One of the biggest problems with acne is that even after the unsightly eruptions subside or are brought under some semblance of control, the scars stay back as a grim reminder. Anybody who has suffered from chronic acne vulgaris, which crossed well into the boundaries of youth and middle age, knows that the more severe the condition, the more difficult it is to hide the ungainly scars with makeup.
And, that is how I started on my quest to find the best product that would not only get rid of the scars and the black spots that marred my facial features, but would also help in preventing future bouts of acne and address the skin issues that led to pimples. After using just about everything that is available in the market today, I discovered that there really is no panacea that would tackle every single one of my dermatological concerns.
Not the one to give up easily, I forged on determined and desperate enough to try every possible combination. Somewhere along the line a second bit of nirvana dawned on me; I noticed that while some combination and even lone preparations and gadgets worked wonderfully at certain points, there wasn’t one-size-fits-all solution for acne scars and dark spots. In fact, my product needs changed with the severity of my acne breakouts, the extent of scarring left behind and my skin condition.
Why do you need different products to treat acne scars and dark spots?
Undoubtedly, there are several products that are actually quite effective but what confounded me was that I would inadvertently reach the limit of their efficacy at some point. So, nothing worked all the time and every time. But, I realized this is not so much a fault with the product as it is the physiology of the condition. Depending on just how severe the acne was, you could be left with different types of scars.
- Mild acne will usually result in hyper pigmentation and give your skin a spotty appearance. The dark spots can also sometimes be attributed to certain types of topical treatments used to get rid of acne.
- Atrophic scars are contained within the dermal layer of the skin and are the most common type of post acne scarring. These are further divided into boxcar scars which are round and indented; ice-pick scars that are narrow but deep and rolling scars which can be identified by their wave like pattern. These scars occur when the skin loses collagen through an abnormal healing process.
- Hypertrophic scars are red and bumpy; they are caused when the extra collagen matter rises above the surface of the wound during the healing process.
- Keloid scars are like hypertrophic scars since there is significant scar tissue formation at the site of the wound. However, in Keloid scars, the excess collagen formation goes beyond the margins of the wound. This type of scarring usually occurs in men and it is more common on the trunk than on the face.
So, since there are different types of scars, you cannot possibly expect one product or device to work on all these dermatological conditions. Another factor to consider is the present state of your acne. While some products are suitable only when all the painful cysts and nodules have subsided, others can be used even when you are suffering from a particularly bad bout of acne.
Similarly, the modality of these products also varies. For example, with microdermabrasion, you are essentially peeling off the scarred skin to reveal the smoother dermal layer underneath. On the other hand, a lot of topical preparations can be used while you are in the throes of a breakout since their active ingredients have antibacterial properties that can contain the infection and help in the healing process.
What are the choices when picking a product to deal with acne scars?
Based on my experience, I was able to put to test all the products out there, which are touted as the answer to acne scarring, in 5 categories. Starting at the lower end of the price scale and to some extent the efficacy spectrum, here is look at what is available:
- My Rating
- Skin Type
- Scar Size
- Safety (Certified?)
• Work well for overall skin care • Effective against small scars and hyper pigmentation • No side effects • Non-invasive • Can be used with other forms of treatment • A variety of products available • Can be made a part of your daily skin care regimen • Eliminate skin dryness along with resulting conditions such as fine lines
- • Only effective against mild scarring • Does not help in preventing severe acne breakouts • Does not work against deep, pitted scars • Takes a few weeks for the effects to be seen • You have to be diligent with the application to see the results • Can clog pores if cosmetics are applied on top
- Mediocre, usually visible after 4-8 weeks of treatment
- • Greatly increases the absorption and effect of topical products • Enhances the production of collagen and elastin • Improves skin tautness • Effective against hypertrophic and atrophic scars • Works against all types of acne scarring including medium pitted scars • Removes fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of aging • Results are seen within the first few sessions
- • There is some amount of pain and tingling in the treated area • The needles pierce the skin creating tiny punctures, so there may be some amount of bleeding • User has to be careful to exert just the right amount of pressure when using the product • Does lead to bruising and redness that takes up to a day to subside
- Small, Medium
- Very good, noticeable difference in scars and skin texture in 2-3 weeks
- • Peels off the upper layer of the epidermis to reveal smoother skin below • Non invasive procedure • Suitable for all skin types • Effective against acne and scarring • Eliminates fine lines, wrinkles and hyper pigmentation • Effects are seen within 2-3 weeks of use • Enhances the efficacy of topical products
- • Causes some redness which may take up to a day to subside • Not effective against ice pick scars which can appear deeper after microdermabrasion • Have to use topical creams or serums after procedure • Only effective against medium pitted scars
- Small, Medium
- Very good, conspicuous results seen in 2-3 weeks
- The procedure has been approved by the FDA
Light Therapy Device
- • Kills acne causing bacteria • Reduces the frequency and intensity of acne breakouts • Stimulates the release of antioxidants in the pores • Increases the production of collagen tissue • Visible reduction in scars and hyper pigmentation seen within 2-3 weeks of treatment • Very effective against a myriad of skin afflictions including fine lines and liver spots
- • Noticeable increase in skin temperature • The device should be held at the right distance or user may feel a burning sensation • Can cause eye pain and fatigue • Both red and blue light have to be used for optimal results • Can cause skin dryness • There is a small amount of redness and inflammation
- Normal, oily and sensitive
- Medium, Large
- Excellent results when both blue and red light are used, effect can be seen within 2-3 weeks
- Procedure has been approved but not a particular device
These preparations range from masks to creams and from lotions to essential oil blends; the common thread is that all of them are made through the use of natural ingredients. From the user’s perspective, this spells several benefits. For one, you will not have to worry about skin irritation. Chemical preparations often exacerbate the problem and lead to further breakouts.
