Everything you need to know to win a lasting victory against the most universal skin irritation
Pimples – also known as spots, zits or acne – are one of the most common skin conditions a person might experience at some point in life. Pimples make a double attack: not only are breakouts highly unpleasant and crumple one’s confidence, but many continue to endure their consequences long after the active breakout has healed.
Pimple scars are the grim reality for many acne sufferers, but the good news is that not all of them are permanent. The first step to coping with this universal problem is equally universal: understand what’s causing them, and what scientifically-backed options you have at your disposal for treating them.
Read on to learn the basics about pimple scars and how to prevent and cope with them.
How Long do Pimple Scars Last?
Most often pimples go away over time and leave the skin blemish-free. Yet, when the inflammation is strong enough to damage the deeper skin layer, a scar forms. Pimple scars can appear in different circumstances and last for different periods of time depending on the type and treatment of the initial irritation. The leftovers from some acne types, like cystic acne, may persist for a great while – weeks, months and even years.
What Types of Pimple Scars are There?
The type of scars you have dictates the type of type of treatment you’ll need. Dermatologists have identified several different forms of pimple scars, depending on the severity of the acne breakout:
Everyone has at least spotted these on somebody else’s face. They are the result of tissue loss and appear as dents on the skin’s surface. Atrophic (also known as depressed, indented or ‘pitted’) scars can further be grouped depending on the depth and shape: ice pick scars are narrow, deep and V-shaped, while boxcar scars are wide, U-shaped and most often shallow. These are by far the most common types of pimple scars on the face and the trickiest version to treat.
These are commonly known as raised acne scars and are the exact opposite of atrophic scars in terms of appearance, as they protrude higher than the surrounding skin surface. They occur due to excessive collagen production during the acne inflammation phase. This type is less common on the face than it is on the back and shoulders.
Pimples can also leave skin discoloration in the form of seemingly permanent red or dark spots. In fact, this is the mark you are most likely to get from acne and it can be argued that it is not technically a scar. However, its changes in pigment are even more obvious to the eye. Discoloration can mean either hyper-pigmentation (brown, freckle-like spots), hypopigmentation (light colored spots that are more visible with a darker skin tone) and erythema (lasting red spots that are more noticeable in lighter skin). Discoloration responds to treatment best and can even fade away on their own after several months.
You may have one or a combination of the above-mentioned types of acne scars, but if you hope to treat them effectively you have to recognize their type first. This means you either wing it and try to self-diagnose with a mirror or visit a dermatologist to get the most precise diagnosis.
The information presented in this article is meant to give you a general overview of the problem of pimple scars, but it can never replace advice from your doctor.
What Is the Best Way to Treat Pimple Scars?
Each of us personally decides how to treat pimple scars – or whether to treat them at all. But if there’s any general rule, it’s this one: while home remedies can be effective soon after the scar forms, dermatological treatments are the way to go for aged pimple scars.
As with all health issues, prevention is half the work done. Acne is usually a repetitive and persistent problem, so the way to cope with pimple scars is to make sure you leave no chance for new scars to form.
Overall, when it comes to prevention, your best bet is to consult a dermatologist who can adjust the treatment to your specific skin type and skin condition.
However, there are some general golden rules you could follow.
A basic, but often overlooked rule: do not give in to the temptation to pop the tiny red spot – and we know we all do now and then. But the truth is that popping pimples at home is one of the leading causes of acne scars, and it definitely increases the chance that the acne will spread further.
The second most important tip in the prevention camp is an oldie but goldie: sunscreen! We’ve heard much of the importance of protecting our skin with sunscreen, and we’d be wise to heed the advice. Not only is sun exposure dangerous for unprotected skin, but apparently, the damaging UV rays also increase the permanence of pimple scars. The sun increases pigmentation in the skin and the same goes for the scar tissue – any discoloration becomes more visible after longer sun exposure and even more difficult to remove later.
Medical Removal Options
“Fillers” is the common term for procedures involving the injection of collagen in a pimple scar to literally “fill in” the existing indentation in the skin. It’s used for the deep atrophic types of scars.
