- Acne scars occur after inflammatory breakouts.
- Dark marks from acne fade on their own, whereas raised or lowered scars do not.
- Acne scars can be treated with in-office procedures and over the counter products.
- The solution you choose should depend on the type of scar you are treating.
Acne scars are a common occurrence for people who have experienced chronic, inflamed breakouts. True acne scars are either hypertrophic, meaning they are raised above the skin’s surface and are pink, purple, brown or the same color as your skin. Other scars are atrophic, meaning they appear as indentations in the skin’s surface. A third category, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), is not a true acne scar but is a common concern for individuals healing from recent breakouts. To determine how to get rid of acne scars fast, you must consider what type of scars you are treating and the extent of the scarring.
How Fast Can You Fade Acne Scars?
The length of time necessary to fade acne scars depends on the type of scar, the severity of the scarring and the length of time you’ve had the scars. Generally, older scars are more difficult to treat than newer ones. However, it is important to wait until all acne lesions have fully healed before attempting to treat your scars, as many of these treatments can irritate active pimples and cause further inflammation.
Atrophic scars require professional procedures to treat, usually in multiple sessions spaced out over weeks or months. Full results are typically achieved over a few months to a year, depending on the severity of the scarring. Surgical procedures can get rid of them more quickly.
Hypertrophic scars require multiple procedures spread out over several months or a single surgical treatment to excise them.
PIH typically fades on its own in 3–24 months. With treatment, it fades in a few days to a few months, depending on how dark the marks are in comparison to your natural skin color and the treatment you use.
Will I see results overnight?
The only type of acne scar that can be treated relatively quickly is PIH. You may see substantial improvement in PIH after only one professional treatment or a few weeks of using an over the counter product.
Atrophic and hypertrophic scarring usually require several months of treatment to see noticeable improvement. Maintaining realistic expectations about what a procedure or product can do for your acne scars is key to being happy with your skin in the long run.
Getting Rid of Acne Scars in Under 6 Months
These treatments require either consistent use of a topical product or several in-office procedures to treat acne scars. Gradually, the active ingredients or procedures fade scars by breaking up scar tissue, increasing cell turnover rate or lightening hyperpigmentation.
CROSS technique therapy
The chemical reconstruction of skin scars (CROSS) technique involves applying 70% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) directly into ice pick and boxcar scars. The TCA breaks up scar tissue and encourages the growth of new, healthy skin. It is more effective than full-face chemical peels for small, deep scars. The procedure is be repeated every two weeks for three months or until scars fade.
Subcision is a minor surgical procedure. It involves inserting a needle below a depressed scar. The needle cuts away at the fibrotic scar tissue attached to the healthy tissue below, releasing the tension that creates the depression in the skin.
The procedure should be repeated once every month for three to six months, depending on how quickly your skin responds.
This class of topical skin care products speed up skin cell regeneration and the exfoliation of dead skin cells. By encouraging the growth of new cells, these products fade depressed scars and hyperpigmentation.
Retinoids available without a prescription include retinol and adapalene. Retinol products include serums, creams and moisturizers. A gel containing 0.3% adapalene has been proven effective at reducing atrophic acne scarring over six months.
Hydroquinone is a skin lightening agent used for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for melanin production. By preventing new skin cells from creating melanin, the pigmented cells making up dark spots are gradually replaced with non-pigmented ones, lightening discoloration.
It is available over the counter at 1–2% concentration and with a prescription at 3–4%. The product has been determined safe for continuous use for up to six months.
Hydroquinone increases your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. Counteract the risk of accidentally causing further hyperpigmentation by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every day as part of your skin care routine.
Treatments That Take Under 6 Weeks
These treatments consist of one initial procedure with several weeks of recovery time. After the recommended waiting period, you may choose to undergo the procedure again to improve your scars further.
Medium Chemical Peel
Chemical peels involve applying an acidic solution to the face to dissolve the outermost layer of skin, revealing unscarred and normally pigmented skin beneath.
A medium chemical peel using glycolic acid or TCA can improve rolling or boxcar acne scars with only one treatment. The expected recovery time for a medium peel is three weeks. Multiple sessions may be necessary for you to achieve your goals.
Various laser treatments can treat raised and depressed scars, including ablative, non-ablative and fractional laser therapy.
Ablative laser skin resurfacing procedures remove the damaged top layer of skin and stimulate collagen production in the dermis to smooth the skin. Non-ablative lasers target the dermis alone, along with the red and pink pigments in raised scars.
The recovery time for a laser treatment session is 3–10 days, during which time you experience redness and swelling. Full results from each session are visible after six weeks, but multiple sessions may be required to achieve the desired results.
A punch excision involves a doctor cutting out individual scars and repairing the wound with a skin graft or stitches. The procedure leaves a scar that is smaller and lighter than the original. It is most effective for deep ice pick scars.
Instant Treatments for Acne Scars
Hypertrophic or atrophic scars cannot be treated instantly. However, PIH can be instantly improved with one of several quick in-office procedures. These procedures significantly improve dark marks after only one session.
Light chemical peels
A light chemical peel treats PIH using salicylic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid or another alpha-hydroxy acid and requires no downtime. Only one treatment visibly lightens hyperpigmentation with full results visible after 48 hours.
Microdermabrasion employs a small, handheld device that exfoliates the skin using either a vibrating diamond tip or a microfine crystal spray. One microdermabrasion session lightens PIH with no downtime required.
Multiple microdermabrasion sessions can treat depressed scars, although the procedure is not effective on very deep or ice pick scars.
Acne scars are a common concern for individuals who have experienced acne, especially moderate to severe acne with very inflamed blemishes. To effectively treat acne scars, wait until the acne healing process is complete. Then, choose a procedure or product that is appropriate for your scar type.
You can get rid of acne scars within six months through in-office procedures such as CROSS technique therapy or subcision. OTC topical products, including retinoids and hydroquinone, can lessen mild scarring and lighten hyperpigmentation.
Effective treatments requiring six weeks or fewer to obtain results include medium chemical peels, laser therapy or punch excision. These treatments involve a one-time procedure and several weeks of waiting for scars to subsequently fade or heal.
Hypertrophic and atrophic scars cannot be treated instantly. However, you can quickly treat PIH with procedures such as light chemical peels or microdermabrasion.
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