Acne is a skin condition that affects up to 80% of people in their teens and twenties, and up to 5% of older adults. While many people recover from acne without any permanent effects, some people are left with disfiguring acne scars. There are some topical skin care products and medications that can improve mild scarring, but most acne scars are treated with a combination of surgical procedures and skin resurfacing.
Early Acne Scars
After an acne lesion has healed, it can leave a red or hyperpigmented mark on the skin. This is actually not a scar, but rather a post-inflammatory change. The redness or hyperpigmentation is seen as the skin goes through its healing and remodeling process, which takes approximately 6-12 months. If no more acne lesions develop in that area, the skin can heal normally. Any color change or skin defect still present after 1 year is considered to be a permanent defect or scar.
Preventing Early Acne Scars
The best way to prevent post-inflammatory changes caused by acne is to prevent acne lesions from occurring. This is done by understanding the factors that cause acne and using the appropriate treatments for the different acne types. See the following articles for more information about acne causes and treatments:
- What Causes Acne
- Understanding Blackheads & Whiteheads
- Topical Antibiotics for Acne
- Oral Antibiotics for Acne
- Topical Retinoids for Acne
- Other Topical Treatments for Acne
- Treating Acne with Accutane
Treating Early Acne Scars
The post-inflammatory changes caused by acne are part of the skin's natural healing process. There are certain practices and medications that can help facilitate this healing process.
- Unprotected exposure to the sun causes more skin damage and delays healing, therefore wearing a good sunscreen is important.
- Using tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) speeds up the skin's remodeling process and helps heal post-inflammatory changes.
- Appropriate formulations of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA) that contain the correct concentrations and are at the appropriate pH also help the skin's remodeling process.
- Picking at scabs should be avoided at all costs. Scabs form to protect the healing process that is going on underneath them. Pulling a scab off before it is ready interferes with the healing and remodeling process, prolonging the time that post-inflammatory changes will be visible.
Antioxidants and Post-Inflammatory Changes
As we understand more about skin damage from free-radicals, it seems that using an antioxidant would help treat post-inflammatory changes or even permanent scars. Unfortunately no good scientific studies have shown that any oral or topical antioxidant prevents or heals skin damage. As a matter of fact, Vitamin E, when applied topically to healing wounds, has been shown to cause more harm than good. As antioxidant research continues, scientists may find a formulation that effectively reverses skin damage, but until then any claims of skin rejuvenation through the use of antioxidants are merely hype.