Pimples, zits, blackheads, whiteheads… it doesn’t matter what you call them, they’re an unfortunate and unavoidable part of our bodily functions. And for those of us who suffer from chronic pimples, or acne, that holds even more true. Acne is the most common skin condition in the US of A and it can occur anywhere on the body (most commonly on the face, back and chest).
Not only is it unsightly, which can affect your self-esteem, it can also be painful when it’s severe. But probably the worst part about pimples and acne is that, once they are gone, they can leave behind dark spots and sometimes permanent scars. These dark marks make our skin tone appear uneven and discolored and they can be difficult to rid of. But there are ways to treat pimple marks and acne scars after the affliction itself has gone. And, as always, we’ve got you covered.
WHAT ARE PIMPLES AND HOW DO THEY FORM?
The pores on our skin are actually openings to hair follicles, made up of a hair and sebaceous gland. Your sebaceous glands secrete oil, which travels the length of the hair and out of your pore, ending up on the surface of your skin. It’s this oil that keeps our skin moisturized, so it’s a natural and healthy function of your body.
But when there is a problem with this natural lubrication system, we develop pimples. Sometimes our body simply produces too much oil, and this can cause buildup that results in a pimple. Other times, dead skin cells and/or dirt and bacteria get trapped in the pore, not allowing the oil to escape.
This will also lead you to develop a pimple. Basically, you’ll form a pimple when your pore gets clogged, whether by oil, dead skin, dirt, or bacteria. There are two main types of pimples most people get: blackheads, which are clogged pores that remain open and turn black due to oxygenation, and; whiteheads, which are closed under the surface of the skin and appear white in color.
WHAT IS ACNE?
If those are just basic pimples, then what is acne? Well, if your skin repeatedly develops clogged pores, you probably have acne. This is more serious than the everyday pimple in that it is a chronic skin condition that leads to the consistent development of whiteheads and blackheads and can cause severe skin inflammation and irritation such as redness and dryness.
But that’s not all. Acne can also cause: pustules (small red pimples filled with pus), papules (small, red, raised bumps caused by infected follicles), nodules (solid, painful lumps), and cysts (large, painful lumps that contain pus). So acne is quite a bit more serious than the everyday pimple.
Anybody can be affected by acne but the chances of developing this skin condition can be exacerbated by a few factors.
- Puberty and pregnancy: the hormones associated with these changes in the body can cause unhealthy or abnormal production of oil.
- Taking medications: birth control or corticosteroids have an effect on hormones, leading to abnormal oil production.
- Diet: refined sugars and carbohydrates may increase the chances of developing acne.
- Genetics: if your parents suffered from acne, there’s a good chance you will too.
Acne is most commonly associated with the bodily changes we experience during puberty. As those hormonal changes subside, so too does the acne (usually). But that doesn’t help with the scars that may be left over, which may cause just as much damage as the condition itself.
HOW AND WHY DO PIMPLE MARKS AND ACNE SCARS FORM?
We can probably all agree that as bad as pimples and acne are, the scars they leave behind are even worse. They are more difficult to get rid of and have a more lasting effect.
But what causes those scars? When your follicle or pore is clogged with excess oil, dead skin, bacteria and/or dirt and forms a pimple, the pore itself swells and this causes a break in the wall of your follicle.
When the pimple is small and shallow, your body is able to repair itself by producing collagen and filling the hole. However, larger and deeper pimples cause deep breaks in the wall of the follicle. When this happens, infected material spills out into the surrounding tissue and creates deeper lesions that your body is unable to heal naturally.
Your skin will produce collagen to try and repair itself, but it’s usually not enough for deep breaks. This causes the skin to scar, leaving behind anything from discoloration to an indent in your skin.
THE TYPES OF ACNE SCARS
Not all pimple marks and acne scars are created equal. There are different types of acne scars, and how to treat pimple marks depends on the type of scarring you have. You may have one or both of these types of scars, depending on the severity of your pimples or acne.
HYPERTROPHIC OR KELOID SCARRING
Sometimes, as pimple wounds heal, the body overproduces collagen. This results in a mass of raised tissue that appears as a scar. These types of scar are most often associated with chest and back acne.
ATROPHIC OR DEPRESSED SCARRING
When you think of pimple marks and acne scars, this is likely what you’re thinking of. These scars develop as a result of tissue loss, when the body is unable to produce enough collagen to fill the depression left behind from a break in the pore wall. There are three types of atrophic scars:
Wide, u-shaped scars with sharp edges that can be shallow or deep (the shallower they are, the more easy they are to treat)
Narrow, v-shaped scars that are usually very deep in the skin’s surface. Similar to that of a chickenpox scar, they look like small, round or oval holes. These are the most difficult scars to treat.
