Skincare’s Best Ingredients for Acne Scars
Anyone with acne-prone skin knows how troublesome it is to not only treat active breakouts but the resulting acne scars too. While they aren’t a safety concern, these scars can pose a cosmetic issue. Luckily, there are plenty of treatments available that can help get rid of acne scars. Let’s talk about them one by one.
What causes acne scars?
The appearance of acne scars happens when inflammation of the skin causes it to break, resulting in lesions. The scars can be deep or shallow in nature; the shallow ones heal quickly on their own or with treatment, but a deep break in the pore’s wall can cause bacteria to spread into surrounding skin tissue, which causes deeper lesions.
You’ll also notice hyperpigmentation or erythema after the fact. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is when the affected area of skin produces excess melanin within the scar tissue as part of the healing process, resulting in red or brown spots. People with darker skin tones may be more at risk for PIH since their skin naturally has more melanin.
On the other hand, post-inflammatory erythema (PIE) can be seen as pink or purple-hued spots and is more common among those with lighter skin.
Can you tell me the difference between acne scars and marks?
Acne scars are much harder to treat than simple acne marks. So, how can you tell if your pimple has left a simple mark or a damaging scar? Texture.
Feel for a bump or raised skin. Acne scars usually damage the skin on a deeper level, which results in raised lesions. If you notice a red or brown discolored spot that remains smooth, you have an acne mark.
Can you show the different types of acne scars?
The severity of the scar usually depends on the acne breakouts, and not all scars are the same. It’s important to identify the type of scar before proceeding with treatment.
Atrophic/Depressed Acne Scarring
Atrophic or depressed acne scars occur when the scar occurs below the surface, resulting in an indentation. There are many classifications of atrophic acne scars depending on their shape and appearance:
- Boxcar. These kinds of acne scars are wider than they are deep, and they often have sharp edges.
- Icepick Scar. On the other hand, icepick acne scars are deeper than they are wide and resemble pinpricks.
- Rolling Scar. These acne scars are characterized by an undulating and sloping appearance with wide scars.
Hypertrophic acne scars occur in people whose body tends to produce an excess of collagen as the acne spot heals. Instead of leaving indents like in atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars form bumps often accompanied by hyperpigmentation within the scar tissue.
In some cases, acne breakouts can produce keloids or excess skin tissue that can grow larger over time. According to Healthline, the symptoms of keloids include a flesh-colored, pink, or red localized area, a raised patch of skin with ridge-like texture, and itchiness. If you’re a keloid former, you’ve probably developed these types of scars in other areas of the body.
Best Ingredients for Acne Scarring: Salicylic Acid, AHAs, and more
Before you start hunting down anti-acne products, let’s do a quick skincare lesson. Acne treatments often contain ingredients that have similar functions: prevent excess oil production and remove dead skin cells, as in alpha-hydroxy acids; fade dark marks as in vitamin C and vitamin B3, or speed up the healing process by promoting faster skin cell turnover.
They can also be ingredients that soothe inflammation. The most common ingredients that help get rid of acne scars are:
- Azelaic Acid — Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring compound often used to treat acne and rosacea, but it’s also effective in prompting cell regeneration and inhibiting the production of excess melanin.
- Vitamin C — Like AA, the dark spots left behind by acne lesions can be remedied through vitamin C. While it’s not something that treats acne directly, it can get rid of acne scars and acne marks by inhibiting tyrosinase. It’s also well-tolerated by sensitive skin and can prevent sun damage and early signs of aging.
- AHAs like Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, etc. You’ll find these ingredients in serums, chemical peels, and toners. AHAs help get rid of acne scars by removing dead skin cells on the outer layer of the skin’s surface. Apart from fading acne scars, they also help improve skin texture and fix dullness. Most AHAs are well-tolerated, but many recommend lactic acid for those who have sensitive complexions.
- Salicylic Acid. We all know salicylic acid can treat active acne, but they can also reduce scars by exfoliating the skin, lightening dark spots, and preventing future breakouts.
- Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a powerful skin bleacher commonly used to fade dark spots, acne scars included. However, it doesn’t contain properties that help in fighting acne.
- Tretinoin. One of the most widely used topical retinoids, tretinoin remains a gold standard prescription treatment for acne and acne spots.
Do note that while these ingredients are proven to be effective on hyperpigmented skin, a raised scar or even an indented one may require dermatological procedures.
List the different dermatological treatments you can undergo for acne scars
If a person develops severe acne scarring, it is recommended to see a doctor who might provide a prescription treatment and diagnosis based on the amount of scarring. A licensed esthetician can also provide facial procedures, like a chemical peel, laser resurfacing, or micro needling, which are helpful not only to fade dark spots but also remove the “bumps” left behind.
We’ve also made a guide to our favorite Belo facial treatments that can address acne scars as well as early signs of aging.
Best Overall Products for Acne Scars: Removing Dead Skin Cells, Lifting Dark Marks, and More
Want to know how to really get rid of those pesky scars once and for all? Surprise: there’s no magic bullet or overnight fix. Each step of your skincare routine needs to work together to help keep your complexion at its healthiest and happiest. From spot treatment serums to sunscreens, here are our quick picks for the best products to reduce acne scars.
Best Hydroquinone-free Products for Acne Scars
Hydroquinone may be an effective skin lightener, but it’s not the most well-tolerated. Good thing there are plenty of other ingredients you can look for! For example, azelaic acid inhibits the formation of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is responsible for pushing mechanisms that produce dark skin pigment. Vitamin C helps protect your body from free-radical damage and aids in repairing uneven skin tone.
Best hydroquinone products for acne scars
While many governing bodies consider hydroquinone safe, it was notably banned in Europe and it could potentially cause irritations or worse pigmentation by sensitizing the skin. In the Philippines, the FDA warns against the use of hydroquinone in over-the-counter cosmetic products as their contents may be unregulated.
This is why we recommend getting a derma prescription so they can recommend a treatment plan and guide you along the way. If you do know that your skin can tolerate at least small amounts of the product, Byrdie recommends the Ambi Skincare Fade Cream which contains 2% hydroquinone.
Best Retinoid for Acne Scars
Another great prescription drug for acne treatment is Differin Gel, a retinoid that contains adapalene. It actually improves the texture of scars by boosting collagen production.
Best Cleanser for Acne Scars
Having a good cleanser can help build a solid foundation for preventing acne as well as reducing scarring. Look for products with salicylic acid or lactic acid to reduce future breakouts. Also, look for hydrating ingredients to keep your skin barrier naturally moisturized.
For acne-prone skin, we recommend Paula’s Choice Acne Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser and the Pyunkang Yul Acne Facial Cleanser.
Best Sunscreen for Acne Scars
Dermatologists agree that sunscreen is non-negotiable. Even if you have the best lightening products in your arsenal, excessive exposure to the sun without some form of protection can undo all their hard work.
That’s why we recommend looking for sunscreen with at least SPF 50 to add to your routine. If you don’t have one yet, the QuickFX Sunblock is a good place to start. Just be wary of the mild white cast on dark skin tones. The Canmake Mermaid Skin UV Gel is another mild sunscreen ideal for any skin type.
In case you needed to hear it: acne scars don’t make you any less beautiful! Textured skin is completely normal, and scarring is your body’s way of healing from trauma.
That said, we totally understand if you want to get rid of them. We’ve all been there, and it’s not an easy task. So we hope this guide has shed some light on your journey to clear skin, and just remember that it’s normal to encounter bumps along the way (pun intended).
Have any experiences of your own? Share your acne hacks and beauty tips in the comments below!
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.