Lasers are commonly used to fix the redness of acne-caused discoloration. Additionally, different types of lasers have been effective in treating more shallow atrophic acne scars as it is used to smoothen the contours of the scar. Certain lasers can also be used to stimulate collagen production. Raised (hypertrophic) acne scars, on the other hand, can be very effectively smoothed using the method of laser resurfacing – they respond great to such laser treatments.
Peeling procedures make use of certain acids or other chemicals to peel the outermost layer of the skin of the scar tissue. These are effective with shallow atrophic scars.
Microneedling is an option you can even try at home if you buy the appropriate equipment – a device called dermaroller. This is the latest skin-rejuvenating technology, which has shown positive results as a scar and stretch marks treatment and it’s incredibly user-friendly.
The dermaroller comes in different shapes and at different prices, but it’s generally affordable. It uses a collagen-stimulating, microneedling technique similar to acupuncture. The microneedles in it make tiny pierces in the skin in many points at the same time, stimulating the body to produce more collagen in order to heal the wounds.
As effective as medical treatments can be, the downside to seeing a dermatologist and opting for medical therapy has to do with money. Acne scar removal treatments are not covered by insurance plans and they can be quite pricey. Even more so because most types of procedures require more than a one-time visit.
Luckily, many report positive results from inexpensive home treatments. In addition to being an affordable alternative, natural remedies claim yet another advantage: most raw substances praised as acne scar healers boast strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, thus lowering the risk of new breakouts as they help minimize the scars of old ones.
A word of caution is necessary here: miraculous overnight results are quite simply wishful thinking – there is no reliable evidence that would back that kind of unrealistic expectations.
Still, simply using ingredients out of your kitchen pantry to gradually improve discoloration and lighter scars on your face is empowering and safe, and thus – definitely worth a try.
It’s a common misconception that oils are only for dry skin and shouldn’t be used for oily or combination skin types. However, natural oils actually work to complement your skin’s own function, and they’re especially effective at normalizing the production of sebum – the natural oil found in our skin. With consistent use, oils can improve the overall condition of your acne and can make your skin less scar-prone. Which oils are especially effective in soothing blemishes and smoothening scars?
Argan oil has been a real game-changer in skin care in general, and it’s equally effective on acne scarring. It’s an excellent, tried-and-tested moisturizer, and it currently tops the lists when it comes to natural age-defying solutions. With its high content of naturally-occurring Vitamin E, it seems to achieve amazing results when it comes to erasing red dots from past pimples.
Tea tree oil has a long history of traditional use in treating wounds and scars. There is plenty of evidence for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Research shows that it can minimize the risk of raised, hypertrophic scars if used in the last stages of an acne breakout.
Rosehip oil is another luxurious gift from nature which has made a boom in natural cosmetics. While there is no conclusive evidence that it can help in smoothing old scars, many who have used it persistently report visible results.
Other oils, such as calendula, coconut and Vitamin E oils, have also been reported as incredibly useful in cleaning pimple scars.
Exfoliation aids skin renewal by removing dead cells and thus speeding up the process of new skin cell generation. Before starting, however, it’s crucial to find the method and product most suitable for your individual skin type.
There are no fixed formulas when it comes to exfoliants most suited for tissue break-up and renewal. In general, chemical options are gentler than physical ones (brushes and scrub cloths) and thus more suited for dealing with pimples. No worries, the term chemical simply refers to the natural substances containing enzymes capable of removing old cells (such as lemon, or even strawberries). Exfoliation is a sensitive and tricky procedure which can easily turn against you, especially if overdone. Remember that exfoliation must be gentle (it should not hurt!) and you should start with it only after all the acne has healed!
The good old meaty cactus is perhaps the most universally known natural ingredient that people associate with skin care. It’s skin benefits are confirmed and well researched. You may remember that Aloe is the natural remedy we turn to for treating burns since many ointments and aftersun lotions populating skincare shelves in supermarkets use aloe vera extract in their formulas. But the natural aloe taken straight from the plant and applied consistently (right after a pimple has been soothed) can also work wonders – it’ll help heal the skin faster and prevent more serious scars.
