While acne can be annoying, it’s nothing to worry about and let’s be real, many of us are dealing with it on the reg. 50 million people a year, in fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology). And even though it can seem overwhelming to treat (and expensive), there are ways to treat it, should you wish to.
Knowing how to fight it though – and the different types of acne scars – can be difficult. “There are pretty much two types of acne scars,” explains Debra Jaliman, board-certified NYC dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “Scars where there has been a loss of tissue are referred to as atrophic scars, and hypertrophic scars are scars that have been caused by an excess of tissue.” Not sure which kind you have? The general rule of thumb is atrophic scars look like pitted or sunken depressions in the skin, and hypertrophic scars are raised and firm above the skin.
So we turned to the top derms, plastic surgeons, and skincare experts in the biz to weigh in on the best acne scar solutions. From lasers and micro-needling, to products containing vitamin C and retinol, read on for the best scar-improving options to determine which is right for you.
PRP Injections (Platelet-Rich Plasma) Laser
Gerald Imber, a New York City-based plastic surgeon and director of Youth Corridor Clinic, is partial to micro fat grafting to treat saucer-like depressions and make the skin surface “smoother and less irregular.” Yet another treatment that’s highly popular at his clinic for acne scars is PRP. “Injection of PRP (a growth factor from one’s blood) encourages collagen growth,” he explains. You may recall the famous “Vampire Facelift?” This would be the one, and although injecting your own blood into your face could freak out most, numbing cream is applied beforehand to make it more bearable. Couple PRP with the aforementioned micro-needling – or fat injections – and you have yourself a double-duty treatment that will “elevate the depressed scars and make them less visible.”
Average cost: $1,400 per treatment for PRP alone. Costs vary from $1,500 and up for micro-needling and PRP, to several thousand dollars for the combined procedures.
Average pain level: 5
“Secret RF (or micro-needling with radio frequency) is another highly effective treatment that improves acne scars,” said Dr. Imber. “The combination of micro-needling with radio frequency heat delivers energy deep within the skin encouraging collagen growth, and rejuvenating skin tone and texture at the same time.” What’s key to point out with this treatment is the heat aspect. That, along with the fact the prongs go deeper than most other machines – when it comes to acne, “deeper is better,” according to Imber – makes this very effective. It’s also important to note the procedure usually needs to be performed two or three times for optimal results.
Average cost: $1,000-1,500 per treatment
Average pain level: 5-6 depending on the individual
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Even if the thought of tiny needles jabbing at your face produces immediate nightmares, the payoff is worth it – trust us. “Micro-needling is a collagen induction therapy to promote cell turnover,” Dr. Jaliman said. “Needles are used to create small punctures on the top layer of the skin and these micro wounds essentially trick the body into healing mode faster to create new collagen and elastin.” While she recommends it to patients wanting to reduce pore size, improve texture and firmness, and improve acne scars, she warns against DIY devices that may seem like a cost-effective alternative. “Micro-needling should be done with a specialist, rather than with ‘at-home’ kits.” The reason being is that licensed professionals can go much deeper into the dermis with medical-grade machinery. Hence the price tag of the service versus a $30 roller you can pick up at Sephora.
Average cost: $500 per treatment
Average pain level: 3
Laser type 1. IPL: Upper East Side cosmetic and surgical dermatologist Estee Williams treats an array of acne-prone patients on the daily via laser. She likes the Lumenis M22 Laser IPL (intense pulsed light) treatment in particular. “This is a gentle laser-like treatment that I modify specifically to target acne,” she says “and I often treat the whole face with this special acne crystal, followed by another setting for pigmentation or redness.”
Average cost: $700-1,200 per treatment
Average pain level: 0-1
Laser type 2: VBEAM and Fraxel: “Since all scars are not created equal, there are a variety of options for scar revision and they usually require multiple treatments,” said Paul Jarrod Frank, celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD and PFRANKMD Skin Salon. Two lasers that Dr. Frank sees the most success with when it comes to hyperpigmentation (where the skin color is lost or darker than the surrounding area) would be VBeam and Fraxel Thulium. “These can help to bring back the pigmentation, as well as treat rosacea, spider veins, and sun and age spots.” As for whether or not the buzzed about Fraxel hurts, most people who’ve experienced it liken it to rubber bands being snapped against the skin. Hey, you know what they say; no pain, no gain.
Average cost: $400-800 (for VBeam) and $900-$1,900 (for Fraxel)
Average pain level: 1-2
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Tips for Preventing Acne Scars:
1. Avoid picking at the scars and don’t let the scars linger too long without treating them. “The longer you wait to treat them, the more treatments and more difficult it will be to get rid of them,” said Dr. Jaliman.
2. Jaliman recommends incorporating salicylic acid into your skincare routine as it will help “fade spots by exfoliating dead skin cells and evening out texture.”
3. Keep acne-prone skin moisturized and hydrated. “Anything that creates a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to lock in moisture to help protect skin while it heals will help lessen the chances of a noticeable scar,” adds Jaliman.
4. According to Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder and CEO of Shiffa (an organic skincare line based on the principles of dermatology), “tamanu oil and creams are great especially for newer scars, and for some people it even helps fade older scars.” Just be consistent with your applications as this ingredient can take some time to see results.
5. “Make bi-weekly peels part of your routine,” said Dr. Hamdan. Shiffa Tri-Acid Radiance Peel, $71, has three types of acid (glycolic, lactic and salicylic) and it will not only help guard against the occasional ill-timed pimple popping up, but also help refine your skin texture and tone, decrease pigmentation, and minimize the appearance of scars and wrinkles.
6. Switch up your diet. If you have persistent acne with no improvement, go dairy-free for three months and see if it makes a difference, suggests Hamdan. Cutting out sugar and white carbs – and drinking an organic liver detox herbal tea twice a week – can also be beneficial to saying bye-bye to blemishes.
7. Always, always apply sunscreen! The sun will darken pigmentation and the collagen in the skin that helps scars to heal. We recommend a minimum of SPF 30 with a 5-star UVA rating.
Products that Can Lighten Scars:
Dr. Jaliman advises looking for topical over-the-counter lotions that have vitamin C, glycolic acid, or retinol as these ingredients “will help lessen the appearance and lighten acne scars.” Check out her fave formulas below:
FRESH Rose Hydrating Gel Cream, $40: It has rosewater and rose flower oil, which will help smooth out acne scars and the algae and hyaluronic acid provide moisture to the skin to keep it hydrated. Angelica leaf extract promotes collagen and helps with skin texture.
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, $12: This cleanser is rich in ceramides to keep your skin hydrated, and it includes niacinamide, which will help stimulate fibroblasts that make collagen. So it helps with fine lines and texture.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Mattifying Toner, $18: Tea tree oil is an essential oil and it’s great because it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It helps soothe redness and inflammation and many use it to help prevent and reduce their acne scars. Tea tree oil also has a number of compounds that have been shown to kill certain bacteria and viruses.
Let us know if you guys have any questions on these treatments in the comments below.