Wide depressions with round edges and a rolling appearance.
Knowing how to decipher between these different types of scars is important for how you treat pimple marks. So before you go ahead and enlist the help of the ingredients and treatments below, make sure you know what exactly it is you’re treating.
EFFECTIVE METHODS TO TREAT PIMPLE MARKS AND ACNE SCARS
We wish there was a secret, miracle ingredient for treating pimple marks, but alas, there is not. But don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of things you can do to help alleviate that discoloration and uneven skin texture.
If your scars aren’t too deep or too discolored, there are options for treating them at home. Look for the following ingredients to help fade your scars (and bring other benefits to your skin in the meantime).
CHEMICAL EXFOLIANTS & SERUMS
Easy to use and readily available, chemicals exfoliants like BHA’s and AHA’s are a safe and effective solution for evening skin tone and fading discoloration.
AHA’s are alpha-hydroxyl acids and you may recognize some of the more common forms from skincare products you already own: glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandalic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid. These are all great exfoliants that help your skin shed dead skin cells that buildup in your pores and lead to clogging.
In addition to assisting your body in removing excess skin cells, they also mildly exfoliate the surface of your skin and have a peeling effect. This peeling effect reduces the appearance of acne scars and discoloration by revealing the brighter, fresh skin below the top layer of the dermis.
One of the best AHA’s is lactic acid. It fades uneven skin tone and discolorations, making pimple marks appear less severe or getting rid of them altogether (if they’re on the lighter side). Lactic acid comes from, you guessed it, milk. In cosmetics, it’s more likely that you’re getting a 5-12% concentration of a synthesized version of the real thing, but it does the job just as well.
Lactic acid works by breaking down the material that holds dead skin cells together, removing them from the skin’s surface and allowing them to shed naturally. There are literally hundreds of skin care products that contain lactic acid, everything from peels and serums to ointments. As an added bonus, lactic acid is also an excellent hydrator that can restore the balance of moisture in your skin.
Like AHA’s, beta hydroxyl acids are chemical exfoliants derived from naturally occurring substances. These are non-abrasive acids that have soothing properties and the potential to eliminate breakouts and fade discoloration. BHA’s are especially helpful for acne prone skin.
Specifically, salicylic acid works wonders on acne scars and acne itself. It’s often the active ingredient in acne treatments(cleansers, spot treatments, lotions). This BHA clears pores, reduces inflammation and redness and exfoliates dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, leaving you with brighter, fresh, soothed and nourished skin that’s less prone to breakouts.
Salicylic acid takes only a few weeks to be effective, so it’s fast-acting. It can cause dryness and irritation but that usually passes within one to two weeks of regular use.
If you’re looking to treat discoloration and even out your skin tone, AHA’s and BHA’s may be the ingredient you’re looking for. If you’re looking to learn more about best exfoliating serums check out our guide that provides in-depth recommendations.
RETINOIDS (RETINOL OR RETIN-A)
One of the key ingredients that should be included in a good skincare routine are retinoids. This is about as close to a miracle ingredient as you can get in terms of skin care. In terms of their effect on pimple marks and acne scars, retinoids are best for treating atrophic or depressed scars. They can also minimize the potential for future breakouts.
Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and, at the most basic level, they increase cell reproduction and turnover to improve your skin’s texture and tone. There are plenty of creams and serums that have retinoids in them and which can be found over the counter, but your dermatologist or skincare professional can also prescribe you the more effective, higher concentrations.
The less potent form of vitamin A that is available over the counter is Retinol. Explore our in-depth article to learn more about the benefits of Retinol you can learn more about the benefit
Consider Retin-a for more severe breakouts and scars? Retin-A might be the best choice for you, and you can learn more about that in our article
One of the most important benefits of Niacinamide (vitamin B3) in terms of acne scars is its ability to improve the functionality of your epidermal lipid barrier. Your lipid barrier is essential to keeping your skin healthy and hydrated.
More than that, improving the function of your lipid barrier will result in visible improvement in skin structure and texture, with visible effects on deeper scars. That’s because when your lipid barrier is functioning at its best, your skin is better able to repair itself, which is exactly what you need when trying to fill the indentations left behind from pimples and acne. It also has a positive effect on oil control and hyperpigmentation.
