Whether you are 13 or 33, dealing with acne can take its toll on your skin, confidence and pocketbook. The good news is that you aren’t alone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting approximately 40 to 50 million Americans every year. The bad news is that even if you’ve finally gotten your skin under control, you’ll likely still be dealing with the aftermath of acne including scarring, hyperpigmentation and uneven texture. Here are the best at-home ways to battle those lovely little reminders of your past breakouts.
How to Lighten Dark Spots from Acne
Finally getting rid of a blemish can feel like cause to celebrate! Until you notice your pimple has left a little something behind: a dreaded spot. There are three common types of post-acne pigment problems: post-inflammatory erythema (PIE) which show up as a red or purple marks, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) which are brown or black, and post-inflammatory hypopigmentation which show up as white marks. The good news that all three of these pigment changes will lighten over time and go away. “Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation results when the inflammation of acne causes this pigment drop into the upper layers of the skin, leaving a brown spot that may take weeks or even months to resolve on its own,” explains Dr. Annie Chiu, founder and board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist at The Derm Institute in Redondo Beach, Calif. “Over-the-counter products that contain hydroquinone, kojic acid, vitamin c or alpha hydroxy acids can all help reduce this discoloration.” For reddish post-inflammatory erythema, you can speed up the fading with products containing calming ingredients like chamomile, says Chiu. Need a fast fix? “You can also try a little drop of Visine as an at-home DIY remedy, as it can constrict blood vessels to reduce redness temporarily before an event,” suggests Chiu. Most important of all, says Chiu -- sunscreen. Sun exposure can worsen the look of any hyperpigmentation.
How to Treat Acne Scars
Some pimples can leave you with more than just a pigment problem. Cystic acne, a habit of picking and popping, and some genetic factors can make it more likely that you’ll end up with actual scarring from your breakouts. First, it’s important to determine the type of acne scarring you have. There are four main types of acne scars: Ice Pick (pitted), Boxed Scar (square), Rolling (divot) and Hypertrophic (raised scars or keloids). “True acne scarring that results in indentations on the skin, such as ice pick or boxcar scars, are best treated with in-office treatments [such as lasers or fillers] at a dermatologist’s office just because of the depth of this type of scars,” says Chiu. But there are some at-home remedies to help in the meantime. “The appearance of some scars can be improved with regular use of light at-home peels as this will exfoliate the skin and make the overall skin texture look smoother,” suggest Chiu. Another newly available option is the dermaroller. “Dermarolling uses tiny needles to stimulate neocollagenesis or new collagen production which can soften the appearance of scars,” explains Chiu. “Make sure you purchase a dermaroller from an authorized reseller and understand how to prep your skin and clean the dermaroller properly.”
How to Smooth Uneven Texture
Even if you aren’t suffering from true scars, you may be left with bumpy, uneven texture from your breakouts. Dermatologist can offer a series of microdermabrasion and stronger chemicals peels to smooth the skin, but there are many at-home options as well. Chiu recommends using products containing lactic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid or salicylic acid which all work to promote the turnover of the top layers of the skin, which can smooth uneven texture and discoloration left from acne. Also consider adding in an over-the-counter retinol product. “Retinols promote new collagen production and improve exfoliation to give the skin a smoother texture,” says Chiu. “Retinoids are also great because they do the double-duty of decreasing active acne lesions as well!” We call that an acne-fighting twofer.
Tips for Hiding Acne Scars & Pigmentation
While you’re waiting for the aftermath of acne to fade, you can help hide hyperpigmentation and scars with a few tips from celebrity makeup artist, Taylor Chang-Babaian, whose book “Beauty Rewind” comes out in paperback this October. “Often times women try to conceal hyperpigmentation using a lighter foundation, thinking that the lighter color will make the dark spot appear lighter,” explains Chang-Babaian. Bad idea -- this just creates an ashy grey spot. Instead, focus on your concealer, suggests Chang-Babaian. Opt for a concealer one shade lighter than your skin tone or a color-correcting concealer (pink-based for an older brownish acne mark or yellow-based for newer pink or red acne marks). Just be sure to apply color-correcting concealer before foundation so it can blend into your skin and then apply skin tone concealer after so it doesn’t migrate. To deal with hiding acne scars, be sure that you are exfoliating regularly with glycolic or salicylic acid, says Chang-Babaian. Then choose a serum or moisturizer with hyaluronic acid for overall plumping and a silicone primer to help fill in and smooth the surface of the skin. Finish with your favorite foundation and concealer. Finally, sunscreen is a must, says Chang-Babaian. “Exfoliating without sunscreen creates even more damage as you have exposed newer, more delicate skin to the suns rays,” explains Chang-Babaian. “Try exfoliating at night only and make sure to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or above in the morning.”
How to Prevent Acne Scarring
You’ve heard that the best defense is a great offense? Eliminate the need to deal with acne scarring by preventing it in the first place. There are three major causes of scarring, according to the American Academy of Dermatology: picking and popping zits, cystic acne or nodules, and genetics. Here’s what you can do. “Treating the pimple as quickly as possible is the most effective way of preventing discoloration left from acne,” suggestions Chiu. Also, as you’ve heard a million times, hands off! Avoid traumatizing the blemish through picking or popping. And sunscreen is a must… Every. Single. Day. Here are Chiu’s other tips for banishing your breakouts: DO use anti-acne medications on the entire face, not just as a spot treatment. You want to prevent new acne breakouts instead of chasing new pimples. This will lead to decreased discoloration and scarring. DON’T over-dry the skin in an effort to decrease breakouts as this can lead to irritation that causes even more discoloration. DON’T over-exfoliate the skin with products that have beads or scrubs, as even this mild trauma can worsen discoloration. DO consider consulting with a dermatologist for more prominent scarring, as there are numerous in office treatments such as lasers and even dermal fillers that can treat deeper scarring.