How to Reduce Acne Scar Discoloration

Woman with facial mask
A woman with facial mask patches on. (Image: didi/amana images/Getty Images)

Technically known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the red, brown or purple discoloration left on the skin following a bout with acne can be as distressing as the acne itself. Although acne scar discoloration will eventually fade over time, it can take months or even years. Advances in skin care can speed up the healing process and reduce the appearance of acne marks.

Step 1

Treat any remaining acne before tackling the discoloration. Until your breakouts are under control, you will continue to develop new marks. If over-the-counter treatments are not doing the trick, schedule a visit with the dermatologist for prescribed topical or oral medications to eliminate acne.

Step 2

Approach your dermatologist about prescription-strength topical treatments such as retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). When applied to the skin, both retinoids and AHAs increase skin cell turnover and gradually fade acne marks. Retinoids and AHAs may also cause redness or peeling. Consult your doctor if your skin becomes excessively irritated or uncomfortable.

Step 3

Visit a skin-care professional for a series of light acid peels. Typically composed of glycolic or lactic acid, light acid peels gently lift away the epidermis, gradually fading the acne marks. If you are using topical retinoids, discontinue use for one week before a peel to avoid irritation.

Step 4

Schedule a series of intense light therapy (IPL) treatments to fade the more stubborn marks. The non-invasive treatment blasts high-frequency light into the skin, targeting red and brown spots. Several treatments are usually needed for optimal results.

Step 5

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day and avoid sun exposure. Not only do retinoids, glycolic acid peels and IPL therapy make skin more sun-sensitive, but sun exposure can also darken existing marks.

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