Here’s another tried-and-tested natural bacteria fighter. Its centuries-long use on the skin (not to mention as a food staple) leaves little doubt that it does more good than harm. Modern research has also found evidence of the effectiveness of honey in healing wounds. Some consider it ineffective when it comes to already formed scar tissue, however, its healing-speeding properties can ensure less serious scarring.
Whether we want to hear it repeated or not, it is true: as with every other ailment, what we eat and how we treat our bodies matters in its subtle ways. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and enzymes (fresh fruits and veggies) together with regular and sufficient night sleep can be of tremendous help to our skin’s natural resilience. A quality diet or a healthy lifestyle certainly can’t cure scars by itself. Yet, these aspects matter in the long run for the effectiveness of any acne treatment.
Everything in Moderation
An important thing not to do is to overwhelm your skin with a whole bunch of different treatments and remedies taken at the same time. Instead of aiding skin recovery, this can often lower the skin’s natural ability to reverse the initial damage. You need to find the approach most suitable for your own skincare. Consistency is key: if you want to tackle pimple scars successfully, you have to keep up with a regular routine.
The History That We Don’t Choose
Genetics is surely a thing not to be ignored – one that modern science hasn’t learned how to influence to our advantage yet. It’s a fact that some people are more prone to scarring than others. Because of this, scar treatment should be approached differently in different individual cases, and the principle applies to home remedies as well as conventional medicine and cosmetics.
If members of your family have suffered from a certain type of acne at a given period of life, you are likely to inherit the same potential. But this is not really related to the proneness of a person’s skin to acne scars. Some people have a hard time treating acne but easily get rid of the scars they leave, while others only rarely wake up to a pimple but easily earn a lasting mark afterwards.
And yet, it doesn’t follow that scarring from pimples should be taken primarily as a genetic trait. How we treat our own skin in the long run is much more important. Age, stress levels, medication usage, hormonal balance, sleep patterns, hygiene habits, dietary habits, and environmental stress factors all play a part in how susceptible our skin is to breakout and form scars afterward.
Coping with the Psychological Pressure
When faced with the variety of methods for eliminating pimple scars from the face or elsewhere on the body, you may suddenly feel overwhelmed, confused and unsure how to go about it. And there’s a good reason – in the fast-paced lives we lead nowadays, the required discipline often times feels too restraining and difficult to follow. Results cannot come quickly, which leaves many frustrated and reluctant to walk the extra mile to a sustainable solution.
The feeling of despair and shaken self-confidence that acne scars can cause often push many to conceal the problematic spots with a variety of cosmetic products. However, this is not a sustainable solution and it only prolongs and deepens the psychological burden. Plus, you are likely to end up tired of hiding them.
Some people choose not to treat pimple scars, and that is completely fine. It is a purely personal issue. Scars themselves have nothing to do with the general health and functions of our bodies. A thing to bear in mind is also the fact that scars are much more obvious to you than they are to anyone else.
Be realistic and understand that getting rid of pimple scars is a long and sometimes tiring process. It might be the case that not all of them can go away. But people who have walked this path before you are here to support and guide you through the right treatment, and so are dermatologists.
Fighting the emotional scars left by a period of dealing with acne is equally important. Consider getting help on a psychological level too. Discuss self-image issues with friends and close people, online support groups or professionals. Learn to value yourself and your body. Become aware of your personal virtues and potential. Reflect on the way you think about yourself and your looks and stir your thoughts in a healthy direction. Focus on the positives: the fact that you can learn to understand your skin and work with it, not against it, in order to prevent future scars.
Summing It Up
Acne goes away eventually. Much tougher to deal with are the scars they leave behind. Pimple scars can truly be a bore, and just as they need time to develop, they also need time to heal. But our knowledge about acne scar treatment has reached a point where we have plenty of options to go for.
There’s no shortcut for getting rid of them – being patient and persistent when coping with them is crucial. Whatever their type, modern dermatological science offers several effective ways to prevent pimple scars or to overcome them once they have appeared.
One thing is for sure, though: fixing damaged skin requires proper information and instruction to support a skincare discipline. By educating yourself about the issue, you now know how to start.
Another article that might interest you: How to Lighten Scars: 12 Most Effective Scar Lightening Methods to Restore Your Skin.