- Acne scars result from inflammatory breakouts
- While hyperpigmentation from acne will fade on its own, raised and indented scars may require treatment to resolve
- 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 and moderate-to-severe 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.
There are two types of true acne scars. Some are hypertrophic (raised above the skin’s surface) and are pink, purple, brown or the same color as your skin. Other scars are atrophic, appearing as indentations in the skin’s surface. A third category, postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), is not a true acne scar but is a common concern for individuals healing from recent breakouts.
How Fast Can You Fade Acne Scars?
The length of time needed to fade acne scars depends on the type and severity, 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 treatment, as active pimples can be further irritated and inflamed.
Atrophic scars require professional procedures to treat, usually in multiple sessions spread out over weeks or months. Full results are typically achieved over a few months to 1 year, depending on their severity. 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 within 3–24 months. With treatment, it fades in a few days to a few months, depending on how dark the hyperpigmentation is in comparison to your natural skin color and the treatment you use.
Will I see immediate results?
The only type of acne scar that can be treated relatively quickly is PIH. You may see substantial improvement after only one professional treatment or a few weeks of using an over-the-counter (OTC) 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 content 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 repeated every 2 weeks for 3 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 created the depression in the skin.
This procedure should be repeated once every month for 3–6 months, depending on how quickly your skin responds.
This class of topical skin care products speeds 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 6 months.
Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent used to treat PIH. It works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for melanin production. By preventing this production, the hyperpigmented cells are gradually replaced with nonpigmented ones, effectively lightening discoloration.
It is available over the counter at 1–2% concentration and at prescription-strength of 3–4%. This product has been determined safe for continuous use for up to six months.
Hydroquinone has the side effect of increasing 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 further improve your scars,
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 just one treatment. The expected recovery time is 3 weeks. Depending on the severity of your scars, multiple sessions may be necessary for you to achieve your goals.
Various laser treatments such as ablative, nonablative and fractional laser therapy can treat raised and depressed scars, Ablative laser skin resurfacing procedures remove the damaged top layer of skin and stimulate collagen production in the dermis to smooth the skin. Nonablative lasers target the dermis alone, along with the red and pink pigments in raised scars.
The recovery time for a laser treatment session is typically 3–10 days, during which time you can expect to experience redness and swelling. Full results from each session are visible after 6 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 patches of skin after just one session.
Light chemical peels
A light chemical peel treats PIH using alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic, glycolic or mandelic acid and requires no downtime. Just 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 mild raised and 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 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 6 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 6 weeks or less to obtain visible results include medium chemical peels, laser therapy or punch excision. These treatments involve a one-time procedure and several weeks to see results.
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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