Acne loves to leave its mark. And those marks are universally unpleasant, whether it’s the big, red blemish on the day you’re meeting your spouse’s boss or the bumpy scars leftover from last year’s big breakout. But if you had to choose between the two, you’d probably take the blemish over the scaring — just because the blemish is temporary. Acne scars, on the other hand, can feel like a tattoo you didn’t ask for.
Fortunately, there are solutions — that is, assuming you came here looking for how to get rid of acne scars. Read on for advice on how to prevent new breakouts, home remedies and OTC products to treat acne scars, and, for severe cases, the types of medical treatments that may help.
Work on prevention first
If you’re still having breakouts that lead to scaring, the first course of action is to get those flare-ups under control. You can start treating your acne scars asap, but you won’t feel like progress is being made if new blemishes are leading to more scars.
Acne can be fairly mysterious. It might up from stress, diet, your skincare regimen, or your hormones. Many articles about controlling breakouts focus specifically on the products you put on your face. Those are important, but chronic acne sufferers often need to add other lifestyle changes, too. Below are five lifestyle changes to try, plus three best practices for a complete acne-prevention skincare regimen.
1. Manage the hormones
The best skincare routine in the world may not solve the acne problem if you’re seeing breakouts around your period. Many women settle for acne spot treatments, but there are other options. You could try a supplement like chasteberry or, something that has chasteberry in it, like Flo gummies. Flo gummies are designed to manage all those obnoxious PMS symptoms, including acne along with mood changes, bloat, and fog brain. I’ve been taking them for some time and have noticed better skin plus an improvement in my ability to focus and concentrate in the week before my period.
Remember to check with your doctor before you start taking anything over-the-counter that can influence your hormone production. Your doctor may recommend a different solution, such as prescription hormone therapies if your acne is severe.
The link between acne and stress isn’t clear-cut. Webmd suggests that stress can lead to more severe breakouts. Worse, stress can cause you to pick and poke at even the tiniest blemishes — which would definitely worsen scaring.
Meditation and other stress management practices aren’t a direct solution to acne breakouts and scaring, but they might help and there’s literally no downside. Anecdotally, I started meditating a couple of years ago and it changed my life. You might see a reduction in breakouts and have more control over how much you pick at your face — but you’ll definitely feel calmer and more composed in the face of stress.
You can find loads of free mediation resources online to kick off your practice. The Headspace app, which I’ve written about before, has a free beginner meditation available here. You can find similar recordings on YouTube or your favorite music streaming service.
Exercise increases your blood flow which improves the delivery of nourishment to your skin cells. Even mild forms of cardio, like walking, can help if it’s an increase to your normal activity level. Plus, two positive aspects of walking are: the only equipment you need is a pair of shoes and walking can evolve into light jogging and eventually running miles. If walking isn’t your thing, try yoga, which also gets your heart rate going.
4. Change your diet
Some sources say the foods you eat have no impact on your acne; others say diet is everything with respect to your acne. You can interpret those inconsistencies to mean the relationship between your diet and your acne is not well understood. Even so, if your doctor gives you the OK, you can try making some diet changes to see if it helps.
Self magazine recommends eating more probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and zinc. Probiotics and Omega-3s fight inflammation, antioxidants fight against free radicals, and low zinc levels have been linked to severe cases of acne. Foods to minimize in your diet are coconut oil, whey protein, high-glycemic foods (sugary foods that are digested quickly), and dairy.
5. Wear hats
Direct exposure to your sun is generally bad for your skin, but it’s even worse if you suffer from acne. The inflammation and redness that result from too much sun may also trigger your skin’s acne response. Plus, it’s uncomfortable to have blemishes and a sunburn at the same time.
You should be wearing sunscreen daily, but you can up your sun protection game in style with hats. Try floppies, fascinators, baseball caps, trucker hats — whatever suits your fancy and gives you some shade on your face.
6. Evaluate your skincare
There are many resources available on how to care for acne-prone skin, so I’ll share the highlights and some sources to review if you’d like to go deeper.
Wash gently and not too often.
Overwashing can make your acne worse. Try a gentle cleanser like Cerave. And if that’s irritating your skin, switch to a micellar cleanser. Sometimes reducing your skin’s exposure to hard water can help.
Use a chemical exfoliator once weekly.
