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How to Fade Acne Scars: The Best At-home and Professional Treatments

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know that there’s no magic wand that can get rid of an acne scar overnight. Luckily, there are effective products and treatments that reduce the appearance of scars over time. Here’s everything you need to know…

What are acne scars?

Scarring occurs when skin experiences trauma, and in the case of acne, the trauma is related to inflammation. When the damage to the dermis is severe, the skin can respond by quickly creating an abnormal amount of connective tissue in an attempt to heal itself. Depending on the blemish and skin type, this natural repair process can lead to tone and texture that looks and feels different from the rest of your skin.

Different Types of Scars Explained

Like snowflakes, acne scars come in all shapes and sizes. These are generally categorised into hypertrophic and keloid (or raised) scars and atrophic or depressed scars. In order to treat the different types, it’s helpful to learn how to distinguish between them. The five types of acne scars are:

Hypertrophic scars: bumpy, raised scars that result from the production of too much tissue

Keloid scars: a type of hypertrophic scar that extends beyond the original site of the injury

Boxcar scars: deep impressions with well-defined edges leftover from picking at cystic acne

Ice pick scars: small impressions with sharp edges

Roller scars: deep impressions with rounded, sloping edges leftover from picking at cystic acne

Superficial acne marks, like dark brown or red dots, must be distinguished from acne scars. Also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), acne marks are formed when there is damage to the skin which leads to abnormal pigment production. Unlike scars, PIH marks are smooth to the touch, and as there is no permanent collagen damage, these tend to fade on their own over time but occasionally will need depigmenting treatments. That said, there are several options to speed up the process. But more on that later.

How can you prevent acne scarring?

The best way to avoid scarring is to prevent breakouts from happening in the first place – and never, ever pick the spots. To do this, one must have a diligent skincare routine. If you’re a minimalist, then we recommend you give this easy acne routine a try:

Step 1: Morning and night, wash your face with a gentle, sulphate-free alphahydroxy (AHA like glycolic acid) or betahydroxy acid (BHA like salicylic acid) cleanser to dissolve excess oil and bacteria without stripping your skin or leaving it irritated.

Step 2: At night only, apply an acne treatment with active ingredients like salicylic acid, retinol, benzoyl peroxide and niacinamide.

Step 3: Morning and night, use a lightweight, oil-free moisturiser that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides.

Step 4: In the morning only, wear oil-free sunscreen that contains SPF 30 or more, provides broad-spectrum protection, and is non-comedogenic.

How to Get Rid of Acne Scars

Treating acne scars and marks can be tricky. Thankfully, there are topicals and professional in-office treatments that can significantly improve their appearance.

Target Discolouration First

If you’re looking for more instant results, we recommend addressing the discolouration that accompanies scarring first. The star ingredient for fading discolouration is vitamin C, which is brimming with antioxidants and has serious brightening benefits.

Additionally, retinol —a derivative of vitamin A, is well-loved for leaving skin looking brighter and smoother.

Another at-home option is performing regular chemical peels (at a lower dosage) infused with acids such as glycolic, lactic and salicylic, which gently exfoliate to calm down redness and inflammation.

Try Professional Treatments

Some acne scarring needs more advanced treatments that can help to resurface the skin. There’s microneedling and needling devices such as Dermapen, which promotes collagen production by delivering gentle microscopic injuries to your skin. The idea is to help fill the depressions left behind by acne. Hyaluronic acid-based fillers can also be used for plumping up pitted skin to make it more even. When used correctly by a professional, a glycolic acid peel is a quick and effective way to rejuvenate the skin. It acts as an exfoliant dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells, revealing smooth skin below. And then there’s laser treatments, which work by emitting a wavelength of light or radio frequency while penetrating your skin to soften the scar and stimulate the development of healthy collagen.

Old Scars Can Be Treated, Too

When it comes to treatment, the sooner you treat the scar, the better the results will be. New and red or pink scars are more amenable to treatment because they’re still healing. Once a scar turns white, it becomes more challenging to treat with topicals alone – but it’s not impossible. On average, scars are active for 12 months, after which the scar is fully healed – completely white, no pink. This is the time when plastic and reconstructive surgeons typically recommend scar revision surgeries. And remember, consistency is key in order to see improvement: about eight weeks for newer scars and three to six months for existing ones.

Some of Us Are More Prone to Scarring than Others

The unfair truth is that some people barely suffer from scarring. Unfortunately, it’s got nothing to do with luck and everything to do with our genetics and skin type (oily). Darker skin types that have more pigment potential also have to be particularly careful when it comes to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. We recommend giving your skin some extra TLC with products specially formulated for darker skin.

Say hello to baby-smooth skin!

Yours in skin,

Dr Alek and the SkinMiles Team


About Dr Alek Nikolic

Dr Alek Nikolic was born in South Africa and received his MBBCh (Wits) in 1992 and in 2000 he received his MBA (UCT). He has been in private practice for 24 years and is the owner of Aesthetic Facial Enhancement, which has offices in Cape Town. Dr Nikolic specialises in aesthetic medicine and is at the forefront of the latest developments in his field. He is very driven and has lectured extensively and has performed live demonstrations throughout South Africa and Internationally including Bangkok, Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, Prague, and Warsaw. Dr Nikolic’s focus is on skin care, skin ingredients and cosmetic dermatology treatments such as lasers, chemical peels, Botox, and Dermal Fillers. He has performed over 20 000 procedures to date and as such is responsible for training numerous medical practitioners both in South Africa and internationally. Dr Nikolic is one of the founding members of the South African Allergan Medical Aesthetic Academy and chaired its inaugural launch in 2012. The Allergan Academy provides essential training to keep up with the latest technology in aesthetics. Dr Nikolic holds the advisory position of Allergan Local Country Mentor in Facial Aesthetics and is the Allergan Advanced Botox and Dermal Filler Trainer. He is Vice President of the Aesthetic and Anti-Aging Medicine Society of South Africa (AAMSSA) and is an Associate Member of the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS).

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