How do natural products work:
These products do more than just lighten hyper pigmentation and reduce scarring that is pimple related. The broad spectrum formulations also address some of the issues that lead to acne including the over production of sebum, pore clogging and the bacteria that eventually cause the infection. There are a myriad of natural products such as herbs, tea tree oil, aloe vera, rose hip oil, peptides, Vitamin E oil, etc that boost cellular regeneration while soothing the skin and eliminating the bacteria, without the drying effect of salicylic acid and other popular anti acne treatments.
The benefits of using natural products:
A distinctive advantage of going natural with your acne scar remedies is that you can start addressing the eventual scaring even before the visual signs become apparent. You will not be able to apply most of these products if the zits are oozing or if the wound is very fresh. However, once scabs are formed, these products can significantly lower the risk of hypertrophic scarring and reduce the indentation caused by atrophic scarring while lowering the extent of hyper pigmentation.
Most of the products in this category can be used in combination with devices that are meant to prevent acne eruptions such as derma rollers. Also, the preparations can be used in combination as part of your skin care regimen. In fact, natural formations should form your first line of defense against breakouts and acne scars.
Usage and effectiveness:
They are exceptionally effective when used against shallow scars, post inflammatory hyper pigmentation and mild acne. If you have severe scarring, you will need to use something stronger. As far as usage goes, these are possibly the simplest to include in your daily routine. The application takes about 5 minutes and at the most, you will have to use them twice a day. The creams and lotions can also be used with certain cosmetic products. However, you need to be careful with the layering because you don’t want to clog those pores.
2. Serums for acne scars removal
Serums are several notches above the natural products mentioned above simply because they penetrate the epidermal barrier easily and are nutrient dense. So, the active ingredients are delivered to the inner dermal layers where they are needed to heal the wounds and prevent abnormal collagen reaction, which leads to atrophic and hypertrophic scars. In terms of effectiveness, serums beat most other topical preparations hands down.
How do serums work:
These formulas contain potent antioxidants and natural substances that plump the skin reducing the undulated look of the scar. The antioxidants deliver a triple whammy, not only do they help to reduce free radical damage but also are remarkably effective against the redness and hyper pigmentation. If that is not enough, these preparations also bolster collagen production and skin rejuvenation. So, post inflammatory healing is faster and the scars, even those formed due to cystic acne, are not as pitted or as dark as they usually are.
The benefits of using serums for acne scars:
On their own and when used in conjunction with others forms of treatment, serums are found to be quite effective against acne scars and breakouts. Even after professional dermatological procedures, most doctors will recommend the use of some type of serum which puts the healing process in fourth gear. These serums work in more ways than one, exfoliating the skin, removing the debris that clogs the pores and leads to infections and killing the microorganisms that cause pimples. So, they work superlatively as a preventative measure for both acne and scarring and as a treatment to eliminate scars.
Like with natural topical preparations, you can use these serums on their own or as part of a wider skin care routine. Because these formulas are typically non-oily and gel based, they are well suited for all skin types. People with oily or combination skin can use these products because the gel forms a protective barrier on the skin which prevents the loss of moisture without the use of emollients. Similarly, those with dry skin can gain a lot through the use of serums as they help to maintain natural hydration levels.
Usage and effectiveness:
Serums should be used after cleansing and exfoliation. In terms of topical products, they should be the first to go on because they are absorbed quickly and more efficiently when applied on clean skin. These preparations will yield significant results against medium to severe scarring.
