Beneath the Surface

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Help for Acne Scarring: Tips from Dermatologists

One of the most common skin complaints we see on social media, particularly among young people, is about acne scars and the struggles to get rid of them. It’s very disheartening to have reminders of acne still visible on the skin, even after the acne has cleared up.

We sat down with the DermatologistOnCall® founder, Dr. Mark P. Seraly, practicing board-certified dermatologist, to get his recommendations on when to try over-the-counter remedies, what to avoid, and when to see a dermatologist for help with acne scars.

acne, scars, scarring

First, it’s crucial to stay on top of acne with a doctor-prescribed treatment plan. Treating acne will reduce the risk of scars, both physical and emotional. So if acne is starting to appear, get back to the dermatologist (either in the office or with an online visit) as soon as you can.

Why do acne scars occur?

The physical scars develop because new blood vessels move into the acne-injured area of the skin to nourish the skin, which gives it the reddish or pink appearance. In several more weeks to months, new collagen starts to form and in most cases, eventually fills in the injured section of skin on its own.

However, those who suffer from deeper-seated cystic acne are more likely to experience moderate to severe scarring from acne, which can take up to a year for the scars and blemishes to fade – but in some cases, can leave permanent scarring.

What can be done about acne scars?

Acne scarring can involve either or both skin inflammation, discoloration, or what is commonly referred to as “pock marks” or small indentations or holes in the skin. Red/swollen skin can be treated with a variety of oral and topical anti-acne medications to reduce inflammation, speed healing, and decrease the risk of scarring. A dermatologist can advise on the best products to try. Topical cortisone cream is NOT advised, as it may actually trigger acne flares.

Darkened skin spots (hyper-pigmentation) left behind from some acne can be treated with skin lightening topicals. Kojic acid is a natural lightener extracted from mushrooms. Arbutin is another, also referred to as bearberry extract. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is another ingredient to look for in OTC lightening creams.

For the skin indentations or holes left behind, treatment is much trickier. Topical treatments are not likely to help here. Instead, a dermatologist can try in-office laser skin resurfacing, chemical peels, microneedling, and other procedural care to even the skin surface and stimulate the formation of new collagen.

Filler injections may also be tried, but the skin will reabsorb the product making repeat procedures necessary. These are also usually considered cosmetic procedures not covered by insurance, making them costly for many patients.

Can anything prevent acne scarring?

As mentioned earlier, rapid dermatologist-prescribed acne treatment is the first line of defense. Don’t pick or squeeze the skin or acne, as this will only cause more inflammation and damage to the collagen. Many dermatologists find that scarred skin is more commonly due to picking vs. the acne itself.

If you have acne scars, stay out of the sun and/or use good sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher). Ultraviolet rays stimulate the pigment-producing cells and lead to more discoloration.

Patient Beware

Patients should always get professional advice from credible sources. Dermatologists advise that you avoid using products like Vitamin E, which has been found to make acne scars worse in some cases. You may read a lot online about the “proven” use of various essential oils (i.e. tea tree, lavender, lemon, sage, juniper berry) to eradicate acne and acne scarring, but these products have not been tested in scientific clinical trials and are not regulated by the FDA for medical treatment of skin. Consumers should approach the use of these products with caution.

Get Help for Acne or Acne Scars Right Now

Online dermatologists are able to look at your uploaded photos, review your medical information, and prescribe treatment without you having to wait for an appointment and travel. DermatologistOnCall® is a popular solution for those dealing with acne or acne scars. Start an online dermatology visit today, and don’t forget to use the promo code BTS2016 through August 31, 2016 for $5 off your online visit*!

Start an Online Visit

*The online visit fee does not cover the cost of prescriptions or any in-office follow-up appointments. There is no limit to the number of online visits for which you can use the promo code. Discounts cannot be used in combination with accepted insurance plans. Offer expires at 11:59 PM PST on August 31, 2016.

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