But Niacinamide has many more skin beneficial properties that are worth learning about. We’ve got the low down for you in our article that covers what niacinamide does and more.
Vitamin C is an all-natural ingredient that fades dark spots and leaves your skin brighter by exfoliating dead skin cells and allowing fresh skin to shine through. It also assists your body in its natural healing processes, so your skin can repair itself and the damage left behind from pimples and acne.
Vitamin C comes in several forms and all are beneficial to your skin in multiple way. Read our guide to explore more about the best Vitamin C Serums.
SKIN TREATMENT OPTIONS
For more severe spots that are very dark in appearance or scars that are very deep in the skin’s surface, at-home products and ingredients may only scratch the surface, so-to-speak. If you find yourself in this category of scarring, there are skin treatments performed by skincare professionals that have long lasting and sometimes permanent effects.
There are many chemical peels out there that focus on a broad range of skin concerns, and chemical peels to treat pimple marks and acne scars are no exception. Best for all kinds of acne scars, especially really deep ones, chemical peels use a strong acid to remove the top layer of the dermis. This peeling reduces the appearance of deep scars. There are at-home chemical peels that you can try, but your skin care professional can provide stronger solutions for more dramatic results.
Check out our overview to find out everything you need to know about the right kind of chemical peel for your skin’s needs.
This skincare treatment works well on all types of acne scars but it’ only appropriate for those with lighter skin tone. Similar to a chemical peel, laser resurfacing removes the top layer of skin to fade discoloration and make your scars appear lighter. This type of treatment typically has a faster healing time than its counterparts, but the treated area has to be kept covered until it’s completely healed (because your skin will be super sensitive). As we mentioned, it’s not very effective on darker skin tones and it’s definitely not a good option for anyone who still suffers from breakouts and acne.
Laser resurfacing is one of the more affordable skin care treatment options for scarring but it also has fantastic anti-aging benefits. Read all about how this laser treatment works in our guide.
You’ve definitely heard of microdermabrasion – it’s a skincare treatment that’s been around for a long time and can be performed both at home or by a skincare professional. It’s used to treat pimple marks and acne scars that are close to the surface of the skin (like boxcar or rolling scars) but it can have a mild effect on deeper scars as well. If you’re just stepping into the world of treatment options for acne scars, microdermabrasion is a good place to start: it’s the most common treatment out there and it’s not very invasive. The at-home and healthcare-provided microdermabrasion treatments work in pretty much the same way – a wire brush or wheel is moved across the surface of the skin to deeply exfoliate and remove dead skin cells, leaving you with smoother, more even skin.
Have a look at all the benefits microdermabrasion can offer your skin in our article.
PIMPLE MARKS AND ACNE SCAR PREVENTION TIPS
But of course, one of the best ways to treat pimple marks is to avoid getting them altogether. Follow these simple steps to reduce your chances of breaking out and, in turn, for those breakouts to leave marks on your skin:
- Use an oil-free cleanser to wash your face twice a day.
- Pick up an over-the-counter acne cream with any of the above ingredients to regulate sebum production and remove dead skin cells or excess oil.
- Avoid makeup that contains oil (or just avoid using facial makeup that clogs your pores whenever possible).
- Always, always, always! Remove your makeup before going to bed (preferably with a water-based makeup remover).
- Shower after exercising or excessive sweating.
- Reduce your intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates (which will do more for your health than just keep your skin clear).
- Reduce the amount of stress in your life (we know, easier said than done).
WHAT TO AVOID WITH ACNE OR PIMPLES?
There are a few things you should absolutely avoid when attempting to treat your acne scars. Do not:
- Over-wash or over-scrub scars. This will reduce skin elasticity and make your scars more visible.
- Pick at scars. Not only will you cause more of depression by picking but bacteria on your hands can transfer to your face and increase your risk for developing cysts.
- Pop your pimples. This is almost a guarantee for creating scars. If you insist, use a blackhead tool instead. Curious? Check out our in-depth overview that covers the best blackhead tools.
- Consider a facial or facial treatment as they have been known to help with clogged pores. Learn more with our rundown on the different types of facials and facial treatments.
Those of us who suffered acne know that the worst isn’t over when the acne goes away. The scars it can leave behind are just as detrimental to our skin looking it’s best as the acne itself. But no matter if your scars are light and shallow or dark and deep, there are treatment options to restore your skin’s natural glow and vitality. It’s just a matter of knowing what you’re treating and what your best options are. Start with the basics and work your way through the options as you figure out what your skin best responds to, and never give up on having the flawless skin you always wanted.