They are simple to use and get absorbed quickly, so you don’t have to rub the serum in which prevents the risk of aggravating sensitive and pimple prone skin. Typically, serums are to be used twice a day and can be used with makeup and other therapeutic products, unless your dermatologist says otherwise.
3. Microdermabrasion system/device for acne scars removal
This is a tried and tested treatment for removing hyper pigmentation and acne scarring: a gentle form of exfoliation that is machine assisted and produces better results than chemical peels. Microdermabrasion is a clinically accepted form of treatment that works extremely well on hyper pigmentation, raised scars, slightly pitted scars and other forms of skin irregularities. However, if the scars run deep like in case of ice-pick scarring, the removal of the superficial skin layers will simply compound the issue as this form of scarring gets wider and more prominent at the deeper dermal levels.
Before the advent of home microdermabrasion devices, this form of treatment could only be sought at spas and cosmetic clinics and you would need anywhere between 8 to 12 sittings or more depending on the severity of the hyper pigmentation and the scars. Because the procedure is considered cosmetic, insurance would not cover it and bills would run into hundreds of dollars. Repeat treatment would be needed depending on how prone the patient/client was to acne bouts. Fortunately, home microdermabrasion kits seem to have solved all of the issues while being just as effective as the noisy and larger setups at professional skin care centers.
How does microdermabrasion work:
The unit comprises of four parts, a pump that sprays inert crystals on the skin, a connecting tube, a hand wand and a vacuum. The hand piece is used to scrub off the skin cells which are then sucked up along with the crystals by the vacuum. Since there is a risk of the inert crystals being inhaled or entering the eyes, diamond tip machines are considered safer and more effective since they can even be used around the nose, mouth and the eyes.
The procedure is the same; however, there is no spray of inert crystals involved. The tip of the hand piece is covered with tiny diamond particles that provide the abrasive effect while the vacuum sops up the skin debris and the dirt clogging the pores and focally stimulates blood circulation to the treated area. Just how effective the treatment will be, depends on the deepness of the scar pits and the way in which the procedure is conducted. Slow and multiple passes of the hand piece over the affected area yields the best results.
The benefits of using microdermabrasion:
The exfoliation offers twofold benefits. Because the hyper pigmentation and scarring (boxcar and rolling scars) are superficial, the removal of the upper dermal layer helps in eliminating these imperfections. Also, the procedure helps to tackle other facial issues such as fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation issues caused due to ageing, hormonal problems and sun exposure.
It is also a potent preventative measure since the vacuum component of the microdermabrasion machine helps to pull out the dirt and sebum from the pores. The inner layer of the skin is also more receptive to topical treatments. So, the results of using microdermabrasion in combination with other products can be amazing.
Usage and effectiveness:
Like I said, this is exfoliation put into hyper drive. You get better results than even the most potent glycolic peels and it only takes a few sessions to see visible results. However, it will only be marginally effective when dealing with deep scars. In the beginning, you will need weekly treatment. For me, it was most convenient to go through the session on Sunday morning because it does cause some redness and swelling which would subside by the next day. Eventually, when the frequency of breakouts and the scarring goes down, you can go for monthly maintenance sessions.
4. Dermaroller for acne scars removal
Think a barrel fitted with tiny surgical grade needles; that is a derma roller for you! A Swiss concept that gained significant traction, derma rollers are now available for home treatment as well. Although many in the medical community pooh the claim that these torturous looking devices can actually help, the truth of the matter is that the core principle is no different from that of professional laser therapy, which even doctors acknowledge does work.
The home version is available at a fraction of the cost of a cosmetic session involving a slightly upgraded version of the device with longer needles if I may add (and yes they do need to apply a local anesthetic to make you sit through the treatment). The home treatment products are nearly as effective but not as painful. You will be left with some redness and soreness but that usually goes away within a day.
How does the derma roller work:
The cylinder laced with the tiny needles creates tiny puncture marks in the dermis which helps in two ways. First, it spurs the production of collagen and elastin which are essential for skin healing and regeneration. Also, the tiny openings create a deeper channel for the penetration of topical preparations that reach further into the skin when used along with the derma roller.
In terms of treatment modality, microneedling can be pitched against clinical laser treatments that also create a controlled wound in the hope that the body’s natural healing process will heal the deliberately inflicted wounds along with other skin imperfections including fine lines, acne scars and hypo and hyper pigmentation that are linked to acne. Does it work? Yes, the laser treatment works and so does the derma rolling. In fact, the prolific use of this treatment methodology by several eminent cosmetologists is a testament to its efficacy.