Exfoliation sloughs away debris and dead skin cells, which can help treat and prevent breakouts. But, avoid any type of exfoliant that relies on a rough texture to get the job done. So-called scrubbers can damage your skin and worsen any scaring. Instead, reach for products with chemical exfoliants like BHA or glycolic acid. One I like is Paula’s Choice Skin-Perfecting Exfoliant. This will gently wipe away any build-up of skin cells or other material on your face.
Apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer with sunscreen daily.
A non-comedogenic moisturizer is one that specifically does not clog your pores. It’s interesting to me that beauty brands even still make product that does clog your pores — but that’s a rant for another day. Choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer with SPF. A multiuse product that moisturizes and protects your skin from the sun means one fewer product to buy and one fewer step in your routine.
Home remedies to treat acne scars
Home remedies can help minimize the appearance of acne scars by reducing redness and evening out your skin tone.
1. Lemon juice
Vitamin C helps fight inflammation and can also lighten scars and other dark spots on your face. You could buy an expensive Vitamin C serum to realize those benefits, but you don’t have to. Try fresh-squeezed lemon juice instead. Simply dip a cotton ball in lemon juice and dab it on your face. Start with once daily in a small location to test for irritation. If your skin handles it well, you can do the lemon juice dab on scars twice daily.
Honey promotes wound healing and fights inflammation. You can mix it with other ingredients, like lemon juice, to make a mask or cream. Or, you can apply honey directly, let it stay on the skin for 15 minutes, then gently rinse it off.
3. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar’s high acidic content works like an exfoliant to clear away dead skin and promote regeneration. You can use it as a toner by mixing it half and half with filtered water. You can also mix apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and filtered water in equal parts. Apply, leave on for 20 minutes, then rinse.
Drugstore products to treat acne scars
As with the home remedies, the main benefit you’ll get from store-bought acne scaring treatments is a more even skin tone. The scars probably aren’t going to disappear, but they may be less obvious and easier to cover with makeup.
1. Pond’s Dark Spot Corrector ($8)
Pond’s Dark Spot Corrector Cream earned five stars from 70% of users according to the product reviews at Target.com. At $8 for a 7-oz. tub, it’s worth a shot to see if it can treat your acne scaring. The formula is designed for oily, acne-prone skin, too — it shouldn’t clog pores or lead to new breakouts.
2. The Ordinary Lactic Acid ($7)
The Ordinary Lactic Acid is a cult favorite and another budget-friendly pick. It’s an exfoliant but it also has Tasmanian pepperberry to fight off inflation and hyaluronic acid to keep your skin from drying out.
3. Scar Remover Gel ($30)
Scar Remover Scar Gel is a silicone gel that targets redness and raised scar tissue. Silicone gel is commonly used for treating scars from surgery and deep wounds, but you could also use it on severe acne scars. To use, simply massage the gel onto clean, dry skin for three or four minutes, two to three times daily. If your skeptical, see the reviews on Amazon — some users even provided before and after images.
4. Tomiya Scar Cream ($18)
Tomiya scar cream is an all-natural formula that promotes new skin generation. You can use it on surgery scars, acne scars, stretch marks, burns, and scars from trauma. It also contains salicylic acid, a common active ingredient in acne spot treatments and exfoliants.
How to get rid of acne scars: medical treatments
Know that there isn’t a home remedy or an over-the-counter product that will do much for skin indentations associated with severe acne scaring. If the texture of your skin is a primary complaint, you may need a medical treatment — three options are discussed below.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two main types of surgery to treat acne scars. The first is called punch excision, and this involves the doctor cutting out each scar and either stitching or grafting the wound. The resulting wound should heal more cleanly than your former scar tissue. A second procedure is called subcision, where the doctor uses needs to loosen fibers beneath the scar.
Skin resurfacing is done with a laser. There are different types of lasers that address acne scars in different ways. Normally, you’d consult with a doctor who can look at your skin and make a recommendation on the best type of laser. Often, you’ll need three or more treatments before you see any results. You also may need to stay at home for a few days after each treatment, as your skin may be very red and irritated initially.
3. Chemical peel
A chemical peel is essentially an acid treatment that removes the top layer of your skin — it’s like a heavy-duty exfoliant that’s applied by a doctor. Professional chemical peels can range from little downtime to a heeling window of three weeks. The most aggressive peels will require antiviral medication following the procedure and a follow-up visit with your physician to ensure your skin is heeling properly.
Dermatologists can also use Botox injections to smooth out the skin around your acne scars. The filler addresses the textural part of scaring by smoothing out some of your skin’s bumpiness. As with all of these medical treatments, you’d need to consult with a doctor to understand whether fillers would give you the improvements you want.