Even people with perfect skin suffer from the occasional blemish, and many of us have dealt with full blown acne at some point in our lives. Acne is unpleasant at best, and at its worst it can be painful and make even the most confident person feel a little self-conscious.
When acne strikes you want it to go away as fast as possible. To add insult to injury, once a blemish finally does disappear you’re left with discoloration that serves as a visible reminder for weeks, sometimes months.
Thankfully, most discolorations left after a blemish heals are temporary. They might not fade fast enough for your liking, but they will disappear. It just takes a little time for the skin to heal and return back to its normal state.
But, what about the more stubborn acne scars that stick around? Major acne flareups, especially those that include cystic acne, can cause more severe damage to the skin that extends deeper. Acne scars can be as difficult to live with as the acne itself, but the good news is that most of the time they fade on their own. It might take several weeks, but you’ll eventually see some relief – especially if you treat your skin with remedies that help to expedite the healing process.
Unfortunately, sometimes scarring from more severe acne will fade, but might not disappear completely. For these cases, it might be necessary to consult with a dermatologist about the best method for clearing away the visible evidence of acne’s war on your skin.
Still, there are things you can do and measures you can take to reduce the chances of acne scarring and speed along the process of healing.
The Anatomy of an Acne Scar
Before we dive into the natural, gentle ways of healing acne scars, maybe it’s best to start by understanding what an acne scar really is.
Acne starts when the pores of the skin become engorged with dead skin cells, an excess of natural skin oils and bacteria from the skin’s surface. This is a recipe for inflammation which we refer to as a pimple.
The inflammation in the pore puts pressure on the follicle wall, eventually breaking it. As with any other minor injury to the skin, there’s some residual visual evidence of the injury as the skin heals itself. Most acnes scars fade naturally, much like a scratch or a small cut from shaving. It might stay around longer that you like, but it’s not permanent or even long lasting.
Sometimes, with more severe acne or blemishes that have been further irritated, the break in the follicle wall is deeper into the pore. The creates an environment where the infected material can seep into the surrounding tissue, creating an even deeper wound. However, your skin is a powerhouse and immediately starts to repair the damage by creating new collagen fibers. Often however, the repairs aren’t as smooth as the rest of your skin. Have you ever broken a treasured item and glued it back together? It’s almost as good as new, but if you look closely you can see evidence of the damage. Acne scarring is pretty much the same thing.
The role of collagen in scar repair is the main reason that those pesky blemishes that appear as result of hormonal changes in your 30s, 40s and beyond are so much slower to heal. The more mature your skin is, the more prone it becomes to scars that take longer to fade. This is a double whammy for those who experience adult acne.
An Ounce of Prevention
As unfortunate as it is, blemishes just don’t disappear instantly without a trace. The most effective method for reducing the appearance of acne scars is by being proactive in preventing more severe scarring from occurring in the first place.
Cystic type acne tends to produce more severe scarring because the inflammation is trapped so far below the surface, putting an incredible amount of pressure on the follicle wall. It’s best to work with a dermatologist to help treat this type of acne, even if it’s just one blemish, to reduce the potential for long term scarring.
That said, there are three preventative steps that you can take to proactively inhibit acne scarring that don’t involve a trip to the doctor.
- It’s been said so many times before, but please don’t pick at your blemishes. Yes, the temptation is almost too hard to resist. After all, there’s this glaring red spot on your face that looks like it might explode. You think that maybe if you reduce the pressure it will at least lessen the appearance. The problem is that even with freshly washed hands, there’s potential to introduce more bacteria into the blemish once you break open the skin. This is only going to make matters worse.
- Don’t irritate the blemish. An acne breakout is not the time to get rigorous with a scrubbing and exfoliation routine. When you’re dealing with acne, it’s tempting to keep your skin as clean as possible to prevent even more blemishes from appearing. However, even overzealous washing with a mild cleanser can dry out and irritate the skin. Stick to your regular, gentle skin care routine and treat acne and existing scars with care to not cause further damage.
- Spot treatments can help prevent damage. When a blemish appears, you want to reduce the inflammation as quickly as possible to reduce the potential of damage to the pore follicle. If you have a gentle spot treatment that you love, go for it. If you’re interested in an easy natural alternative, just crush an aspirin and mix with some water to make a thin paste and then apply it to the blemish. The anti-inflammatory properties of the aspirin will help calm the inflammation almost instantly.
What Really Works on Acne Scars?
While preventative measures are important, they don’t really do much for help get rid of the acne scars that have decided to call your skin home. There’s really no cure that magically erases acne scars. The best approach to scarring is to take steps that amplify the skin’s ability to heal itself naturally.
There are a variety of natural remedies and skin care products that smooth the appearance of acne scars and help them fade away into oblivion. Here are a few of our favorites.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerhouse antioxidant that is time-released into your skin to lighten scarring, even out discolorations and restore the health of your skin. Vitamin C performs double duty by promoting wound healing and stimulating collagen synthesis so that your skin can reclaim its flawless appearance.
Vitamin E: This fatty vitamin packs an antioxidant punch and is chock full of skin protecting properties. You might not immediately associate an “oily” vitamin with any treatment related to acne, but vitamin E seals cracks and provides a necessary moisture barrier on damaged skin allowing it to heal more efficiently.
Gentle Exfoliation: Yes, we mentioned above how you should avoid overzealous exfoliation when treating acne and acne scars. It’s true that the last thing you want to do is further irritate skin that’s already damaged. The key to using exfoliation to reduce acne scars can be found in the word “gentle.” Gentle exfoliation, including enzymatic exfoliants, help to encourage cell turnover and regeneration which replaces scarring with fresh, glowing skin.
Retinol: This vitamin A derivative is a powerhouse for speeding up cell turnover. When retinol is broken down into retinoic acid, it penetrates deep into the skin working to repair acne scars from the inside out. Some people have sensitivities to retinol, so make sure you’re using a product that formulated for sensitive skin.
Tea Tree Oil: If you love essential oils and everything they do, you’re probably already well aware of its skin soothing properties. Tea tree oil can also be used as a natural treatment of acne scars. Just dilute a few drops in your favorite carrier oil – coconut oil actually makes a great choice because of its anti-inflammatory properties, plus it’s packed with the healing power of essential fatty acids.
Glycolic Acid: Much like retinol, the true magic of glycolic acid is its ability to penetrate deep into the pores to heal on a cellular level. Glycolic acid is an extremely small molecule and once it penetrates the skin’s surface it works to break apart the sticky, cellular “glue” that holds old, dead skin cells together – including the ones that make up acne scars. It also serves an additional purpose of boosting the production of collagen and elastin, resulting in a smoother appearance once the scars fade.
Sunscreen: We all know that sunscreen is important, but you might not think of it as a crucial step in getting rid of acne scars. When your skin is damaged, it’s eve more susceptible to harm from the sun’s UV rays. The damage will only worsen acne scarring and tanning or getting a sunburn will likely make them appear darker.
Acne scars can be a real hit to how you feel about your appearance. With so many options for reducing their severity and speeding along the healing process, there’s no reason that you have to suffer for weeks, months, or even years with acne scars.