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You finally figured out how to keep your acne at bay. But where you expected to see clear skin, you see hyperpigmentation as a result of acne scars. It just doesn't seem fair.
Acne scars occur when not enough collagen is synthesized in a specific spot where you had a breakout, says Manish Shah, MD, FACS, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Denver. As a result, you may end up with discoloration and uneven texture. The good news: With proper treatment, it's possible to improve acne scarring by addressing the damage in the dermis where the inflammation begins, he explains.
Of course, the exact treatment plan and how long it takes depends on a few variables, including your age, how long your bouts with acne were, how deep the scar is, and the sensitivity of your skin, says Shah. For the most accurate picture of what your treatment plan should look like, he recommends visiting a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon who can assess your specific needs and recommend a treatment plan that could include easy at-home remedies or, for more serious cases, in-office treatments.
For less severe cases, your dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following at-home options.
In studies, in-office lactic acid peels done once every two weeks for three months improved the skin's texture and pigmentation and lightened acne scars. But you don't have to go to the dermatologist's office to reap the benefits. Plenty of liquid exfoliants contain the ingredient.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)
Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is another liquid exfoliant that works to slough off dead skin cells and promote new cell turnover, thus reducing the hyperpigmentation and texturing caused by acne scars, says Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.
Vitamin C Serum
A good vitamin C serum—one that contains between 15% to 20% L-ascorbic acid—not only works to boost skin radiance and improve texture but also visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines, says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.
Over-the-counter creams and serums that contain retinol—a form of retinoid that doesn't require a prescription—have been shown to reduce discoloration and make acne scars less visible.
Red Light Therapy
Unfortunately, though, some acne scars get to a level of depth where at-home treatments don't deliver desired results or would take a very long time to do so, says Shah. In these cases, your dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following in-office treatments.
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Chemical peels work to remove the top layer of the skin, opening the door for new skin to resurface smoother than before, says Shah.
During this treatment, your doctor will introduce a roller with small needles or a handheld pen device on the surface of the affected spots where your skin's texture is indented from the scarring, says Shah. The roller penetrates the skin, prompting the skin to infuse more collagen into the area to smooth the texture during the healing process.
Laser resurfacing works by removing the top layer of skin by disseminating short beams of light in the affected region, says Shah. The two most common lasers used in this treatment are carbon dioxide and erbium. The technique works to eliminate skin cells in the treatment area.
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This is a technique that uses a special rotating device that exfoliates the outer layer of the skin as if you were polishing a surface, says Shah. This works to clear the skin of the damaged cells, prompting it to create more collagen in the healing process.