The benefits of using derma rollers:
They are simple to use and not as painful as devices used for similar procedures conducted in clinical settings. Microneedling greatly enhances the results of topical products and serums. Also, it helps to augment the production of collagen fibers under the skin which leaves you with tighter and visibly younger looking skin. Of course, this is just an extra perk of the treatment as the pulled effect also reduces the indented look of acne scars.
Derma rolling works on a totally unique principle which means that you can combine it with other forms of treatment as well, whether it is microdermabrasion or topical preparations. It is fantastic for wide spread acne scarring and can be used on all areas of the face and the torso.
Usage and effectiveness:
You will need at least 3 treatments per week which will involve painting the Union Jack on your face back and forth with the roller. Generally, it is best to apply some serum or hydrating cream before taking the roller to your face. The discomfort is minimal and a few sessions down the line, you won’t even notice it. But, here is a word of caution, it is very easy to go overboard with the roller and get too aggressive with the needles. Remember, you are trying to create superficial punctures not beat your skin into submission.
Derma rolling does help with pigmentation issues and superficial scars but it does nothing to prevent acne. Also, since the needles only penetrate the upper layers of the skin, the device does not help as much with deep scars. However, it is certainly more effective than the other forms of treatment and because you can use it in conjunction with these measures, it possible to compound the benefits of the entire scar removal plan that you are following.
5. Light therapy device for acne scars removal
A discovery of NASA, phototherapy has taken the world of cosmetology by storm. While the warmth of the invisible infra red light has long been used for therapeutic purposes, this form of treatment incorporates visible red light. The process entails exposing the skin/affected area to a device that emits blue/red light. Originally devised as a way to help heal wounds and burn injuries, it was not long before cosmetologists discovered that visible light of certain wavelengths (blue and red) could also help to heal superficial wounds like acne scars and can even aid in rejuvenating the skin.
In fact, the popularity of red and blue light treatment in High Street Salons is what spawned an entire sector dedicated to manufacturing hand held and home use gadgets that offer the same benefits of light therapy that you could get at a professional saloon. The therapy is painless and noninvasive and works on a myriad of skin conditions.
How do light therapy devices work:
These are essentially lamps that emit red or blue light and have to be placed a few inches from the skin. Depending on the color, and hence the wavelength of the light used, these gadgets address varying skin conditions. For example, the blue light is known to kill acne causing bacteria. It enters the pores and excites a chemical inside the cell membrane of the bacteria, rupturing the outer wall and killing the microorganism.
The red light helps to shrink the glands that produce sebum and even reduce the pore size. Moreover, red light is also known to promote the production of elastin and collagen. These proteins not only help to rapidly heal the wounds caused due to acne but also scarring is reduced along with other dermatological issues such as fine lines and wrinkles.
The benefits of using light therapy:
One of the most significant advantages is that a single device can help to lower the frequency and intensity of breakouts as well as help with acne related scarring. Of course, systematic use of light therapy helps to bring about an overall improvement in the skin condition. These devices can be used in conjunction with all other forms of treatment. Also, light therapy is just as effective in treating pimples on other parts of the body including the chest, back and buttocks as it is on the face.
Moreover, studies have proved that blue light can even kill bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. There is no downtime involved in this form of treatment and people of all ages can use it to treat acne and other skin afflictions. The most conspicuous advantage is that light therapy can work as a total skin care therapy that not only addresses the issues that lead to acne but also the inflammation that causes the scars, and it also helps to reduce existing scars. So, these gadgets offer prevention, cure and after care rolled into one.
Usage and effectiveness:
Typically, you will have to sit in front of the lamp or hold the device a few inches from the affected area for about 15 minutes, twice a week. Most people start to notice visible reduction in the intensity of the eruptions, the redness caused due to inflammation as well as the appearance of pustules in about 4 weeks. However, depending on just how severe your condition is, you may need to treat yourself for up to 12 weeks
While blue light works just fine on its own to bring down the number of breakouts, light therapy is at its most potent when red and blue lights are both used in the treatment. Some amount of dryness is to be expected but this can easily be remedied through the use of topical preparations. Also, you will notice temporary pigmentation changes, however, these get resolved on their own in a couple of days. You need to be careful not to hold the lamp too close to your skin as this may cause burning. Furthermore, depending on how sensitive your eyes are, you may have to wear protective goggles and even after that you may feel some amount of pain.
My personal experience with these devices was extremely positive. Just like me, you will need to be patient and with the right attitude and approach, you will be able to kick acne out of your life once and for all. In fact, there is simply no treatment that is an instantaneous cure. And, as long as you continue to have acne, there will be some amount of scarring to contend with.
Acne is both obstinate and temperamental and you will need to continue kicking it if you want to keep it down. So, regardless of the type of treatment you are using, you will need to be consistent and employ regular maintenance sessions if you want long standing success.