What causes acne scarring

Acne scarring: Q&A

The legacy of a spot often lasts a lot longer than the pimple. Let’s talk acne scarring.

What are acne scars?

Acne scarring refers to the long-lasting marks left on your skin in the aftermath of a breakout. They form as part of the healing process and are often unavoidable.

To repair the damage caused to your skin by a spot, your body goes into overdrive producing collagen to create new tissue. However, this happens hastily and can be slapdash. As a result, scar tissue has a different structure, quality and appearance to surrounding skin. Acne scarring ranges in appearance from raised areas and indents to pigmentation.

Scar formation is a complex biological process. And to add further complication, how to get rid of acne scars is subject to lots of debate. We have no answers unfortunately. There are many treatment options available, ranging from lasers and microneedling to dermabrasion and cover-up techniques. But in this post, we focus on how skincare can help in the aftermath of a breakout.

Does picking spots increase the risk of scarring?

Scars form as your skin heals the damage caused by spots. Picking and popping pimples simply causes further irritation. Squeezing spots too hard risks damage to surrounding fine veins, glands and tissues. This causes extra inflammation and increases the chances of scarring.

Are exfoliating scrubs suitable for use on acne scars?

In short, no. It’s a natural reaction to want to scrub away the marks left by spots. But abrasive scrubs containing course ingredients inflame and aggravate skin further.

But that's not to say exfoliation is bad. In fact, it’s widely agreed, that it’s an important part of any post-acne skincare routine. You just have to be careful how you do it.

Whilst you should avoid scrubs, liquid exfoliants are a great alternative. There are two main types of chemical exfoliators – beta hydroxy acids (also known as BHA or salicylic acid) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs include glycolic and lactic acid.)

What’s the difference between BHAs and AHAs?

AHAs and BHAs are two types of chemical exfoliators. They are very similar to each other in that they both work by breaking the bonds attaching dead skin cells to your skin, allowing them to shed naturally and with ease.

Yet how they work is different. AHAs are water-soluble. This means they mainly work on the surface layer of the skin, lifting dead skin cells and removing dirt and oil.

BHAs are oil-soluble. This allows them to penetrate the skin working deeper to cleanse the inside of pores as well. Salicylic acid also has a calming effect on inflamed skin.

Are there any ingredients that we should look for in skincare for acne scarring?

The topical use of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in skincare is great for two reasons. Firstly, as a potent antioxidant it smooths uneven skin tone and fades discolouration. Secondly, vitamin C accelerates the production of collagen and elastin. This speeds up tissue regeneration. As a result, with consistent topical use, vitamin C can make acne scars less pronounced.

Retinol also offers a whole range of skin-boosting superpowers. It’s a form of vitamin A and a skin-restoring hero ingredient. By boosting the turnover of cells, it regenerates fresh skin. But remember, a side effect of retinol is it increases sun sensitivity, so always apply a good SPF sunscreen when using this ingredient.

Does sun exposure impact on acne scars and marks?

Yes. And not in a good way. The red or brown marks left behind after spots have healed are hyperpigmentation. When spots form, they cause damage to your skin tissue and this triggers your body to produce excess melanin. This accumulates at the site of the spot. It’s this surplus melanin that’s responsible for colouring the skin after a blemish has healed.

The production of melanin is also triggered by sunlight. So, not wearing adequate sun protection triggers further pigmentation issues. Wearing a high SPF sunscreen is important to prevent UV light making scarring stay visible for longer.

Prevention is key

When it comes to acne scarring, there are lots of things you can do to improve the appearance of your skin. But, without a doubt, not getting scars or reducing the severity of scars in the first place is the best approach. And there’s one simple (but not necessarily easy) thing you can do to minimise post-acne marks. Keep your hands off your spots.

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Last updated: 3 April 2020

AcneSkin Health