more collagen.” For even better results, Dr. Day told us she likes to combine the treatment with microneedling and radio frequency, as it helps to boost collagen.

Method 3: Microneedling

Microneedling is another effective treatment for reducing the appearance of acne scars. It can be performed by your dermatologist or you can do it yourself with a derma-roller. Dr. Day recommends The Skin Pen, as it’s the first FDA-approved microneedling device for acne scarring. Although she does also add that when it’s performed by a dermatologist, it can also be combined with radio frequency which will “help to stimulate collagen.”

Derma-rollers are actually great for all types of skincare issues, not just acne scarring, so it’s a great all-around investment. It’s basically a rolling pin that’s covered in tiny little needles that you roll across your skin, causing tiny abrasions (holes) – we know it may sound terrifying, but it’s amazing for your skin, and actually not painful. Your skin will then react with a rush of blood and collagen to repair the area, building new skin cells over the scar. The collagen boost will also improve the skin’s elasticity, diminishing scars, and even improving the appearance of wrinkles. You can do it yourself, but you need to ensure that you’re very careful. Here’re our top tips:

  • For best results, it should be done when your pimple has gone but when the scar is newly formed.
  • Be careful not to pierce any surrounding acne as this will spread acne bacteria and trigger a breakout.
  • Always cleanse and tone your skin before you use a derma-roller and use a repairing serum after. The serum will be most effective after derma-rolling as it will be more easily absorbed into your skin.
  • Always clean the derma-roller with alcohol before and after every use and store it in a sterile container.
  • Use gentle movements, going up and down and diagonally across the skin.

Check out the Banish Instagram account to see just how effective combining microneedling and brightening skincare ingredients can be.

Where to get it: Derma-rollers aren’t expensive, and you can find them easily online. We recommend using one with titanium needles that are 0.5mm in length or below. If you get one that’s 0.5mm or below, you can use your derma-roller every one to two weeks. You can also visit a dermatologist, who will be able to use a derma-roller with longer needles, 1mm or 2mm, which will be more effective but should only be used by a professional.

Find out more about how to treat acne and different types of acne scarring here.